Vines of Intervention

By Sigmund Lunde.

"Portraits of humans and plants. Kenneth Westby, Epipremnum Aureum" by Helene Torp.

As its own little space in the middle of the exhibition room, Helene Torp’s installation invites visitors to enter her artwork and take a seat in middle of Oslo Fall Exhibition 2018 [1]. There are two short stools to sit on before a screen framed by a large devil’s ivy and a ladder entangled in the vines. The installation is a repetition of the video playing; we are taken into Kenneth Westby’s hippie home where he lives with his plant, the devil’s ivy. The close to six minutes long video on loop is a documentary portraying Westby’s life with the plant; how they met, what they have been through, how they are currently living together in the same home.

One can assume a plant just sits there growing, producing oxygen and whatnot. Yet the room for more human traits exists too. As the plant quietly sits there absorbing what is around it, it is not distracted, it seems to give you all the attention it has; it is listening. You can talk to a plant and it will never interrupt or argue. The plant is probably not listening as a human, it is listening as a plant, but for a human speaker that is functionally the same. The plant receives air currents and vibrations and the human has something to talk to. In this situation their two realities intervene. This activity is interpreted differently for them, but they share a moment of appreciation of each other; they are coexisting in harmony. This is an example of how different beings can form links between their quite different worlds and sort of understand each other without understanding the other’s reality.

We all live inside our own heads as we try to interpretation and understand the world around us through our ideas and concepts of how things are and should be. These are our terms and tools for navigating the world and create our picture of reality. Our reality is based on the tools we have for interpreting the world. When our ideas and concepts differ from another person’s, we have a hard time understanding them. We may see what they are doing, but we do not see their motivation or the plan of their actions. To live together we try to adapt to others, we try to find and to create links between two heads that are apart. Often humans have enough trouble understanding other humans. How should we approach other beings? Plants are fundamentally very different from humans, they do not even have the same basic needs for survival. What possible links could there be between man and plant?

It seems to be a human thing to do to fill in the blanks in portraits, if there is something that seems amiss we will try to patch it up to create a complete picture. The human imagination is a tool used to understand the world through what might just be guesses. As we are bound by what we know, what we have seen and our own thoughts, our framework for creating wholes is ourselves. If we see a stranger doing something, we will probably assume he does it for the same reason we ourselves would do it. A non-human lacks a lot to fill our human criteria of a complete portrait, this means there is a lot of space to fill out. Room to let the imagination run its own course when it comes to their persona.

A person projects parts of himself upon an external body. Granting it traits similar to himself. Animating it in his own perception, in his own world, this thing is alive. It is given identity and personality inspired by himself. It has been taken from inside him and given to something outside, then treated like something external, at least kind of. It is almost a delusion, a fantasy friend, but perhaps more so an extended self. His own personality is extended beyond his body and onto other things in the world. What he projects upon is then an entity in both the world shared by everyone and his personal world. The thing is given another aspect. Here the non-human is incorporated into the human’s reality by the personality granted to it. The human believes to understand this being as he himself created it.

This could be overwhelming the non-human, completely overrunning what they themselves are. The human arrogantly imposes their reality upon them, creating a world defined by only the human perspective. However, another possibility is what Torp’s artwork displays; the possibility to approach each other this way. The traits assigned to a non-human are something reaching for an understanding of them. If these are met halfway by the plant’s true being, their worlds might intervene with each other. As humans are bound to being humans and understanding the world on our human terms, this seem like a realistic way of bridging between man and plant.

With openness in our ways so that we do not overwrite another’s terms of existence with our own definitions, but instead try to find connection points between us and seek harmony even if complete mutual understanding remains an impossibility. The vines’ entanglement in the installation echoes this theme of intervention and coexistence. It is this openness more than anything that seems to be Torp’s message within this project.


[1] See http://helenetorp.com/a-portrait-of-a-man-and-a-plant-epipremnum-aureum/