HOUSEBOUND: Portraits from the Winter Garden

HOUSEBOUND: Portraits from the Winter Garden
Galerie Trois Points
March 11 – April 22, 2017

The house plant possesses the cinematic ability to oscillate between the highly significant and the background prop. As a body of signification, the plant exists in relation to one individual: its caretaker. Even if a couple bought their asparagus fern together—taking turns carrying it on the walk home from the nursery, potting it on the first kitchen table that belonged to them and only them—only one half of the pair will remember to water it. It grows because of this individual, it makes it through the winter. As long as the fern is contained in a pot, in an apartment, in the middle of a city, its life is dependent. So the individual loves it, because he understands that it needs him. But the house plant can die, and the house plant is left behind, and the house plant is, of course, non-sentient.

The strange void that potted dracaena, fiddle leaf fig trees and philodendrons fill in our lives is explored by artists Evergon and Jean-Jacques Ringuette, with the exhibition HOUSEBOUND: Portraits from the Winter Garden, at Galerie Trois Points until April 22. The photographic works are an examination of interiority, reminiscence, and the beauty of the botany we keep.

A grid of 31 inkjet prints (3×10, plus one frame added to the top right corner) dominates the show. Brightly lit and placed in front of the same cool grey background, various potted plants sit for their portraits. One after the other, they are uniformly lined up like in an obligatory yearbook page for an aloof graduating class. They are a motley crew. “Margaret,” the bulbous and key lime green succulent, is slouching out of her tilted pot. “Echo”’s pink petals cascade whimsically from a tall glass vase, like the girl from the wealthy family who doesn’t brush her hair. “Émilie” broods in a dark green tangle, at odds with the sunny yellow of the planter she crouches in. The camera captures the ridges of a vein, the glints of reflected light, and the vast negative space that respects each ‘lady-plant’ as a subject. Within HOUSEBOUND, the exotic flora are yours for a moment. Without having to tend to their soil, it is possible to imagine complaining to “Margaret” about the morning rain or glancing in the hallway mirror’s reflection of both you and “Echo” to check your teeth. You bring them the nourishment of the outside world; you are their caretaker. In return, they give you beautiful company.

Artist Evergon is also known as Celluloso Evergonni, Eve R. Gonzales and Egon Brut. The Canadian photographer is internationally acclaimed for his technological innovation (non-silver processes, electrostatic works and life-size holograms, for example) and thematic of sexuality, gender, aging and the body. A professor emeritus of studio arts at Concordia University, Evergon lives and works in Montreal. His work has been shown from Los Angeles to Shanghai, but, in recent years, Evergon’s health has rendered him housebound. The exhibition is a collaboration with former student, friend and model Jean-Jacques Ringuette, capturing living things that only live indoors. The creative partnership may be symbiotic in the same way that a plant and its human individual are. When art is made, is this not a form of photosynthesis?

The show also features a series of memento mori-style still-life prints. Unlike the rich, natural colors of the house plants, the still lifes conjure fleshy decay. At luncheons where meat is served, it sits on a platter as the centerpiece of the table. After the lunch guests are full and float on to the next room, while the unfinished carcass is neglected. Purposeless, its death is consummated. The flowers of these visually opulent images are browning, their petals brittle and tendrils wilted. The crowded frames feature water-damaged photographs, bronze amphibian figurines and a model skeleton. Glittering red rubies of DayQuil and cherry tomatoes are scattered on the table, posing the question: ‘what does one do to feel well?’. The scene suggests the simultaneous existence of the living, the already-lived, and the intangible nostalgia for life itself. As a testament to expiration, these still-lifes subscribe to the more cynical ontology of the house plant: it is painfully perishable.

From sunny windowsills and forgotten dentist office corners, plants extend stems of companionship, whispering to its caregiver. Evergon’s Winter Garden reminds viewers to water, resoil and tend to these symbols of how marvellous life is while it is still living.

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