Temporary exhibition on show till May 6th 2018
C A M I L L A B E R N E R
art & nature
1st. of December 2017 – 6th of May 2018
Camilla Berner was born on Funen, in 1972, and grew up in a family living off the land. The role of nature in the artist’s upbringing has contributed a sense of nature as something on loan, from which it follows that good care should be taken if it.
As an artist, Berner has been interested in how people view nature. Her education covers both art and science, and her works serve to unite the two. Berner studied sculpture at Chelsea College of Fine Arts in London (1995-98), as well as landscape architecture – first at The Royal Danish Arts Academy’s School of Architecture in Copenhagen (2001) and subsequently at Landbohøjskolen (2002).
Berner’s artistic practice is categorised as ‘environmental art’ – an international movement, which took off in the 1960s in England and the USA. Environmental art seeks to investigate the relationship between humanity and nature, and it frequently makes use of natural materials in artworks. Berner’s artistic signature is found in their location-specificity, as she seeks to examine and work with unexpected or overlooked viewpoints on nature. In order to do this, Berner makes use of lists of species, collections and photographs. With the intention of making the observer reflect on the artwork, Berner uses her artistic and scientific education to create an unbiased record through which the audience is introduced to the elements of nature incorporated in the works.
In her main work “Plant Collection 1-7”, and the process surrounding the registration and collection in the garden complex ‘Krinsen’ on Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen 2014 titled “Overlooked News”, Berner engaged, un-didactically, with the subject of weeds – a polarising component of the term ‘nature’.
On Kongens Nytorv, one of the most central squares in Denmark, subway construction resulted in the transformation of the garden complex from neatly-cut to chaotic wilderness. Fronts were drawn between the ‘city-romantics’ in favour of introducing biodiversity, and those who saw the greenery as an invasion taking over from the ornamental plants and the equestrian statue of King Christian IV. A conservation statue settled the debate – a contract mandated exactly which parts of ‘nature’ were to remain. “Plant Collection 1-7” was conceived in the hours before work commenced to return the complex to the conservation guidelines. They are the seven photographs on the left wall.
It is thought-provoking that many recognise and enjoy the wildflowers in bouquets, yet these same flowers are demonised as ‘wild growths’. Berner makes us ruminate on the plants which winds, birds and coincidences bring into cities. Paradoxically, Berner has observed, that where humans seek to control nature using fences and walls, ferns are given room to grow.
In creating her artworks, Berner begins with collecting and creating a set of records of the plants. Subsequently, Berner researches the plants to trace their provenance and follow their life cycle. In 2016, plant collections in Seoul became a hunt for empty lots, and their plant growths. These South Korean plants were then contrasted with the historically-charged Danish porcelain vases.
In 2017 she put a spotlight on selected plants from Søby Brunkulslejr (a site where brown coal was mined during the Second World War), this was achieved by isolating them in the landscape in a historical trophy from 1896 used to reward the eradication of the moor through the cultivation of farmland. The reversal of this trend sees a significant resource investment now. However, the reestablishment and conservation of the moorland takes place at the cost of the plants brought into the ecosystem by chance.
As a city person Berner is fascinated by urban nature. In “Precious things and stuff we don’t like” (2009) she recorded the species of plants on an empty lot. The seeds of 124 species of plants can be seen in test tubes placed at the start of the exhibition. There was a mixture of ornamental plants and weeds, or rather: ruderat-plants, that is to say plants which thrive in environments with nutrient-poor ground, such as that found in vacant lots. They are often tough plants with limited needs for nutrition and water. The large part of what we disparagingly refer to as weeds is actually historically healing plants. Berner used a selection of the 124 plants in “The Urban Garden”, sorted by their qualities. The exhibition was set in Metropol in Sigurdsgade, Copenhagen – this was a far cry from what might be expected in a planted garden complex. Berner encourages reflection on how we look at nature in the city. Is it the plants thriving on their own on the stone bridge, or the decorative plants purchased in stores, which we have to take care to water and keep alive – or is it perhaps a mix of the two?
This exhibition is the first retrospective presentation of Camilla Berner’s works. It consists of 24 display cases upstairs. One by one they are opened, from the 1st to the 24th of December – and they can all be viewed from Boxing Day onwards (December 26th). In the days up to Christmas the display cases comprise one of the largest Christmas calendars in Denmark. The contents from the 1st to the 24th have been organised chronologically, as excerpts from Berner’s career. Through the texts of the individual display cases, we are initiated into her stories, and the questions which are an integral part of her works.1 Perhaps this way the works will live on in our memories long after we have viewed them?
The exhibition has been prepared by the artist, and has been made possible through the support of STATENS KUNSTFOND.
1 These texts are accessible both on location and online at www.vejenkunstmuseum.dk,
where they will be made available day by day throughout December.