The current exhibition at the Budapest Gallery, curated by Flóra Gadó and Dalma Eszter Kollár, celebrates the non-hierarchical taxonomies of plants and all botanical matter. Reversing the expectations of what a conventional kingdom would consist in, Plant Kingdom entails precisely what its title does not promise: awareness of power structures, an attempt to dismantle or re-arrange hierarchical forms of being, an acutely mindful decolonial lens.

The exhibition’s point of departure is the extent to which our attitude to care has changed in recent years as a result of the pandemic. Exploring the small, even invisible manifestations of caring and how it can extend to the non-human world around us, the exhibition focuses on plants. A number of artistic strategies are represented in which, through attention to and collaboration with the flora of our immediate environment, a more liveable future for more than just humans gains significance. The former symbolism of plants, flowers and fruits is replaced by current interpretations seeking a way out of contemporary crises. 

During the pandemic, several members of generation Y became plant parents and shared experiences of their home jungle or learned about plant care on the transnational platforms of social media. This is related to the isolation-induced endeavour to make our environment more homely while engaging in a regular activity that has a positive impact on our mental health. At the same time, the heightened interest in plants is not just for its own sake; it also provides an opportunity to connect with different communities through past practices worthy of revival and speculations about the future. Time travel into the past is closely linked to questions of colonialism: it evokes, among other things, the use of medicinal plants, often marginalised in Western medicine, early herbaria or the first greenhouses in Europe. Propositions regarding the future are mainly concerned with the notions of moving on and starting over: rethinking the role of invasive species and weeds that were once banished, such works explore self-sustaining practices. Although its title represents the largest unit in the taxonomic classification of plants, while being aware of the power structure of taxonomy, the exhibition is an attempt at rearranging hierarchy.

Plant Kingdom
3 June – 24 July 2022
Budapest Gallery (1036 Budapest, Lajos utca 158.)
Tues – Sun: 10 am – 6 pm
Curators: Flóra Gadó, Dalma Eszter Kollár
Photographer: Tamás G. Juhász
Graphic Designer: Dániel Kozma

David Eisl
Metaboloid Landscape, 2019
Metaboloflage, 2019
Green Screen Weeds III, 2022
Crystal Plant, 2022

Austrian artist David Eisl’s collages represent plants as both subject and medium. Reminiscent of herbaria, the compositions evoke the childhood hobby of many people, the collection of pressed flowers, but also the scientific and botanical study of plant species. Eisl’s pictures are archives of the original dried leaves, although their physical form is sometimes altered (cut, repainted, rearranged) by the artist. The resulting fictitious plants are suggestive of a digital culture’s visual language beyond the subjectivity of archiving and storytelling. Looking at the pieces of his Green Screen Weeds series, and at his collages that use a perspective grid familiar from graphics software, the viewer is reminded of the now ubiquitous methods of intervention using computer-generated imagery. However, what we see is merely the encounter of freehand composition and the forms of nature.

Marta Fišerová Cwiklinski
The Fourth Greenhouse, 2018-2021

The point of departure for the Czech artist’s research-based project is a forgotten story from her hometown: the work is centred on the English aristocrat Josef Taaffe and his interest in botany. In the late 19th century, Taaffe established his own botanical garden and greenhouse next to his castle in the town of Myslibořice, and spent much of his fortune importing as many exotic plants as possible from around the world, in keeping with the colonialist ambitions of the time. In her installation, Marta Fiserova Cwiklinski uses her own imagination to reconstruct the “fourth greenhouse”, which was sold and abandoned: textile prints based on plants imported by Taaffe are evocative of early herbariums. The garden’s contemporary objects, from Far Eastern sculptures to various utensils, appear as glass objects in a flowerbed, stripped of their function. The artist’s work, while not without a certain nostalgia for one of her favourite childhood haunts, is critical of Taaffe and his era, which tried to subjugate nature and make it accessible for Europeans.

Kitti Gosztola & Bence György Pálinkás
Wild Garden Utopia, 2019, 6’10’’

For years, the artist duo have been working on the history of so-called invasive alien species, which have been introduced to new environments by human intervention and have propagated explosively. At the heart of the Wild Garden Utopia project is the Japanese knotweed, which is harmful from an anthropocentric perspective: it destroys the concrete foundations of buildings, for example. But the artists’ research also focuses on drawing attention to the relevance and usefulness of these invasive species to the ecosystem: in their utopian fantasy, they envision a world where , as a pioneer species, Japanese knotweed is a resource for human survival. In their workshops, the plant is used as food, building material and musical instrument to meet the most important needs of a community. This can be seen in the video presented at the exhibition, which was shot on the island of Jersey as part of a 2019 residency programme. Through a speculative storyline, the film presents a not-so-distant, utopian world where self-sustainability and rethinking resources are paramount.

Nona Inescu
Hydrophytes, 2021, 15’43” (in collaboration with Simina Oprescu)
Afloat (Victoria Amazonica) 1-2, 2021

Nona Inescu’s work focuses on different hybrid life forms and explores the intertwining of human and non-human worlds. Her exhibited installation is based on the specific biological characteristics of water lilies, which are able to self-reproduce, communicate with each other in a peculiar way and are highly mobile compared to most plants. It is perhaps owing to these characteristics that several myths are associated with this plant, which belongs in the family of Nymphaeaceae: these water flowers have been associated with various deities, mainly female, such as the water nymphs and naiads of Greek and Roman mythology, or the Mayan jaguar-bodied fertility goddess with a water lily crown. The artist is interested in the shape-shifting and fluidity often associated with water lilies, which she associates with the hybrid, posthuman world of today through activated stories from the past. The installation of minimalist steel sculptures forming leaves is complete with a video work. The footages shot in the Danube and Neajlov deltas gradually reveal the lushness of the underwater world, invisible to the naked eye, drawing attention to aquatic life in Eastern Europe, while this documentary representation is constantly interrupted by atmospheric music and the presence of a mermaid-like creature

