Stories of Plants and People

While working on the pieces for this exhibition, I allowed myself to meander. For this reason, the works deal not only with the relationships between plants and people but also fantasies, transience, the fear of forgetting and the legacy we leave behind.

The relationships between people and plants are complex. At different times, plants have been associated with various meanings, symbolism and mysteries. My works are part of the long continuum of plant-related works in art history. I am interested, among other things, in 18th century plant portraits, 17th century still lifes of flowers and flower paintings of the Renaissance period. I am fascinated by how people express emotions, esthetic preferences, respect (for other people) and transience through plants. Plants are harnessed as if to speak for people, to convey our messages.

Where does the feeling of order and control come from? A tree can be cut into cubes or tied up to make its branches grow in the desired direction. Paving stones are good when there is nothing (extra) growing between them. I see wasteland plants as a lifeline for densely built-up cities and as areas that are free or have their own rules. I am interested in so-called weeds, especially dandelions that grow in the cracks of built environments. What is a weed? It is a plant that, according to people, grows in the wrong place. Many people do not want dandelions in their yards. I wonder if dandelions want people in their yards. I once saw a dandelion growing in a small recess of a massive stone house. It had made the place its home, it was the king of the house. Home is where the roots are. I believe that dandelions and people have a lot in common.

I have thought a lot about how humans feel that they are above other living creatures and how this results in short-sighted activities. I read The 2019 Red List of Finnish Species* published by the Ministry of the Environment and the Finnish Environment Institute. It is the fifth assessment of threatened species in Finland. I looked for pictures of the critically endangered bryophyte species online and, based on the images I found, I painted portraits of them on a concrete slab. Many of the bryophytes that were among the first organisms on earth are now in danger of disappearing permanently as a result of human activities, such as construction and climate change.

While working on these pieces, I read ancient fables that often describe human activities and characteristics through animals and also plants. Our era is unofficially known as the Anthropocene, an era during which human activities have significantly affected life on earth. Based on the observations on this era, I created visual stories that contain distant echoes of ancient fables.

* Hyvärinen, E., Juslén, A., Kemppainen, E., Uddström, A. & Liukko, U.-M. (eds.) 2019. The 2019 Red List of Finnish Species. Ympäristöministeriö & Suomen ympäristökeskus. Helsinki. 704 p.

Elina Katara