Plantario, a place to build community and heal a wounded world
Sofía Jacky Rosell
Curator and professor in Art History

Within the framework of the cycle “ART AND SUSTAINABILITY. Contemporary interconnections “ outlined by PAN editorial team in collaboration with the Paco Urondo University Cultural Center and the Tilcara University Center, both belonging to the University of Buenos Aires, we interview the Argentine artist Carla Ponce, graduate and professor from UNCuyo.  Her production questions and modifies the place it inhabits while it is exhibited. We talk about her work Plantario, a garden located in the annex room of the MMAMM (Museum of Modern Art of Mendoza), during the month of September 2019. Along with this installation, a cuttings exchange cycle was carried out between the public and the artist. Thus, the original plants of Plantario were being exchanged through bartering.

Plantario, Trueque de equejes.

Sofía Jacky Rosell: When the theme of this series of interviews was raised, I immediately thought of your work Plantario. In it you treat with exquisite subtlety the complexity of the links. I would like to know how this project is born, what is its genesis.

Clara Ponce: There are always several crossed things that make a project arise, many that we can recognize and others that we will never know. In general, I have a fairly slow process, and a lot of mixed things happen to me that lead to long-term ideas. Surely this project is related to a work carried out previously at the Carlos Alonso Museum in which I worked with plants, and with objects from my daily life. At that time I was thinking a lot about linking art with my daily aspects, with those small actions that make sense to me, such as going out to the neighborhood to look at other people’s gardens, stealing a plant segment from a neighbor, visiting friends and what give me a clone.
The trigger to gestate Plantario has to do with a very particular moment in my life, and for that I am going a bit to the self-referential. At the time I wrote the project, I was at home doing isolation for a few months because my partner had undergone a kidney transplant, the donor was his father to whom this work is dedicated. Those were times of great emotional stress and I found a refuge in the action of caring for the plants. One day I was watering in the yard, an activity that I love very much and I realized that this action of taking care of the plants, transplanting and planting, watching them grow and die was being the space where I could process what was happening to me. In plants and in nature in general, there is always the uncertainty of what may happen, there is a mystery and a surprise.

Clara realizando trabajo de manutención de Plantario.

At that time, when it was already clear that the work would be about a garden, about segments and cuttings, another aspect crossed my mind that interests me a lot when I make an exhibition and that is the relationship with the other, and then the idea of ??barter appeared. I am interested in opening the possibility that the work reaches different viewers, people who pass through the park or even people who love plants. It is also important to mention that it was a site-specific work, intended to be displayed in a museum, a public institution.

I am not sure in what chronological order the events occurred in my head, but the presence of the body and the installation-garden is also central in my works, completed with action, making exchanges, watering and gardening activities.

Vista y detalle de instalación con fotografías impresas que se sumaron a lo largo de la exhibición.

SJR: In relation to “ecological”, there are some approaches that think of it as the connection of human beings with all animal, plant and even mineral species. In this sense, ecological thinking consists in making that connection conscious to think of a community beyond the human. Plantario proposed an exchange of segments or cuttings between you and the public: What place do plants occupy in this action, what does Plantario seek with this exchange?

CP: Plants, as I said before, occupy a central place in my intimacy, and there is an intention to bring that intimate to the public plane.  With the exchange there is a first instance that has to do with putting the person into action, inviting them to be part of the performance. And a second one that occurs at home, when he chose the segment or plant that he brought to the sample, and when he returns with a new plant. The relationship is established with the work, with the plant, with the experience it lived.

I think that the ecological goes through Plantario in some way, there is a direct invitation for the viewer to interact with the plants and be responsible or not for the care. I was also very interested in creating a space for physical and material exchange, in which unknown people meet, chat, form a community.

Bartering also interested me from the practical aim of thinking about acquiring plants without having to go to the nursery to buy them, which I always suffered because I could never have enough money for everything I would like to have. Barter as a form of self-sustaining economy.
Everything that happened during the exchanges was super interesting, from the talks that were given, the things that people brought, from flower or vegetable seeds, aquatic plants, chamomiles, grown plants, freshly cut branches that never went to survive. There were all kinds of conversations, not only with me, but among the participants who were often much more expert on plants than I was.  I never imagined that so many people would go with their plants in hand, suddenly I was inside a fiction in which I did not know what was going to happen, and the surprise was great: many people, a lot of love hanging around.

