Outside the studio window, one sees the back alley of a few old buildings. Back alley is not an accurate expression, because the place is fenced off and no one passes through it, with weeds and trees growing in all sorts of directions. Even during winter, plants in that corner exude a certain sombre, melancholic green, as if all the changes outside have nothing to do with them. Standing by the window, one gets a feeling of being gradually enclosed by time.
In the prologue of The Plant magazine’s 17th issue, I read a line that goes, “The ones that still plant are the ones that still believe in the future.” I am unsure if that is really the case, but people who are passionate about plants do more or less feel a sense of time unrelated to clocks. Regardless of a city’s lockdowns, plants grow where there is space. What they offer is a temporality connected to the very core of the earth.
Much like the title of the magazine’s 2021 fall issue: Time is always there.
The Plant is a magazine started by Cristina Merino in Barcelona. It collects the lives and stories of illustrators, photographers, writers, musicians and other creators with plants.
Gardens, they are spaces humans create through the use of natural materials and aesthetic feelings. In the ways that gardens construct space, we sense the ways by which time flows. The cover story of this issue, Time is always there, tells the story of renowned garden designer Piet Oudolf designing a garden for sculptor Eduardo Chillida’s outdoor museum.
Eduardo Chillida, who passed away in 2002, was a pioneering Spanish Basque sculptor, celebrated worldwide for his gigantic abstract sculptures. His works are colossal matters that appear as if they sprang forth from within the earth, that elude human comprehension. In the museum Chillida Leku, one could only make use of all senses at the moment when attempting to approach them and gain a sense of their relationship with the space. Once the sculptures have taken shape, they remain standing in the history of the landscape for hundreds of years. Standing by the huge sculptures, we enter into a time more archaic and far-off, where everything seems to stand still.
Plants in a garden are, however, ephemeral and different every season. When garden designer Piet Oudolf received the commission from the sculptor’s descendants to design a garden for Chillida Leku in 2019, he felt that, “Each of them carries its own sense of time.” He carefully selected plants that do not correspond to the sculptures’ forms directly, such that the garden acts as a buffer between one artwork and another. He hoped to create a different texture of time: soft, fluid, shrouded. Passing through the garden, you “discover” a sculpture, instead of simply “seeing” another piece of work. Plants are changing at every moment, constantly communicating with the world outside, connecting to it.
The different covers of The Plant magazine also appeal to the impulse to collect. In every issue, The Plant invites photographers of different styles to produce photo essays on plants as a subject. Featured photographers included Paul McCartney’s wife Lina McCartney, German fashion photographer Juergen Teller, Clara Balzar, who is very good at capturing youthful emotions, etc. Under the handling of different artists, different relationships between plants and us were also expanded. They could be about decorations for a lifestyle, a journey in search of a memory, the restlessness of youth or a metaphor for life.
How is it that plants always move us so simply and directly?
The human hand is capable of unparalleled feats, like creating sculptures that stay standing for hundreds of years, or clearing weeds every morning to maintain the layers in a garden. But each one of us has only 80-90 years’ time, precluded from experiencing the shortest or the longest lifespans, as well as the emotions and ways of thinking that change along with them. We could only rely on the traces of a matter’s transformation to steal glimpses of the full picture of time.
Through plants, it is as though we have found a tunnel to the very depth of the mystery.