Plants in Residence
Throughout the summer, Open Space will be the host to some new, unusual guests as a part of Sergio Rojas Chaves’ project, Plants in Residence. Lodging a series of houseplants throughout Open Space’s facility, Rojas Chaves will explore distance, displacement, and belonging through a focus on houseplants. Through the project, Rojas Chaves will investigate the interdependent relationship between people and houseplants; the aesthetical function that plants play for humans, while also reflecting on the plants’ need to be cared for in domestic scenarios. As an artist who lives between Victoria and Costa Rica, Rojas Chaves’ is particuliarly interested in dialoguing about exploring the ‘otherness’ in a community. Rojas Chaves has been engaging with houseplants since 2014, when he started a series entitled, Houseplants on Tour. In the earlier performance, Rojas Chaves took tropical houseplants on walks, while engaging with conversations of the public and the plants’ owners. Rojas Chaves hopes that spending time with the plants will encourage Open Space staff, volunteers, and visitors to reconsider to the parallels between our own living and growing within the organization.
"I am interested in the role these plants will take during their residency...Hopefully by the end of the residency they will become an active part in the functioning environment of the gallery/organization. I am sure that by September these plants will belong at Open Space."
—Sergio Rojas Chaves
Sergio Rojas Chaves has well travelled houseplants. They have been on sunny bike
rides, winter city walking tours, posed in catalogues, and have taken on temporary
habitation as Plants in Residence at Open Space for a summer.
As Plants in Residence, Sergio’s houseplants were quickly anthropomorphized at
Open Space; each staff member had their own personal relationship to the plants.
Some were given names (Gene, Dylan, Plant #1 etc), included in meetings as guest
attendees, featured in announcements and newsletters, and tended to gingerly by
their caretakers. While Plants in Residence was a public program, there was
something very intimate about the experience of the plants sharing the space day in
and day out with the Open Space staff.
I have also lived with six of Sergio’s banana plants in my home. It becomes an
intimate relationship and reflection of the caregiver’s ability to keep the plants alive
and well. I scorched their fragile leaves once because I thought they needed a hit of
vitamin D and left them outside in the blistering sun for too long. It was a mortifying
moment that overtime had crippling effects on the banana plants, and I lost three of
the six that Sergio had entrusted in my care.
It is this constant care by its keeper who determines how it grows, where it trails off
to - controlling its whereabouts, its light and water intake etc. Because we have
uprooted and domesticated houseplants, we now need to maintain that action. This
aside, there is an immense amount of joy that this ritual can bring – a new leaf
sprouts or a stem grows longer - finding the perfect mix of sunlight and water ratio
to make the plant become an unwieldy survivor in its pot.
Reflecting on Plants in Residence, this quiet and understated project operated behind
the white walls, and entered into possibly the most intimate of residencies that has
been programmed at Open Space. While the plants lingered informally about, they
undeniably added to the vibrancy of Open Space that summer.
When I came to pick up the plants after the residency had ended, it felt like a
startling gesture to take them away. The plants had been well integrated into the
office dynamic, not merely part of the architecture. I rehomed two of the five
houseplants and left three at Open Space. Gene was one of these plants. It had the
most whimsical leaf, at times would lose one of its stems. Helen revealed that she
had been keeping these stems and letting them dry, beautiful and ghostly,
preserving the experience. I nearly killed Gene this fall, or at least I thought I had
lost him altogether and so planted a succulent in his place. Very recently Gene made
a healthy comeback and began to grow shoots out and around the succulent I had
planted. I immediately repotted the succulent to let Gene grow big and strong again.