Imagine a greenhouse filled with exotic and unusual plants, the likes of which you have probably never been seen on earth before. These plant forms are not aliens from another plant, but creations from well-known American artist Hilary Pfeifer and her latest bonsai inspired exhibit - Natural Selection. We caught up with Hilary to find out more about her mesmerizing botanical exhibit of imaginary plants made almost entirely from found or reclaimed materials.

Please tell us about your exhibit Natural Selection.

I often call this show an "installation within an installation" because it has two layers. The first thing you see when you enter the gallery is a greenhouse structure sitting in the middle of a gallery space. There are a few plant forms attached to the exterior of the greenhouse, but you must go into that structure to see the majority of the artwork.

This inner installation is a formal display of sculptures I made to resemble plant forms that are inspired by Japanese bonsai. The plants are each tiny vignettes of courtship scenarios, as if they are choosing their mates the way humans can: a blend of natural instincts and intellect. Each piece presents a different look at intimacy and relationships. Their abilities to defy species and natural law reflects our freedom to cross boundaries such as social norms, race, age, and gender.

Natural Selection also continues my ongoing exploration of the ways that humans attempt to control nature, and in turn, nature finds a way to adapt or reassert itself, such as grass that grows in the cracks of a sidewalk or mildew that forms on an uninsulated wall behind a couch.

How long did it take you to create the plants in the exhibit?

The short answer to this question is that it took four years and five months. The four years marks the period of time that paved the way for me to set the project in motion. I have been working in the installation format since 1998, but this project needed a longer incubation time, due to other commitments I had on my calendar. My early career mostly focused on art that lived on walls or sometimes ceilings of interior spaces, but four years ago I started making these bonsai forms that could stand alone. I had an idea that I wanted to find a way to situate them in a controlled environment that moved off the walls and into the gallery space, so I let the ideas develop for several years until I could move on. As these concepts took shape, I soon realized that the visions in my head could only be realized with financial assistance, so I spent almost a year writing and applying for grants to help fund it. I am thankful for this aspect of preparation because grant writing forces you to work out a lot of ideas and focus your concepts early on. When all of this was secured, I could then spend five months focusing mostly on the creation of the sculptures.

What research did you do to prepare the exhibit?

I worked out my ideas through reading, drawing, list making, and writing. I looked a bit at greenhouse and botanical garden conservatories before talking to Fred Soelzer, the person who I contracted to design and build the structure. We met on and off-site many times to develop that aspect of the installation. Along the way I also gleaned information from many sources, including Darwin's writings pertaining specifically to plants, and the work of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin, who wrote a book titled "The Loves of the Plants," which was quite bawdy when it was first published in 1821, but tame by current standards.

I was also interested in modern challenges to evolution theory of natural and sexual selection, erotica and contemporary nonfiction, singles ads, interviews, personal experience, and art history. Another research element involved a look into botanical Latin, which helped me give each of the sculptures in the greenhouse its own botanical name. With around 75 pieces in the exhibit, the naming process turned out to be quite involved.

What are the 'plants' made of?

I mainly use wood to make the plants, adding some other materials like wire, fishing line, and other materials. They are almost entirely made from previously used and/or scrap materials, which I am very happy about. I am able to glean wood cutoffs from a local cabinetmaker, and I frequent the thrift stores looking for old wood vases or toys to use in my work. We have a store called SCRAP that sells re-used art supplies or curious found objects that can be used in art projects. I am much more inspired by found objects than brand new art materials because it's a challenge to work with a pre-existing form and it often leads me in directions I might not have thought about on my own. After I've assembled my sculpture, I paint them, which disguises the materials beneath.

The greenhouse is also made from a large percentage of previously used materials. The ReBuilding Center in Portland salvages usable materials from homes and buildings which are slated for demolition, which they then turn around and re-sell to the general public as materials. You can get everything from sinks and hardwood floors to decorative molding and lumber. They generously donated several sliding glass doors to my project, which Fred dismantled to use the glass for the greenhouse. The rest of the structure was built with a combination of new and used materials.

How many plant sculptures are there in the greenhouse?

The interior has two tiers of shelving, which display around 70 plant sculptures in an orderly fashion. Each of these plants is labeled with its botanical name on a plastic marker, just as you would see in a real botanical garden. There are five regions on the greenhouse itself where plant forms are mounted to appear as if they are growing out of the walls. These plants aren't named, because in my imaginary world, they are too new for humans to have classified them yet.

How are the plants 'choosing' mates in the greenhouse?

Thinking about how Japanese bonsai create a tiny landscape scene, my plant forms play out their own courtship vignettes, with two or more elements interacting with each other. Sometimes the forms are directly referring to sex, such as the one titled Passistema nimis, which is my Latin term for being "well-endowed." Others, such as Fortuno solitas recognizes that some people choose and are quite happy not partnering romantically in their lifetime. One overarching theme that I hope people bring away from this show is that there are many ways that humans choose to partner and be sexual in their lives and we shouldn't be judgmental just because it's not how we choose to conduct ourselves.

Is your art usually about the environment?

Living in the Pacific Northwest, environmental politics are an inescapable facet of everyday life. I find myself returning to these themes time and again. I like to use humor to convey a message about how we should be careful and respectful of the environment by presenting a surrealistic "what if" scenario where plants have adapted into bizarre forms. One example is a piece I made in 2003, titled "Walking Stick for One Who Stays Indoors, Mostly." It was a six-foot long stick made entirely of colorful plant-like forms. The idea was that if people don't interact with nature enough, they might believe that such a stick could really come from the earth. Another show called 'sWarm talked about actual lovebugs who were forced to relocate their mating swarms due to deforestation in the Florida area. There's a chemical in auto exhaust that smells to the male lovebug exactly like a female lovebug who's fertile. This results in giant swarms invading the highway systems, which creates even more problems for humans in turn.

Where can people see the exhibit?

This show is currently on display through the month of January at Velvet da Vinci Gallery, 2015 Polk Street in San Francisco. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 12 pm - 6 pm, Sunday from 12 pm - 4 pm. The Gallery is closed on Monday. Visit: www. velvetdavinci. com.

Anything you would like to add?

Anyone who wants to learn more about my Natural Selection show is invited to visit my blog where I documented the entire project and posted plenty of ‘behind-the-scenes’ images. I have tagged each entry that talks about this show "Natural Selection" and you can filter them to just read about this project.

I would also like to thank the Regional Arts and Culture Council, The Oregon Arts Commission, the Puffin Foundation, The McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, the ReBuilding Center, Christian Bannister, Fred Soelzer, and Velvet da Vinci Gallery, without whose generous support, this exhibition would not have been possible.

Visit: www. hilarypfeifer. com

Via:www.greenmuze. ??m

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