From March 31st to June 24th 2021
Ernesto Casero‘s exhibition The Lost Plants concludes a sort of “chlorophyll trilogy” composed of three individual exhibitions which have inaugurated, after the group exhibition Malva y Asfódelo, the art gallery Gabinete de dibujos in Literato Azorín, 33.
The first one was Botanical Breathing by Nieves Torralba, an extreme refinement of vegetable shapes executed in controlled movements, coordinated almost choreographically with the artist’s own breathing.
It was followed by the exhibition No soy yo quien dibuja, in which Felipe Ortega Regalado combined and recombined vegetable and indeterminate organic fragments, resulting in one hundred drawings that inspire surprise, their process of creation reminiscent of someone repeating a Tibetan mantra.
Now, last of all, The Lost Plants by Ernesto Casero reminds us by means of overlays of flora considered extinct that the so called Sixth Mass Extinction, one of the terrible consequences of the Anthropocene, is underway. The artist, in a sort of naturalist Mea culpa maxima, forces us to recognize that humanity is the cause of this, having provoked habitat loss through its compulsive construction/destruction and its hectic cocktail of foreign species scattered throughout the world.
Three significantly different approaches to the same topic, formulated as an argument, in which the vegetable world appears as a source of inspiration, cause for reflection, repository of fragmented images, spiritual help, topic of denunciation and cause for activism; a protest articulated by some isolated voices such as Rachel Carson’s as early as the mid-20th century, and which is rapidly becoming thunderous in the 21st century.
The lost plants
By Ernesto Casero
Plants don’t emit sounds that we can appreciate, apart from those produced by the wind between their branches, or when we step on them, and they move on a time scale that is difficult to perceive to animals, and perhaps this is what leads to many consider them as little more than food, or as part of the landscape, the environment, even decoration, as if they were entities that are closer to the order of objects than to the living. Humans, who live inserted in a system of hierarchies, tend in general to ignore what is alien to our way of being in the world. We have a word to designate what is not human, nature, as if we were in another place, a place from which we can take, manipulate and exploit what surrounds us at will. Not all humans, it is true, and not all cultures, of course, and humans have existed since, depending on which point of view is adopted, between one hundred thousand and two million years. But it’s evident that in the recent times we have accelerated certain processes that have turned us into a true plague for the rest of beings with whom we share the planet, and we are being warned that they are increasingly intense and pressing, and it doesn’t seem that the smartest attitude is to continue going through everything as if it didn’t concern us.
In 1972, a report named The Limits to Growth, prepared by MIT for the Club of Rome, made it clear: if we followed the rhythm of resource exploitation we were in, the consequences would be catastrophic and irreversible for the human race. Some voices, like that of Rachel Carson, who published her famous book Silent Spring ten years before the MIT report, had already realized that things were not going well at all, not so much for humans but rather for the rest of the beings we live with here. But the fact is that during all this time we have not only not changed the direction but we have accelerated the rate of exploitation and destruction that was worrying back then. We are in what is known as the sixth mass extinction: humans have reached the destructive category of the giant asteroid that ended the existence of the dinosaurs and the eighty percent of species that inhabited the planet at that time. And in this process, the plants are becoming extinct at a rate five times higher than that of the animals, but of course, it may also be that since they don’t make much noise, we don’t realize much, just as we don’t realize that they are the base of ecosystems and that when a plant species disappears, animal species that are directly associated with it have a great chance of ending up disappearing as well. And the zoonotic origin of certain pandemics has been sounding the alarm enough lately that we do not pay attention to the signals that reach us.
In 1973 Bruce Nauman publishes a well-known etching that is basically made up of one phrase: pay attention motherfuckers. Obviously I don’t think he was thinking about plants, surely he had a thousand possible reasons to say: pay attention, motherfuckers, but I have decided to revisit it to express my concern on the alarming disappearance of our silent but essential neighbors. In this ship, in this spaceship without manual, we are all the same, and it is about time that we pay a little attention. So I have compiled a list of 163 plants that have become extinct due to human impact on ecosystems, and with some of them I have made drawings, based on images of dried specimens that are preserved in various herbaria. I have tried to make the drawings in a very clear key to allude to the ghostly character of these plants that one day were with us and were lost forever, with their names written under the drawings so that we remember them, even if they sound strange and difficult to us to pronounce. To make Nauman’s phrase on the wall I have used preserved moss, a bit as if the plant kingdom itself were the one that expressed it, and the list of species of plants disappeared on another wall is a parallel with the lists of missing people that We humans perform to remember the victims of some catastrophe. Because I’m not very sure if the exhibition works as a wake-up call or as an elegy, in my head these things are quite mixed, but I’m sure the catastrophe is happening and if we don’t pay attention to the way we relate to the other, no matter how silent, a time awaits us in which the human species will be part of the list of the disappeared.