My artistic collaboration with plants, which has continued for almost ten years now, has redefined my relationship with artistic ‘materials’, my own body and those of others. This collaboration has not only challenged my way of thinking, but also the way I perceive the world and communicate with it. Through plants, I have learned to see myself as a community, an open process that is constantly taking place relative to another; as a body consisting of interactive relationships, dialogues, and companionships.
As an artist, I have realized I am a compost – a body made up of objects, entities, and machines – one that devours living matter (other plants, minerals, bacteria, thoughts, opinions, sensations) in order to process it into fertile soil. During the last few years, the most important dialogues I have had, regarding my artistic work, have been with house plants, gardens, gems, minerals, office chairs, fabrics, fruits, flowers, and other plant parts, and also with their derivatives (tea, whisky, cigars). Other important companions have been water, in its different compositions (sea water, rain water, spring water), bicycle helmets, tap shoes, laptops, tapes, numerous books, and human bodies. Due to its compost-like nature, it is impossible to name and distinguish every single part of this expanded artistic body. In addition to those mentioned above, there are also many silent forces present that settle themselves into a blind spot and therefore will not become recognized.
Different performers and partners end up as parts of our compost partly through individual processes, and that is why the companionships related to them differ from each other. The intimacy levels and durations of dialogues vary, and complex power relations are connected to them. (While plants have nurtured and cared for me, office chairs have stepped into the picture to argue and protest.) Each new body challenges the order of an existing community and its way of communication. Each brings its own language, rhythm, and temporal scale with it, and sometimes these meet and touch, sometimes they give rise to disturbances and tensions. Some entities, objects, and machines become close life partners for me (plants, laptop, gems), while others remain as distant visitors (bicycle helmets, cigars, tapes).
As conversation partners, bodies of different forms and operating on different logics are endlessly interesting. They require patience and refuse to be simplified, or to give in to sluggish thinking that is typical of me. They challenge my capacity in a holistic way by expanding my consciousness, joints, and patience, by tearing my world view apart again and again. On the other hand, the bodies that have been chosen for the work group are also very generous; considering the number of non-organic members, the community is surprisingly dynamic and bubbling. Dialogues within the compost are thoughts on a material level – on the level of existence, gesture, and action. In practice, this means feeling, rolling, supporting, groaning, and long silences. Mobility that looks like immobility. Smoking, swaying, growing, shaking, and fading away. Licking, clicking, stretching, feeding, and thawing. Pushing, resisting, chafing, listening, and giving in. Processes of decay and development that decide to organize themselves in the form of a piece.
In a dialogue between organic and non-organic bodies, fundamental ethical and political questions arise that are essential for the processes and for the pieces emerging from them. It is not only a question of recognizing different types or non-organic bodies as operators. The field of questions is much more complicated than that, and it is not limited only to power relations between bodies, but also extends inside them. In addition to bodies, language, and communication, it is also about the way one sees and conceives the world. The co-operation requires me to sensitize myself, especially in the non-rational field that falls behind language. It reveals the narrow-mindedness of my way of thinking without mercy, reflected also in my way of seeing the world. I find myself constantly dismissing and trivializing stimuli that are produced by my senses but that do not fit within the scope of my rational view of the world. Or those that contradict my visual perception. This division, defining what information is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, is, of course, about exercising power – individual, cultural, political, and financial. When we start conversing with chairs and flowers, the prevailing structures become impossible.
Even though working communally with plants and objects allows one to question the existing working methods and ways of thinking on a personal level, it does not necessarily mean that these processes would immediately open up to the viewer. Squeezing its way through authorship and viewership, as a thick and heavy paste, are the traditions of viewing and performing. If our senses are not well enough trained to observe the performance of a spurge or a glass of water, we can easily miss it. On the other hand, this performance can be received extremely easily, even though we would not have the language to articulate it: something affects and is affected on an organic level. Just as working as a part of this kind of community requires patience, perseverance, sensitivity, and flexibility, the finished pieces also require the same from the viewer. The end result is not necessarily easy – but why should it be? Where the community of organic and non-organic bodies creates a new kind of artistry – strategies, aesthetes, and temporal scales – it also brings out a new kind of viewership.
Essi Kausalainen wrote this text together with a laptop, an uncomfortable couch, brewed tea leaves, the Frankfurt heat, and the noise of the harbour area. Other key partners were Meeting the Universe Halfway, Plant Thinking, Plant Poems, Vibrating Matter, and the YouTube lectures of Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, Michael Marden, and Carolyn Chrstov-Bagargiev.
The writer is an artist and works on the international field of contemporary art, producing performances and exhibitions.