00:00
00:00

Paradise Field (Flowers and)

Pia Östlund

This video is no longer available

Pia Östlund, Paradise Field (Flowers and) (still), 2020.

Artist Cinemas presents Paradise Field (Flowers and)
Pia Östlund
2020

4 Minutes

Artist Cinemas
Week #3

Date
November 7–13, 2020

Join us on e-flux Video & Film for an online screening of Pia Östlund's Paradise Field (Flowers and) (2020), on view from Saturday, November 7 through Friday, November 13, 2020.

Paradise Field is a series of collage sketches and a recorded short text conceived during lockdown when I took daily walks around a 1970s housing estate in East London. 150 years earlier this had been the site of Europe’s largest nursery and importer of rare exotic plants. The same area is also the location of no. 5 and no. 7 Darnley Road, where Laure and I (and several other friends) used to live around 2007.

The wonders of the plants which once grew there and the love shared amongst friends (in the same place but later in time) fused into an idea of Paradise, which was amplified by the strange stillness of those spring months of 2020.

—Pia Östlund

Paradise Field (Flowers and) is the third installment of Here is where we are, a program of films, texts, and interviews convened by Laure Prouvost, and comprising the fourth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film. It is presented here alongside a conversation between the filmmaker and Laure Prouvost.

Here is where we are will run from October 24 through December 14, 2020, screening a new film each week accompanied by a text or an interview with the filmmaker(s) by Prouvost and invited guests.

Pia Östlund in conversation with Laure Prouvost

Laure Prouvost (LP):
Dear Pia Östlund, wonderful to welcome you this afternoon on the steps of 28 Chatsworth Place on this cold evening of the second lockdown! Wantee?

Pia Östlund (PO):
Yes, east to west on my bike so we can chat by a cup of tea—outside as the lockdown wants to keep us fresh...

LP:
Fresh as this short film you just made.

PO:
Those collages in Paradise Field are based on a project linked to this exhibition in Oxford next summer, which is all about Wardian cases—these portable glasshouses that were invented in the 1850s.

LP:
In Hackney?

PO:
Yes. Or actually more in Stepney. But it has links with the street we both used to live on, and that whole block of housing that used to be a nursery garden. And that garden was the first place they started using these Wardian cases.

LP:
Ah OK. The guys in Stepney, were they the makers? Were they a business?

PO:
No, it was an inventor, Natahniel Bagshaw Ward. He was a doctor. But he loved ferns, of course.

LP:
Flat plants!

PO:
Yeah! But they didn’t grow very well in London because it was so polluted.

LP:
Already, then…

PO:
Yes. In the 1850s. That’s why the whole botanic garden and nursery folded.

LP:
Because of coal pollution?

PO:
Yes, and I think because London grew and land prices went up. It was set up in the 1750s—this nursery garden—and they were importing plants. But after the Wardian case, this glasshouse or terrarium, was invented, so many plants that couldn’t be transported previously could now be shipped all over the world. So it’s really the beginning of the whole economy. Tea, rubber, colonialism.

LP:
And East London was the place because it was greener at the time, I guess? Or was it still more countryside then?

PO:
I think it was partly countryside, and partly like now, a place where immigrants came or people moved to. There was land available.

LP:
I see.

PO:
So a German immigrant set up this nursery garden that became huge, and he and his sons built a giant heated glasshouse using the latest technology which enabled them to grow a whole new range of exotic plants, which were both imported and exported using Wardian cases. And the exhibition in Oxford, which celebrates the 400-yearth anniversary of the Oxford Botanic Garden, is linked to these portable glasshouses and how they changed the world.

LP:
Did you discover it when you started your research on “nature printing”?

PO:
Yes, it’s linked. I learned about nature printing and Wardian cases while working at the Chelsea Physic Garden. Because Ward was also closely associated with this garden.

LP:
Is there still a glasshouse there? Those little portable things—do they own some?

PO:
Yes they have one, a replica. Like Ward, Thomas Moore, the curator of Chelsea Physic Garden during the nineteenth century, loved ferns. He wrote The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland, which Ward contributed to. It is a beautiful large book with life-size nature-printed illustrations of ferns. I first saw it in the Garden’s library of rare books. Which is how I got into that type of printing. So it’s all linked. But back then I didn’t know it was linked to where we used to live, which is funny!

LP:
It’s brilliant. When I saw the street... to think those buildings, which are pure concrete, are named after botanists. Completely far from nature. Couldn’t be further.

PO:
But I think now it’s full of people from all over the world. And they are like…

LP:
…the new flowers.

PO:
Yes, it’s a continuation, an aftereffect in some way.

LP:
With the collages you seem to question if plants would take over again.

PO:
I think they did somehow, during the lockdown. To me the biggest thing was to realize that nature was not so far away.

LP:
Yes, you feel that.

PO:
When everything stopped, when humans got pushed back, suddenly nature reemerged with a vengeance.

LP:
Yes completely. The same in Italy. A week after the lockdown, suddenly they tell you there are dolphins swimming close to the ports.

PO:

Or birds you have never seen before.

The door of the house opens and someone is coming down the steps:

——:
Can I squeeze past you?

LP:
Please please please.

