by Rachel Heidenry
Flowers become storytellers.
Plants become narratives.
Camille Henrot’s The Restless Earth takes fauna and philosophy as its central prerogative. Pairing floral arrangements with literature, the artist mixes her profound sensibility of light, color, texture and composition with an equally brilliant understanding of language, science and thought. The result is an exhibition full of magic.
An artist who is intimately concerned with the present, Camille Henrot also brings a tender understanding of the past to each project she undertakes. Combining anthropology, film, archaeology and history, the artist creates films, installation and drawings that are not only beautiful – but full of subtle activism, constant questioning and gentle critique.
On view at the New Museum from May 7th-June 29th, The Restless Earth was an extraordinary survey of Henrot’s recent works. It began with a new installation “Is it possible to be a revolutionary and like flowers?”, a stunning project that combined books from the artist’s library with ikebana arrangements. Connections between language and aesthetic – words and flower petals – formed a complex relationship that produced an aura of poetry itself.
Four video works including Coupé/Décalé (2010) and Million Dollar Point (2011) were also on view – exhibiting Henrot’s signature marks of cropping, repetition, ritual and vignette. The artist’s anthropological interest in culture and identity formation is wrapped in each story. Using cropping to create narrative, Henrot pieces together scenes in which commentary is triggered by visual manipulation. This technique shines in Grosse Fatigue, Henrot’s award-winning video that explores the universe’s creation through Google searches and museum archives. The 13 minute video will leave you breathless, exhilarated and ready to watch it again and again.
Another project, Jewels from the Personal Collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan, presents a long table filled with auction plates topped with botanical specimens. The delicate addition of the plants and flowers – cut from decorative flower beds at Upper East Side building entrances – becomes juxtaposed by the direct reference to wealth, beauty and luxury that epitomizes the Christie’s plates. Henrot’s intention is to explore the concept of the status symbol as it relates to ritual, nature, the urban and commerce. She more than succeeds.
The Restless Earth was a show full of complexity, nuance and wisdom. Together the pieces wove into a brilliant narrative that showcased Henrot’s gentle, yet powerful understanding of beauty, philosophy, history and human responsibility. The artist once again proved that she is someone we should all be listening to.