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The Word for World is Forest

Solo exhibition at Augustiana Art Park & Art Gallery

23.4 – 2.7 2023

Supported by: The Danish Art´s Foundation, Danmarks Nationalbank’s Jubilæumsfond, Beckett Fonden, Dreyers Fond, Knud Højgaards Fond, Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond and Det Obelske Familiefond.

In the solo exhibition The Word for World is Forest, artist and architect Simon Hjermind Jensen explores the potential of the plant kingdom in an architectural context. The title is taken from a novel of the same name written by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin. In Le Guin’s science fiction universe, plants and forests have superhuman abilities and hyper-sensitive properties. Nature is seen as an inexhaustible and rich source of knowledge, inspiration and sensual experience – as something that can do without us, but which we cannot do without.

For the exhibition in the Augustiana Kunsthal, Simon Hjermind Jensen starts from an imagination-opening approach and unfolds his thoughts on how plants can contribute to our architecture and design. Hjermind Jensen wanted plants to be “co-creators” in the exhibition and therefore plant parts are included in the process of all his works.

Simon Hjermind Jensen works methodically in the intersection between architecture and sculpture, and examines how we can relate to form through sympathy. His approach is systematic, but also intuitive. “I often find the first fascination in an encounter with the landscape and vegetation of a place, where selected formations and shapes ‘speak’ to me. This creates an experience of connectedness and belonging.”

The hidden idioms of plants

An installation with 33 models hangs in one of the three rooms of the exhibition. Each model is made of leaves which are sewn together and stuffed. In the process of sewing and stuffing, it can be described as the leaf being folded around itself. In this process, Hjermind Jensen has tried to be very conscious of how the leaf itself wants to be folded, rather than folding the leaf according to his own preconceived idea of what shape it will take. Hjermind Jensen wanted to “go with” the leaf rather than force it into a position.

The installation consists of single models and of four series of models. Each of these series was created from leaves from the same plant. The four plants used for the series are Elecampane (Inula helenium), Common Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) and Wild Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana). Each of the series shows variation over the same characteristic shape that appears when the leaves are sewn together and stuffed. And thus a unique idiom appears for each of the four plants. Each idiom has an associated pattern which is created by the veins in the leaves. These patterns are very similar to the patterns that Hjermind Jensen uses in the construction technique he has developed in previous projects.

Perhaps pattern is essential for plants when they grow. And in that case, pattern can be seen as a kind of algorithm that forms the basis of the way that plants exist and interact with the world. If in the future we can collaborate with plants to produce architectural structures, then perhaps our houses will be living algorithms that create their own material. We must then ensure that they have access to water, nutrition and sunlight. Such buildings will probably have a similar organic idiom where pattern is the supporting principle. These idioms Hjermind Jensen explores.

Personal relationship to form

Hjermind Jensen is not only concerned with construction technique of plant-based architecture, but also with potential sensual experiences that the individual will be able to encounter in such architecture. Sensual can be described as warm, erotic, empathetic, bodily and amorous. Together similar experiences and feelings have been a kind of a  guideline for Hjermind Jensen in the work and creation of the many model experiments, which are placed on the three tables in the largest room of the exhibition.

Hjermind Jensen is of the opinion that colors and idioms in a plant-based architecture will be significantly more sensual and address at least as much to our bodies as to our intellect, so that we feel our body far more in the meeting and use of architecture than we do today. And perhaps future buildings will communicate with us humans in a similar way that plants with their flowers communicate with their pollinators?

The majority of the model experiments consists of porcelain. Stuffed leaves and compositions of plant parts have been covered with porcelain clay and subsequently the leaves and stuffing have been burned away in the ceramic kiln. Thus, the porcelain models appear hollow and spacious.

Some of the porcelain models are subsequently colored and glazed. You can say that a plant is always in the process of reading and entering into a relationship with its surroundings, at the same time as it strengthens its situation. This can be read in the use of colors of a tree; robust colors form the trunk of the tree, and delicate and attractive colors dress new shoots and flowers. Hjermind Jensen has tried to color the ceramics in a similar way.

A Common Horse Chestnut

The third room in the exhibition contains a large sculpture based on Simon Hjermind Jensen’s unique construction technique. This technique is similar to the tailor’s craft of sewing two-dimensional surfaces together into three-dimensional objects. The pattern is essential for the tailor and so is it for Hjermind Jensen’s construction technique. Here, pattern and shape are one and the same thing, and the projects are created by drawing patterns on sketches of ceramics. The ceramic form is scanned with software and the pattern is recreated with vector lines in the computer. In the computer, the pattern can be scaled up and folded out flat, so that it can be cut with great precision by CNC technology.

The large sculpture in the exhibition is, in form and construction, an artistic rendering of the shape and pattern of sewn together Common Horse Chestnut leaves. And with its length of 3.5 meters, it shows how the veins from a model of chestnut leaves sewn together can form the basis for large self-supporting and spatial constructions.

As a society, we need to experiment and create alternatives when we have to think about and create tomorrow’s sustainable settlements. We must not be afraid to dream and be naïve, and we need to feel ourselves and other non-human creations so that we can enter into sustainable relationships. It takes time, calmness, curiosity and patience – the same values that must be used when thin, fragile leaves are sewn together.

The exhibition can be experienced at Augustiana Art Park & Art Gallery on the ground floor of The White Mansion in the period 23 April – 2 July 2023.


Photos: Jacob Friis-Holm Nielsen