Trueque de esquejes con una visitante del museo.

SJR: The word “ecology” does not appear explicitly in this work. However, it can be read in an ecological key, with a very personal and intimate perspective of yours. Did the ecological occupy a conscious place in Plantario?

CP: Plantario was not consciously thought in that sense, however I believe that the work is related to something that I have been thinking a lot lately, which is “care”. I believe that ecology has to do with a level of consciousness of how to inhabit the world. In general, whether in artistic practice or in my life, I am thinking about how to connect with the environment, with things that happen, about what good living is, about the level of responsibility we have with the other, the planet, but the planet not as something abstract. The planet is my neighbor, the garbage that I collect, what I produce. In that sense, there is a subject that I work a lot which is material art, this idea that we produce objects that accumulate in time and space makes me a bit problematic. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, but generally my works seek something of the ephemeral. For example, the plantation, once the sample was finished, was dismantled, and the earth and wood were delivered to a municipal nursery for reuse, the plants were taken to a community educational space and were planted in a neighborhood square.  When I see monumental works, which require a lot of production and have high costs, it troubles me, I am not saying that it is right or wrong, I am simply used to another way: do with what there is.

Encuentro en el museo para el trueque de esquejes.

SJR: Ecological thinking proposes to face the reality of life on Earth. For example, Timothy Morton and Donna Haraway propose to be with the problem, without falling into pessimism or illusory positive positions. How do you see the role of art in this sense?

CP: It seems to me that we all live with the problem all the time, and with thousands of other problems as well. Art is the open space where we can express and reflect on everything that crosses and worries us as humans. It is a field to develop subjectivities, readings about our environment. I also believe that art is political and is part of social transformations. Today, as society, there is a greater awareness of environmental conflicts, there is much activism and a greater understanding of the effect produced by the individual modification of certain actions, from food and consumption to seeking greater harmony between species. It sounds very ideal, but I think it is true and it is something that is being built very slowly.

In this sense, going back to my Plantario work, there is something that interests me that has to do with the fact that the interaction of the viewer in the garden has an effect and transforms it. I do not think that the works themselves have to have a moral, or be simplified to a single reading, but art is always talking about great issues and the relationship with nature is one of them.

Escritura sobre muro de museo. Riego, manutención de Plantario.

SJR: When we refer to Nature, we do so as something which is separate from the human, as something alien. On one of the walls of the exhibition hall there was an inscription in chalk that read: “Plants as a place of process, refuge and rest.” How is your relationship with Nature?

CP: I have a lot of connection with nature, but not from a romantic place, nor from such a solemn place, but more from the close, the everyday, I make a garden, at home we try to separate the waste, we have a compost, to be more outdoors, I have picnics, I spend a lot of time taking care of and looking at my plants. The observation of nature is also a learning space for me, it is where we can witness the passage of time, repetition, and what I said before the uncertainty.  I have something I wrote a while ago on the subject:

“Dear notepad, I was in the bathroom thinking a lot of” incredible “things to write, when I went out I came to bed with the computer and a tea, always linden at night, and the truth is that now I don’t know well what to write. I have been thinking that the words loser, nudes and desire are fashionable. I like those words. I also thought about my relationship with nature, many people tell me that I do work with nature … I sometimes think that yes, and sometimes no. I think I have more of a casual relationship with nature. Sometimes I need to observe it from afar, sometimes to feel it on my skin, sometimes to imagine it from my bed.  Sometimes nature answers me things.  At some point I thought that I made art to relate to nature, but now I think that I make art to relate to myself, and that nature is a good excuse to be there present, to find myself on a mountain, in fire or in a plantation. “

© All photos courtesy of the artist.

Donación de plantas al CAE La Ventana del Flores en Barrio Flores.
Los visitantes podían dejar su nombre como registro del intercambio.
Días de trueque de esquejes con los visitantes del museo.
Trueque de esquejes con una visitante del museo.
Vista de la instalación.
Interview with the artist Valeria Conte Mac Donell, the work as a vital experience