When I heard that Camille Henrot, the young French artist known for winning the Silver Lion at last year’s Biennale, was planning to present Japanese Ikebana at Schinkel Pavillon I was instantly intrigued how she’ll translate this traditional and heavily symbolic yet strikingly minimal art of arranging flowers into a contemporary art installation in the center of Europe. While I certainly wasn’t be able to figure out each and every symbol and its meaning, the exhibition presented in the distinctive octagon pavilion just off Unter den Linden is remarkable nonetheless.
I saw Henrot’s video Grosse Fatigue in Venice and it impressed me enough to include it in my personal “Best of Venice”, naturally I was excited to see her work in Berlin. At her Schinkel Pavillon exhibition Snake Grass you can not only see her flower piece Is it possible to be a revolutionary and like flowers?, but also her video work The Strife of Love in a Dream, based on which she was invited to take part in the Biennale. It deals with snakes – their poison, their fascination, their worshipping.
The flower arrangements are more unusual than I expected, Henrot names them after pieces by Novalis, Goethe or Stefan Zweig and Homer, thus creating comments on the written word by the means of flowers, grasses, vases and foams. Almost translating literature in flowers. Inasmuch as Ikebana is not simply arranging flowers by their prettiness and decorative value, but always aims to express a certain intention, as if to phrase a title or quote using blossoms.
What is interesting is the transition of Ikebana, as an art-form that is created according to and depending on the altering states of seasonal flowers, into a temporary Western exhibition. All of Henrot’s flower pieces are conceptualized – she planned for certain flowers to be used, yet these are not readily available everywhere. The Schinkel Pavillon works together with an Ikebana master and the Botanischer Garten of Berlin to re-create Henrot’s works, some of which can’t be on view since the plants intended by the artists are not available in Berlin (or in this season). Some others are available, but not in the right state of bloom asked for by Henrot. Furthermore, the exhibition needs to be maintained, which means in case you visit, you probably won’t see the same pieces as I did (and photographed), since the pieces are refreshed and re-arranged every couple of days.
It certainly is an interesting clash of different approaches, merging a highly temporary and rather irretrievable Japanese art form with a Western concept of durability and recoverability.
On view until May 11th.