Mónika Kárándi
Sinful Things, 2020
Love Is in the Air (Hide and Seek), 2021
Ludus, playful love, 2022

After her idyllic images of palm trees and Mediterranean vegetation, Mónika Kárándi did not proceed to illustrate a state of being with plants, on the contrary: she found a species whose mere existence allowed her to draw conclusions. Welwitschia mirabilis can live for hundreds or even thousands of years in the impossible conditions of the Namib desert. This unfathomable lifespan gives the giant shrubs a fierce, survivalist character, and placed in Kárándi’s surreal landscapes, they could be characters in a science fiction novel (the artist’s unconcealed source of inspiration), keeping centuries of knowledge. But the Welwitschia, increasingly anthropomorphic and zoomorphic in the paintings, is also important to the artist on a personal level. As a dioecious species, this inhospitable-looking desert plant can only survive as with the help and cooperation of a companion, which is why in her latest paintings Mónika Kárándi depicts double portraits and love scenes with a flower that would hardly ever have been considered a romantic symbol until now.

Stella Koleszár
Bindweed II, 2022
Weed Control, 2022
Deep Roots, 2022

In her collages, Stella Koleszár deals with a paradox: while it has been proven that weeds play an important role in achieving ecological balance, people still consider them useless, even harmful. This dichotomy is also reflected, for example, in the Christian iconography explored by the artist, where weeds are a symbol of the Fall. Koleszár’s abstract collages represent specific weeds, such as the dandelion, the bindweed, or the parasitic dodder: afloat against colourful backgrounds they intertwine and intermingle with human body parts in her depictions. The artist worked with her great-grandmother’s preserved issues of the Nők Lapja (Women’s Magazine) magazine from the 1960s, also as a reference to recycling and the re-evaluation of things considered redundant, while the pieces also evoke the millefleur style known from medieval tapestries—an eclectic background of various flowers and plants.

Dániel Máté
Ordinary constellations (excerpt from the series), 2020–22

In 2020, during the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic, Dániel Máté started not only his Ordinary Constellations series, but also growing houseplants. Collecting, caring for and propagating plants and germinating seeds was his way out of confinement and the resulting mentally stressful situation. He created ephemeral installations of everyday objects in his home and studio, captured them in photographs, and over time plants with increasingly important roles in his environment appeared in the photos along with the tools (such as flower pots) used to care for them. The objects and creatures in these small-scale compositions are metaphors not only for human emotions related to anxiety and isolation, but also for the paradoxical situation of controlling and even drastically interfering with the life of houseplants for the sake of their ‘proper development’. Somewhat like when during a pandemic, the general restrictions limit our daily activities.

Barbara Mihályi
My Invisible Disease (excerpt from the series), 2017
Doing Nothing, 2020, 12’27’’

Many of Barbara Mihályi’s works thematise coexistence with the environment, spending time in nature and the health effects of wild or home-grown herbs and medicinal plants. My Invisible Disease is a personal story of the artist in the form of a series of photographs and accompanying text. The self-portrait that receives special focus in this exhibition among the highly intimate images represent a natural treatment for colitis, the shepherd’s purse, which, in addition to its proven physiological effects, may also ease the psychological burden of the disease by evoking childhood memories. Mihályi’s video Doing Nothing also addresses mental health. Conceived during the pandemic, the work seeks to alleviate the anxiety caused by a lack of productivity, and to show viewers that slowing down, getting out into nature and doing nothing for even a few minutes a day is actually essential for maintaining mental balance.

Uriel Orlow
Muthi, 2017, 17’

Uriel Orlow has been working with the issue of colonialism through the science of botany for many years. His research project, Theatrum Botanicum, includes a video piece entitled Muthi, which focuses on herbal alternative medicine – the title is the term for this practice in Southern Africa – which has been marginalised and overshadowed by Western medicine. In the artist’s video, we gain insight into the lives of urban and rural South African communities (Johannesburg, the Western Cape, Kwazulu-Natal Province) where the medicinal use of herbs is still significant. It is not only the use of medicinal herbs that is presented, but also the actors who share this ancient, often suppressed, but still active knowledge in their communities: today, there are nearly 200,000 indigenous healers practicing in South Africa. However, Orlow’s work also brings attention to the process in which capitalist consumer society has been developing a reinvigorated demand for alternative medicine. The question is to what extent these ancient forms of knowledge and healer roles change as they enter the market and what impact this has on biodiversity.

Sergio Rojas Chaves
What does it take? (to win your love for me), 2021, 10’40”

Sergio Rojas Chaves – who previously studied biology – explores the relationship between humans and nature in a personal way. One of his central themes is our relationship with our houseplants: as a kind of ethnographer, he explores how the plant-keeping habits of Western society are changing and how a viral trend has developed leading many young adults to consider themselves ‘plant parents’. His video What does it take? (to win your love for me) (featuring the titular song by Alton Ellis) is practically a love letter to Monstera deliciosa. The Costa Rican artist had long thought of the plant as a giant jungle dweller in his native jungle, but when he moved to Canada and then Western Europe, he encountered a diminished, domesticated version of the ‘monstera’ and the adoration that surrounded it. For the artist far from home, the Swiss cheese plant has become loaded, beyond childhood memories, with additional layers of meaning related to homesickness and the feeling of isolation as an immigrant, yet the video is not without humour and irony.