Paris

Camille Henrot, “Robinson Crusoé,” Daniel Defoë, 2012, mixed media. Installation view. From the series “Est-il possible d’être révolutionnaire et d’aimer les fleurs?” (Is It Possible to Be a Revolutionary and Like Flowers?), 2011–12.

Camille Henrot, “Robinson Crusoé,” Daniel Defoë, 2012, mixed media. Installation view. From the series “Est-il possible d’être révolutionnaire et d’aimer les fleurs?” (Is It Possible to Be a Revolutionary and Like Flowers?), 2011–12.

Camille Henrot

Kamel Mennour | Rue Saint-André des Arts

Camille Henrot, “Robinson Crusoé,” Daniel Defoë, 2012, mixed media. Installation view. From the series “Est-il possible d’être révolutionnaire et d’aimer les fleurs?” (Is It Possible to Be a Revolutionary and Like Flowers?), 2011–12.

It’s a strange phenomenon that has been around since the 1970s, the decade of the famous Carnation Revolution that overturned Salazar in Portugal: flowers and their very specific language serving as emblems for revolutions. There was the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in 2005, and, more recently, the Jasmine Revolution, which, after a month of protests in Tunisia that were bloodily repressed, eventually brought about the downfall of Ben Ali and inspired the revolt of the Arab world in its wake. A number of artists in recent years have seized upon this collision with a highly poetic coefficient: artist Alexandre Périgot, for instance, with his Jardin Révolutionnaire avec moins de couleurs et plus de fleurs (Revolutionary Garden with Less Colors and More Flowers, 2010); Yto Barrada, who once envisioned creating a floral calendar; and now Camille Henrot with her Japanese-inspired floral compositions in a show titled “Est-il possible d’être révolutionnaire et d’aimer les fleurs?” (Is It Possible to Be a Revolutionary and Like Flowers?), taken from a series of the same name, part of which was presented at last year’s Triennale de Paris.

Henrot’s undertaking in these works is as radical as a mathematical equation: It involves translating the books in her library (aren’t all libraries revolutionary?) into floral compositions. Aided by Rica Arai, a specialist in ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging often associated with the tea ceremony, she set about the task, which proved more arduous than it first appeared, gradually transforming her Paris studio into a hothouse whose palette varied with the seasons. Patiently and meticulously, she erected delicate monuments to the glory of poets and novelists, anthropologists and historians—Homer, Proust, and Lévi-Strauss, among
others. Each arrangement soberly bears the title of the book that inspired it. As the artist explains on her website, a palm tree branch (Alma armata) and an upturned tulip (Tulipa retroflexa) might pay homage to Aimé Césaire’s Discours sur le colonialisme, while a “freedom” rose and three carnations form a tribute to the chapter on “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof” from Marx’s Capital.

While the revolutionary spirit forms a singular connection with the supposedly pacific imaginary of flora, Henrot orchestrates the no less incongruous rapprochement between high art (sculpture, literature) and the domestic or decorative arts. And as we all know, flowers are perishable, unlike monuments carved in marble for eternity, onto which we sometimes place blooms in mourning. As if in echo of the fragile hopes of peoples, most recently in the Arab world, rising up against the injustices they’ve suffered for so long, Henrot constructs an ephemeral art that must be cared for, and that, after a few months, changes its look and scent, for better or worse. “We must tend our gardens,” Voltaire wrote; Henrot, with her floral and learned cuttings, invites us to wander in hers.

Claire Moulène

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.