Hypothesis: Everything is Leaf
Robert Capa Contemporary Center
September 21, 2022
What can the aesthetics of vegetal existence and the ontological basis of the vegetal state be like? Plants are present everywhere and represent a general green materialism and a customary basis or background which at first make their presence far too general. Meanwhile each plant has a peculiar alterity, a radical and irreducible difference, which distinguishes it not only from all the elements of human sociality, but also from other plants. This duality – a planetary green natural dimension and the vegetal alterity withdrawing into itself – can be found in Tamas Dezsö’s fascinating exhibition Hypothesis: Everything is Leaf.
The feminist philosopher Karen Barad makes an attempt at a radical review of the notion of causality in her article Posthuman Performativity published in 2003, and in the volume Meeting the Universe Halfway of 2007. The soil is a medium in which various actors manifest themselves, then disappear. It is a peculiar scene of appearances and retreats, which are pervaded by various rhizomatic roots and vegetal modes of existence. Within this medium rhizomatic arrangements are functioning, making even the apparently deserted areas liveable.
When Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari wrote about the “collective arrangements of enunciation”, they thought of the unaware acquirement and transfer of ecological information in the rhizomatic operation. Each plant needs to entirely fill its environment, while it lives unreflected among its own networks and elements. Vegetal existence is also an elementary existence, living together with compounds, climate change and particles.
The world itself has a kind of “radical aliveness” which has been ignored far too long by the scientistic worldview operating with dead matter. In order to disseminate their seeds plants make their way to fields. This involves the whole planet in the process of life, starting from invisible underground work, which can be approached by us only with difficulty. Yet, at the same time, by this peculiar shaping of the soil and underground vegetal operation it also connects the depth and invisible layers of the planet with air and the sky via its stems and trunks, thus creating a globally extensive cosmopolitical sphericity, which can be called biosphere.
Dissemination presupposes the presence of a medium promoting growth. Withdrawal and invisibility get connected with plasticity and rhizomatic openness for existence. Life can be characterised as striving for dissemination and proliferation, whose basis is provided by plants and various vegetal arrangements. Everything indeed is leaf – green buds, plant assemblages, underground rhizomes, real green heterotopias constitute nature. Jacques Derrida asserts that “to lose one’s head, no longer to know where one’s head is, such is perhaps the effect of dissemination.” In so far as we work out the philosophical and aesthetic conceptualisation of the radical viability of plants, we ourselves can learn to think in a vegetal, headless way. It is precisely the absence of head which may make a vegetal way of life interesting, even attractive for us.
The Anthropocene is actually a post-anthropocenic theoretical attempt to point out via Earth system theory and contemporary geology that human societies and the entirety of reality are built upon grids in which non-human beings, plants, metals and natural phenomena all play an important role. Although the domestification of plants can be regarded as important in relation to the history of the earth – which was a significant event of the Early and Middle Holocene and is fundamentally connected with the phenomenon of agriculture – it cannot be stated that plants would have become recognizable and knowable. Their green wildness and radical proliferation undermine our far too anthropocentric and logocentric concepts and ideas. To introduce the secrets of leaves and plants requires an aesthetic practice which preserves these enigmas as tiny green leaves that cannot be opened and plucked, and which withdrawing into themselves profess the continuing interconnection of life with vegetal assemblages.
Tamas Dezsö’s works guide us to extraordinary gardens and distant painting-like forests via the secret, moreover the preservation of secrets, while he draws attention to the scarcity of human perspectivity as opposed to the alterity of plants and life. The theme of the Anthropocene and dark ecology, the vision of an environment threatened by human existence come into prominence in several exhibited works, which however is always able to withdraw into this specific vegetal darkness and thus to threaten our own human existence and civilisational practice via the more gothic vegetal arrangement turning into dark green.
The planetary cosmo-politics and vegetal globalisation or gridding of plants overwrite our customary concepts about power and productivity. The global dominance of plants is literally senseless. They have spread over nearly all the Earth without ever having been able to plan it all. So dissemination does not require sense. Intelligence does not point ahead, but relying on memory it offers retroactive answers and adaptations to the changing circumstances. Mindless vegetal intelligence can be talked about in so far as the multiplication of plants offers the pretence of purposefulness and well-considered action. Rhizomatic expansion is based on the successful yet unintentional choice of suitable environments. Vegetal intelligence can be demonstrated and verified, but only post hoc by beings having more complex nervous systems than plants, which localize the currents of intelligence in their overgrown brains.
Yet, plants not only show a spread of planetary size and globalised performativity but also some inevitable and inaccessible green mysteriousness to which the specific notion of eco-gothics is relevant. We can notice that troublesome and ineradicable weeds, those disorderly plants, constantly cause bother and ceaselessly and insolently invade human spaces and minds. It is not only that these green multitudes live in some distant region; the multitude always appears creating itself with the help of several procedures of transmission. There are leaves everywhere and in a certain way everything is indeed leaf! No single individualised body is needed for successful dissemination. True, we give weeds various names and adjectives slotting them into categories. For example, even the name of the plant touch-me-not attributes a character to avoid. However, they, by leaving behind their identity, have the ability to melt into the general “greenness”, the zone of undeterminability where opulent colour and animated deformation abide.
Tamas Dezsö’s exhibition allows us to look into the vegetal dissemination and the alterities of vegetal existence in such a way that he offers a real heterotypia of vegeta reality levels. One can find such shifts of perspectives which refer to the hyperobject characteristic of plants and climatic conditions and problematize human presence and observational mechanisms.
The exhibition presents magical works letting visitors into the dark ecology and the darkness of nature, as well as various garden visions created during the period of Romanticism and deriving from industrial social escapism. We can also see a specific Anthropocene or alienness-storage of various plant imprints. The entire exhibition is an invitation to become submerged in the green hybridity of nature and to participate in the intra-activity of vegetal existence by leaving our usual anthropocentric perspective behind. In the sense of post-humanist position, performativity is to be understood as “recurrent intra-activity and not as a model of an evoking nature”. So it is not about the projection of some kind of human register. To perform means to operate. Performativity is always disorderly and full of hybridity. What does “intra-activity” mean? And how can plants themselves be interpreted as “intra-active” actors? As Barad states, intra-activity represents the “mutual constitution of agencies connecting with one another”.
The operation of the anthropological machine not only determines the separation of human and animal but also the attitude to the non-human reality. The anthropocentric coding and the operation of the anthropological machine define the relation to plants and the entirety of the environment. Perhaps there has never been more need for aesthetic and poetic experiments which aim to break the anthropocentric reason-horizon and wish to halt the aggressive and excluding operation of the anthropological machine.
The exhibition can actually be interpreted as a treasury of curiosities or as a sanctum of unexplainable, extraordinary alterities, which are framed by tendrils and vegetal stems, underground rhizomatic roots and wooded assemblages. A great number of nuances of vegetal existence and non-human becomings appear around us. A place grown over by plants where everyone can find a retreat to ponder about the meaning of human and more than human existence, as well as the challenges of anthropocenic and ecological crisis. Tamas Dezsö’s exhibition invites visitors to a meditative state amidst leaves where vegetal and other non-human becomings and ways of existence grow over the entirety of the space. Indeed, everything is leaf!