Artistic and experimental researches in the relationship between man and nature

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Nature Morte/Nature Vivante’ temporary exhibition at CID | Grand Hornu

Until 20 March 2020 the CID -center for innovation and design- at Grand Hornu, features the exhibition ‘Nature Morte/Nature Vivante‘.
In this exhibition, designers, architects, and artists present intensive, practical or experimental researches that question the relationship between man and nature, calling in equal measure on ecology, science, our moral conscience, and artistic creation.

cover image: Wallpaper roses still, 2015 © Lieve Van Stappen

Since the late 17th century, the French expression ‘nature morte’ (literally ‘dead nature’) has been used to refer to still life, the field of painting that approaches nature from a sensual perspective and explicitly alludes to its fragility and ephemerality, and indirectly also to the vanity of human intervention on its composite elements. Over time, the term has extended to include any arrangement of inanimate objects organized with a symbolic intention, which is meant to induce a poetic emotion.
In our so-called “Anthropocene” age – characterized by mankind’s ever deeper impact on nature – man’s unwarranted action is contributing to the impermanence of nature, or even its annihilation. With this somber outlook, the term ‘nature morte‘ takes on even greater relevance.



above: Nature Morte / Nature Vivante, installation views © Tim Van de Velde

Consciences are nevertheless awakening to the invention of another relationship between humans and plant life, which until now had been relegated to the background in the hierarchy of human priorities.
Certain artists have turned this interest in the plant world into the focal point of their practices. Back in 1982, the German artist Joseph Beuys pioneered the field by presenting a project called 7000 Oaks, Urban Forestation instead of Urban Administration. Assisted by an army of volunteers, he planted and distributed 7,000 trees throughout the city. Some 40 years later, the work survived its creator and continues to evolve, as the lifetime of an oak tree largely exceeds that of a human being.
Certain botanical experts, including Stefano Mancuso, do not hold back nowadays from referring to the “sensitive intelligence” of plants. In a similar vein, the Austrian artist Lois Weinberger, whose work is also found in this exhibition, metaphorically emphasizes the political role of plants by using weeds, their ability to grow and proliferate, to remind us of human communities and the searingly topical phenomena of migration.
Another artist whose work appears in the exhibition, Michel Blazy, has taken an interest in all lifeforms from the outset of his career. He uses an extraordinary variety of materials for his sculptures: plants, dog biscuits, hydrophilic cotton, toilet paper, etc., to experiment with living beings as a model of growth and development, a perpetually renewed system, whose evolution is experienced in real-time. Thus, for example, an element that is in the process of rotting (e.g. an orange rind) will never be the same from one moment to the next, or from one spectator to another, as the living aspect—in this case the micro-organisms, bacteria or fungi—have in the meantime been accomplishing their incessant transformation work. The living being thus develops a random form which is not preconfigured by the artist, which even demands not to be controlled, so that in his own words, it “allows the material, the lifeforms and time to do their own thing.”


Michel Blazy, Collection de Chaussures, 2015-2017. 57° Venice Art Biennale, 2017.
Photo © Inexhibit


Diana Scherer, Plantroot weaving, (120 cm x 80 cm.)
Diana Scherer explores the relationship of man versus his natural environment and his desire to control nature. For the past few years her attention has mainly been focused on the dynamics of belowground plant parts. She has been captivated by the system of roots with its hidden processes, considered to be the brain of the plant by plant neurobiologists. Photo courtesy of CID


Marlène Huissoud, Cocoon Cabinet #6 (120 x 90 x 60 cm), silkworm’s cocoons, honeybee bio resin, oak frame, 2018, unique piece. 
Marlène Huissoud is an experimental designer. In 2014, she graduated from MA Material Futures (known as Textile Futures) at Central Saint Martins’ School of Art and Design in London where she developed the project From Insects: an exploration of insect materials from the common honeybee and the Indian silkworm. Her work questions our way of making by challenging the properties of natural resources. She believes in the value of the concept, not only with an outcome but with the complete creative process. Photo courtesy of CID


Forget me not © Ani Liu

Until recently, artists, designers, and architects were used to working with inert, non-living materials; nowadays, they have new, biological products which technology has made easily reproducible. Among these, mycelium (the vegetative mechanism of fungi) still has great potential that is yet to be discovered.
In the digital age, the transformation of living material is slowly but surely finding its way into the realms of creation. The potential approaches to what is now called bio-design are manifold. Working with living organisms such as yeasts, bacteria or mycelium inevitably leads to a more ecological, responsible vision of our future societies.
Until now confined to the fields of medicine or biology, the exploration of invisible life forms and processes of plant life have recently attracted the interest of artists and designers who can draw new research directions from their observation.


Various Artists, Agua con Gaz, aquariums, bonsai, aluminium bases, and lights.
Photo by Ela Bialkowska, courtesy of CID

Various Artists (VA) originated around 18 years ago in the former art laboratory ‘Plateau’ in Brussels. Over the years, Trudo Engels, co-founder of this organization, developed a collective of 24 artists. Around 2008, VA has grown into a fully-fledged artistic collective whose practices are brought out under the name ‘Various Artists’. During a trip through Southern Europe, Various Artists were confronted with scenes of completely changing landscapes caused by the construction of hydroelectric dams. Such large projects subsidized by the E.U. are a way to generate energy and to ensure water supply for industrial agriculture at the expense of the original flora, fauna, and culture of an ancient landscape. Drowning Bonsai recreates the image of drowned olive groves and confronts us with the extreme impact culture can have on nature.


Hilde De Decker, For the farmer and the market gardener – Work in progress


above: Nature Morte / Nature Vivante, installation views © Tim Van de Velde

Nature Morte / Nature Vivante
24.11.2019 / 08.03.2020
Rue Sainte-Louise 82 B
B-7301 Hornu – Belgium


above: Nature Morte / Nature Vivante, installation views © Tim Van de Velde

All images courtesy of CID

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