Tender stems bear lush blooms and windswept leaves gather around new growth in artist Shota Suzuki’s delicate metal sculptures. Rendered in painstaking detail, the forms are inspired by flora around his home and studio in Kyoto, such as Japanese maple trees and dandelions that have gone to seed. “Recently, I have been adding rain and wind to my work,” he tells Colossal, sharing that he’s inspired by the way nature demonstrates the passing of time. He adds silvery water droplets to ginkgo leaves, ruffles the petals of flowers, or portrays a branch of cherry blossoms as if it has blown from a tree.
An early interest in jewelry led Suzuki to study metalworking, and the exquisite detail of florals and foliage suited his ability to work on a small scale. A wide range of patinas create a life-like appearance, achieved by combining an array of chemicals that produce specific hues and textures, including traditional Japanese copper coloration methods such as niiro. “I don’t want to create works in which time stands still,” he says. “I want to express a moment in time.”
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For millennia, dried flowers have been prepared for a vast array of uses ranging from decoration and fragrance to pigments and medicine. British artist Rebecca Louise Law taps into our perennial fascination with florals for her monumental, immersive installations. Exploring our relationship with the natural environment and the way blooms and botanicals have influenced cultures throughout history, her reinterpretations of existing architecture encourage the viewer to move around the space in a new way.
In Parma, she draws inspiration from the city’s culinary and medicinal history for “Florilegum,” and in Brittany, France, she was invited to reimagine the Château de la Roche-Jagu’s grand banquet hall. For “The Womb,” visitors walked inside a room delineated by delicate strands of flowers and approached a cocoon-like form in the center, suggesting a space that is simultaneously protective, potent, and fragile. By hand-sewing stems and fronds together and wrapping them carefully in thin wire, she constructs lengthy ribbons of foliage that can be draped from a framework to create long, curtain-like expanses or colorful volumes at various heights.
You can visit “Florilegium” at Chiesa di San Tiburzio in Parma, Italy, and “Awakening” at the Honolulu Museum of Art will be on view through September 10, 2023. Explore more of Law’s work on her website and follow updates on Instagram.
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In an industrial park 50 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City, a 30,000-square-meter building demonstrates the possibilities of a more sustainable future for manufacturing. The Jakob Factory is a project between Rollimarchini Architects and G8A Architects, who designed the tropical oasis amid the largely concrete structures within the commercial area.
Plants cloak the porous three-story facade made of steel and mesh. Building vertically was a key factor in the project as it contrasts the conventional sprawling designs typical in manufacturing that require more land and greater disruptions to the local environment. The living features protect the interior from rain and harsh sunlight, offer natural ventilation, regulate the temperature, and help to purify the air from dust and other particles. Trees and grassy mounds also sit in a central courtyard, with the green structure surrounding the open space.
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Feathers, flowers, leaves, and the human muscular system are spliced into an eclectic camouflage in MUMI’s surreal portraits. From vintage encyclopedias, magazines, and art historical paintings, the Argentinian artist cuts and layers images into compositions that vacillate between the whimsical and the bizarre. Led by a larger narrative, the collages commingle styles, eras, colors, and textures into disorienting portraits, all spurred by the artist’s desire to experiment. “I truly enjoy the organic process in which I let myself go freely,” MUMI shares. “There are endless possibilities when I cut an image. I take it out of its context, its direct meaning, or its origin, and I give it a new surreal environment.”
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Plant Magick: A 520-Page Book Explores the Vast Esoteric Connections Between Botanics and the Divine
The most recent addition to Taschen’s Library of Esoterica series, Plant Magick delves into the mythical, religious, and metaphysical histories of botanical life. The vast visual compendium explores an array of human interactions with the natural world as they relate to the spiritual and symbolic. Illustrations, photos, collages, and hundreds of other artworks across mediums are nestled within the 520 pages and include references to Buddha’s meditation under the Bodhi tree, the elaborate flower crowns worn during May Day celebrations, and the mind-bending experiences associated with psychedelics.
