Not clean yet

by Kitty Drake in September 2020
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The Plant, by its editors’ definition, is a magazine about “creative people who share our love for plants”. But don’t expect think-pieces about gardening. The latest issue, for example, has an illustration of a man being throttled on its cover. He is sitting on a turtle, sipping juice from a plastic straw, apparently unaware that his days are numbered.

Part of a series about climate change called ‘Not Clean Yet’ by the artist Camille Henrot, that title has a deliberately childish ring to it. The illustrations themselves look like they could be in a children’s book — a polar bear holds up a sign saying ‘help’; a man swallows a burger with a patty shaped like planet earth — because Henrot is reframing adults as the new children, in desperate need of a baby-book guide to curbing our impulse to self-destruct. 

“I belong to a generation on the cusp — positioned between our parents’ inherited lack of concern (the Boomer generation) and the legitimate, growing anger that young people are already expressing,” Henrot explains in her accompanying editorial. “We’re both children and parents, projecting guilt onto others and feeling the guilt of the massive destruction unfolding before our eyes”. This is not a new thought, but these illustrations — with their humour, and violence — make it feel new.

Another refracted look at plantlife comes from New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik. Gopnik writes about the photographer Brigitte Lacombe’s images of Central Park, and the way they make us see again “the park’s skeleton with X-ray clarity”. Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park, believed in leisure as the foundation liberal democracy: “When social spaces were created outside the direct control of the state,” Gopnik writes, “‘social capital,’ essentially what we call civil society, [can] accumulate in unexpected ways”.

Photography-heavy, other features are less interesting. There’s a series called ‘Last Christmas’, about Christmas trees, that comes over a little sentimental. But at its best, The Plant is delightfully unpredictable. One of the most beautiful things in here is a series of ceramics made by the photographer Harley Weir in collaboration with her father, who has Alzheimers. The ceramics are luscious and often lopsided. They are exactly what you might expect from Weir — whose photographs are famous for their sensuality, and their femininity — and at the same time, entirely strange.

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