Diary Entry: Watching the grass grow

Špela Petrič: ‘Confronting Vegetal Otherness: Skotopoiesis’

Recently, Annick Bureaud published her impression of the performance by Špela Petrič that took place at Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana on September 10, 2015: Confronting Vegetal Otherness: Skotopoiesis. Annick’s original journal entry is available here in French. Below, you will find an English translation.

Watching the grass grow

On Thursday, September 10, having only just arrived in Ljubljana with my baggage dropped off at the hotel, I rushed to the Kapelica Gallery to see the performance, Confronting Vegetal Otherness: Skotopoiesis by Špela Petrič, that has already begun. The performance lasts 12 hours on the first day and 7 hours on the second. I decided to take “performative samples,” which meant that I would come at different moments in an attempt to perceive the changes and evolution of the piece.

The gallery is plunged into darkness with the exception of the performance stage. Špela Petrič, dressed in a white tunic, stands gently propped up by a metal support reminiscent of a plant stake on top of which a camera has been placed. Before her, on the ground, there is a large white rectangle in which watercress has begun to sprout. The shadow of the woman is projected onto this screen of vegetation. In two days, the watercress will reveal her imprint: sickly and pale beneath the image of the human body, but lively and vigorously green in the surrounding area.

The artist’s intention, in what is the first step in a long-term project, is multi-faceted. Two points, however, stand out. The first is what she calls “the intercognition,” or the relationship with this other life that is so radically foreign. The second is the almost ethical indifference to the use of plants.

In the discussion that followed*, Rüdiger Trojok pointed out that any object could have been used in place of Špela—in other words, the growth of the watercress took into account the shadowed area, but without discriminating against humans as the source. This “becoming an object” by the artist was also stressed by Aljosa Kolenec. Is “intercognition” possible if, to reach the Other, I must give up the essence of what I am? Where is the “middle ground,” the common area where exchange becomes possible? At the physicochemical level? Molecular? Cellular? But at this level, everything that exists is interconnected. Monika Bakke reminded us that our relationship to plants
reaches its ultimate fusion in burial: we eat plants but they recycle us when we die. In this regard, the project, Transplant Biopresence, by Shiho Fukuhara and Georg Tremmel (which proposes to insert the DNA of a deceased person into a tree) is particularly interesting.

From an aesthetic point of view, what struck me in this performance was a certain religious drama (with the lighting and the garment worn by the artist) and, specifically, that of a funeral. The rectangle of watercress evokes the image of a tomb and the drop shadow, the disappearance of being. Formality was defused by the fact that the artist, far from being in a meditative contemplation, conversed with those present. My “performative samples” were inconclusive, as nothing seemed to distinguish one time from another. But, what was also striking was how quickly the human imprint faded once the finished performance, the watercress greening almost visibly. The moment “after,” as with silence in music or the whitespace on a page, seems to be a key to performance, and was just as important in this one.

Everyone agreed that it was we humans who were the target of this performance by Špela Petrič more than watercress itself. And it might be there that the ethical question lies, within this time taken to watch the grass grow.

*The members of the Ethics Committee who met for this discussion were: Monika Bakke, a philosopher, a specialist in art-science relations (and especially the plant-human relationship); Aljosa Kolenec, philosopher and psychoanalyst; Michael Marder, a philosopher, and plant ethical specialist; and Rüdiger Trojok, a biologist, engaged in a civic approach to science and DIY.