Similar to the series’ book on tarot, Plant Magick offers insight into the long legacies and enduring links between the creative and the divine. The title is currently available for pre-order from Taschen and Bookshop.
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In ‘The Cultivar Series,’ Uli Westphal Gets to the Root of Crop Diversity and Agricultural Modification
Earlier this year, Russia’s war in Ukraine obstructed the global food supply in a way that exposed just how precarious the entire system is. The conflict confined 25 million tons of corn and wheat to the country, making such a crucial stock inaccessible and compounding the effects of an already urgent crisis.
Combined with disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic and the continual issues of the climate crisis, the war helped propel global food insecurity to levels unseen in decades. It’s estimated that approximately 800 million people around the world don’t have enough to eat due to skyrocketing prices caused by increased demand for a reduced supply. These problems are predicted to decimate local economies and prompt widespread unrest in the coming years.
Part of combating such an emergency involves understanding the core of modern production and how growing practices have evolved over time. Back in 2010, artist Uli Westphal took an interest in the ways farming and cultivation were affecting the availability of certain plants after a visit to VERN e.V. The German nonprofit cares for thousands of specimens, makes obscure or rare varieties available to the public, and is also “a regional network of gardeners, farmers, and local garden sites.” “They have a large garden plot in a tiny village two hours north of Berlin, where they grow a kaleidoscope of rare and forgotten crop varieties,” he shares. “I walked into a greenhouse full of tomato plants bearing fruits that I had never seen in my life.”
This encounter prompted what’s become a years-long project of documenting the planet’s incredible agricultural diversity. Encompassing both the wild and the domestic, Westphal’s “ongoing and endless” Cultivar Series illuminates a vast array of specimens through striking flat-lay photos. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other produce arranged by color capture the breadth of the world’s crops, comparing their shapes, sizes, and molecular makeup—higher levels of chlorophyll promote the verdant pigments of leafy greens, for example, while carotenoids are responsible for bright orange carrots.
From Amsterdam and Potsdam, Germany, to Mexico City and Tucson, the sources of Westphal’s subject matter are broad, with some fare coming fully grown from farmers and others as seeds to be cultivated. “Cucumis sativus I” features fifty cucumber varieties the photographer grew in a greenhouse once connected to his Berlin-based studio from seeds gifted by a Dutch organization, for example, while the pumpkins and peppers in two of his other works were a collaboration with Peaceful Belly Farm in Boise, Idaho.
Whether depicting potatoes or pears, the images offer a rare glimpse of species that often aren’t available in the grocery store or markets. “Since the industrialization of agriculture, our focus has shifted to only a few modern, high-yielding, robust, ‘good looking,’ uniform, and predictable varieties. This change has led to the displacement of traditional crop varieties,” Westphal writes, noting that when a plant isn’t actively cultivated, it often falls under threat of extinction, and such strains tend to be protected by conservation organizations like the seed banks he’s collaborated with in the past. “A majority of all varieties developed by humans have already become extinct during the last 50 years. With them, we not only lose genetic diversity but also a living cultural and culinary heritage.”
The photos also elicit questions about contemporary domestication practices that are of increasing concern as biodiversity dwindles. Westphal tells Colossal:
Synthetic biology is evolving at a rapid speed, out-pacing public awareness, debate, and regulation and is altering life in ways that are unprecedented. My main concerns about synthetic biology (and genetic engineering) are the havoc that the inevitable release of significantly altered organisms into ecosystems can cause and the increasing consolidation of corporate control over what we grow and eat.
Three photos from The Cultivar Series are on view as part of the group exhibition Food in New York through September 30, 2023, at the Museum of the City of New York, and Westphal is currently working to document the seeds of the world’s edible plants, of which he’s culled a shortlist of 3,000 species. Prints of his flat lays are available on his site, along with similar collections centered on fruits and other consumables, and you can follow his practice on Instagram. (via Present & Correct)
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