Why Look at Plants?

The Botanical Emergence in Contemporary Art


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Winner of the 2019 Outstanding Academic Titles award in Choice, a publishing unit of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL)

Why Look at Plants? proposes a thought-provoking and fascinating look into the emerging cultural politics of plant-presence in contemporary art. Through the original contributions of artists, scholars, and curators who have creatively engaged with the ultimate otherness of plants in their work, this volume maps and problematizes new intra-active, agential interconnectedness involving human-non-human biosystems central to artistic and philosophical discourses of the Anthropocene.

Plant’s fixity, perceived passivity, and resilient silence have relegated the vegetal world to the cultural background of human civilization. However, the recent emergence of plants in the gallery space constitutes a wake-up-call to reappraise this relationship at a time of deep ecological and ontological crisis. Why Look at Plants? challenges readers’ pre-established notions through a diverse gathering of insights, stories, experiences, perspectives, and arguments encompassing multiple disciplines, media, and methodologies.

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Giovanni Aloi is an art historian in modern and contemporary art specializing in the representation of animals and plants in contemporary art. Aloi currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sotheby’s Institute of Art New York and London, and Tate Galleries. He is the Editor in Chief of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture (www.antennae.org.uk). He is the author of Art & Animals (2011) and Speculative Taxidermy: Natural History, Animal Surfaces, and Art in the Anthropocene (2018). With Caroline Picard, Aloi is the co-editor of the University of Minnesota Press series Art after Nature.
"The emergence of the botanical from quiet, passive existence that constantly hums around us to active/interactive politicization on gallery walls, in installations, and in critical studies is so potent that it has become a full-fledged art movement. This book both unravels and invites an artistic reimagining of the human relationship to plants, in all its manifestations. [...] in light of the ongoing environmental crisis, the book is invaluable. [... It] could not be more timely." - J. Natal, Columbia College Chicago, in: Choice Magazine, Vol. 57 No. 1 (September 2019)

"In sum, Why Look at Plants? is essential reading for anyone interested in the role of the arts in considering human/non-human interactions, plant blindness, posthumanist thought, or the myriad implications of the Anthropocene." - Stephen Goddard, in: Esse, issue 99 (2020), p. 111.
List of Figures
Notes on Contributors
About This Book

Introduction: Why Look at Plants?
 Giovanni Aloi

Part 1: Forest

 1 Lost in the Post-Sublime Forest
Giovanni Aloi
 2 The Humblest Props Now Play a Role
 Caroline Picard
 3 Ungrid-able Ecologies: Becoming Sensor in a Black Oak Savannah
Natasha Myers
 4 An Open Book of Grass
Jenny Kendler

Part 2: Trees

 5 Trees: Upside-Down, Inside-Out, and Moving
Giovanni Aloi
 6 Animation, Animism … Dukun Dukun & DNA
Lucy Davis
 7 Tree Wound Portraits
Shannon Lee Castleman
 8 Contested Sites: Forest as Uncommon Ground
Greg Lee Ruffing
 9 Quercus velutina, Art of Fiction, No. 11111011
Lindsey French

Part 3: Garden

 10 Falling from Grace
Giovanni Aloi
 11 Hortus Conclusus: The Garden of Earthly Mind
Wendy Wheeler
 12 Eden’s Heirs: Biopolitics and Vegetal Affinities in the Gardens of Literature
Joela Jacobs
 13 Thoreau’s Beans
Michael Marder

Part 4: Greenhouse

 14 The Greenhouse Effects
Giovanni Aloi
 15 Solarise
 16 The Glass Shields the Eyes of the Plant: Darwin’s Glasshouse Study
Heidi Norton
 17 The Lichen Museum
Laurie Palmer

Part 5: Store

 18 Hyperplant Shelf-Life
Giovanni Aloi
 19 Life in the Aisles
Linda Tegg
20 Roomba Rumba: Interview with Katherine Behar
Fatma Çolakoğlu and Ulya Soley
 21 Home Depot Throwing Out Plants
 Various Contributors

Part 6: House

 22 Presence, Bareness, and Being-With
Giovanni Aloi
 23 Houseplants as Fictional Subjects
Susan McHugh
 24 Seeing Green: The Climbing Other
Dawn Sanders
 25 Plant Radio
Amanda White

Part 7: Laboratory

 26 Psychoactives and Biogenetics
Giovanni Aloi
 27 Of Plants and Robots: Art, Architecture and Technoscience for Mixed Societies
Monika Bakke
 28 Boundary Plants
Sara Black
 29 The Illustrated Herbal
Tova Flores

Part 8: Of Other Spaces

 30 (Brief) Encounters
Giovanni Aloi
 31 Places of Maybe: Plants “Making Do” Without the Belly of the Beast
Andrew Yang
 32 The Neophyte
 Lois Weinberger
 33 Herbarium Perrine: Interview with Mark Dion
 Interviewer:Giovanni Aloi
 34 Burning Flowers: Interview with Mat Collishaw
 Interviewer:Giovanni Aloi
 35 A Program for Plants: In Conversation, Coda
Giovanni Aloi, Brian M. John, Linda Tegg and Joshi Radin

This is a cross-over title that should appeal to many students and scholars who have engaged with animal-studies and posthumanism and who feel that these fields of inquiry require further problematization. The growing readership quickly developing around the Anthropocene might also be intrigued by the proposal of this book. Likewise, readers interested in posthumanism and contemporary art should find this book of interest.
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