Flyer and video about a temporary studio I created in the Botanical Garden of the University of Ghent.
Palmarium (temporary studio)
Flyer — Dimensions: 42 x 59,4 cm (folded to B5) / Print: offset print / Year: 2005
Film — Duration: 58min 12sec / Format: standard video / Year: 2005
After the exhibition closed, I very carefully drove home. In the trunk was a crate with beautiful cacti. Next to the long green stems protruded plastic cards with handwritten and sun-bleached Latin names. The gardener had handed them to me when we said goodbye.
The first time I saw the cacti was during my first visit to the palmarium. This huge greenhouse for large palm trees in the botanical garden of the University of Ghent was to be the location of the exhibition.
When I entered the greenhouse, a gardener was skillfully watering the plants. I nodded at him and looked around. While exploring the space and taking pictures from every angle, I tried to evade the garden hose that glided across the floor like
a green viper while the gardener walked from one plant to another. When I arrived at the far left corner of the greenhouse, I could see the long green stems of the cacti hidden behind a cluster of full-grown palm trees.
Shortly after, I had fully installed myself. Not knowing where to start I used the pot of a nearby tree to draw some circles on a piece of cardboard. By the end of the day I had built a construction that resembled a set of congas. I didn’t know how to proceed and was determined to start again from scratch the next morning. But even then things weren’t going better. All day long in the background I could hear the gardener coming and going, the maneuvering of the pallet truck, the running water, the tinny voices on the radio. Now and then I looked at the far left corner of the space and wondered why someone had brought the cacti in here. These tropical conditions couldn’t be very good for the small desert plants. The air was humid because of constant watering. When the sun came out, the atmosphere was muggy and sweltering. I constantly put my sweater on and off. My work was going slowly.
During a lunch break the following week, I guided the gardener to the far left corner and pointed at the cacti. I can’t remember his answer. He might have said that it was only temporary, that he had forgotten about them, that they were leftovers or that he did not know.
After lunch I continued my work. I was doing well. By now I had finished some sculptures. I whistled along with the radio, played with the cat and enjoyed the gardener’s presence. At times we even made a good team. He dragging the garden hose around, me moving the sculptures on the pallet truck. He creating a hedge of palm trees, me making a sculpture that looked like a series of fake demarcation posts. We got along pretty well.
Later, things got more complicated. Visitors, artists and curators constantly came and went. Even when it was calm there was always some small talk in the background. The pallets and the truck became really convenient as I constantly moved around the space to make place for temporary cafeterias, meeting points and moving artworks.
One day the gardener joined me while I was overlooking the jumble and pointed out that the spines of cacti are actually a kind of leaves. While our heads turned from left to right to follow a large work of art that was rolling in, he went on about the spines, which prevent loss of water and defend the plants against hungry attackers, adding all kinds of other facts about the striking morphology that allows cacti to survive in the harshest conditions.
During opening night, the palm trees, the wooden containers, the sculptures and the pallets finally stood still. Now women, men and children moved between the objects, sprinkling the air with their gestures and soaking the works in their words. Outside the greenhouse, surrounded by its peers and shielded by the foliage of a chestnut tree,
the largest cactus of the collection, a Cereus Repandus, produced in complete darkness on its erect stem crowded with distinct spines, a bright white nocturnal flower that would last for only a couple of hours.