——:
Now, have I got my mask? The most important thing in today’s world.

PO:
I know, it’s like: gloves, hat, mask…

LP:
It’s one more thing to not forget!

——:
Now I’ve found it, it’s alright. Are you alright sitting out there? Have you got a cushion to sit on?

LP:
We’re good here!

——:
Are you sure?

PO:
I’m sitting on my gloves. An old Swedish trick.

LP:
Everyone sits on their gloves in Sweden.

——:
OK, good.

LP:
OK, see you later.

Off he goes, wandering into the plants.

PO:
When the air traffic stopped, suddenly we got all this sunshine. It was so unreal. It was mad how sunny it was. And this really intense blue sky, which I’d never seen before in London—which I normally associate with going back home to the countryside. But it only lasted a few weeks. All it took was a week of new traffic for the sky to go back to gray.

LP:
With the collages, what’s really nice is that you mix the past with the present and the future.

PO:
Yes, I love that about London—there are so many layers. All these great histories and we are just small human beings, with our stories.

LP:
Short lifespans, moments.

PO:
Yes, and we add to the layers. On a very small scale.

LP:
When I watched the video again, it made me think about a moment with Steven (my boyfriend at the time), the year before the 2012 Olympics, when everyone was asked to leave their allotments. We went and climbed over the fences, and everything was growing like crazy—rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries. We came home with bouquets of flowers. Buckets and buckets. Just because these spaces were left alone for a few months. They became a little paradise.

PO:
Having experienced London then, or at least East London, you felt that you could constantly find areas like that, that were left alone. They were almost like treasures. East London hasn’t had that for a long time now.

LP:
And the first lockdown changed that in some ways.

PO:
Yes. I don’t think things will ever stop again the way they did then. Because people didn’t know how to react. The government’s reaction wasn’t very calculated. But now people would much more readily oppose measures about who we can have sex with, whether we can see our parents…

LP:
...or which plant can pollinate another.

PO:
It’s against democracy.

LP:
The idea of stopping technology can be quite touching. The other day in Brussels they had a car-free day. You cycle through the city, it’s wonderful. Suddenly our street, which is not well-maintained by the city in terms of rubbish, is cleaned by the residents. Kids are hanging out in the street. It’s alive again. Plants are coming out.

PO:
It becomes more southern—people live in the street, put their chairs outside.

LP:
Yes, and you meet your neighbors. It was the same during the lockdown, you started meeting the people who lived nearby, noticing the little plants growing in the corners.

With the Wardian cases, they would import plants from everywhere, right? So, the plants would travel a lot…

PO:
They would ship plants out. For example, they would send ferns and primroses to Australia, and they would still be alive when they got there, after the sea journey. And then they would send plants back.

LP:
Were the plants seasick?

PO:
They were a bit wobbly. They would arrive a bit green, but then would get their natural color back! It’s funny though, Geraldine’s (a friend’s) family business, which was exporting rubber, was ruined because of this. For the first time, people were able to take the rubber plant from Brazil and transport it. And then plant it in Malaya, or elsewhere in Asia. And so many plants we now take for granted in England, came through this movement as well.

LP:
How did you make the collages?

PO:
I was walking around the area where we used to live, taking pictures of the buildings. I like that area, there is something about those 1970s housing estates. They remind me of Sweden. They feel kind of familiar. I think they were well-planned, with an idea to make a good living space. They were very generous with green spaces. Each area has a garden.

LP:
You almost want to touch every wall. You feel like, you belong to it. We lived there, we were out walking all the time. It’s like a second skin.

PO:
There is one collage and then your picture, a girl running with a hosepipe coming out of her bottom. They reminded me of when we lived on Darnley road. There was this grapevine growing so madly in the back garden.

LP:
Oh yes I remember.

PO:
We ended up installing a shower under it. It became a room so we could shower outside. And the plant was always trying to invade the kitchen.

LP:
Ah yes. We installed a bath there, and the chickens were eaten every other day by the foxes. It was quite wild actually. A lot of nature, and angry people, because the chickens were walking all over their plants.

PO:
I remember we had a fire, and we were using an old bed we had found on the street as tinder.

LP:
I was also thinking, going down the canal with Steven in his inflatable boat… I remember there was a guy performing a baptism in the water. A person dressed completely in white, in really dirty water, I think it was filled with sewage. Watering their head with a big bucket. The light was really beautiful. The past, and the present.

PO:
That’s what I like. Also, that we own that history, we each have a part of it. When you think of Hans Sloane who founded the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, and sponsored the Chelsea Physic Garden… you don’t associate Sloane with a housing estate in East London.

LP:
Completely not.

PO:
There’s another one, Petiver House. James Petiver was the first person to cross-fertilize two different plants—to create a hybrid. But then he got paranoid, because God was the only person who could create new species. He was worried he would be accused of blasphemy. He’s buried in the church by Colombia Road, on Shoreditch High Street. He left money in his will so that every year (to this day) there’s a sermon where people carry silver spades and read a poem, which is all about how God is the only one who can create new plants.

LP:
Take me to heaven! I will stop my hybridized life!

PO:
And there’s a little plaque to commemorate him, it’s next to a strip club now. It’s all so hybridized.

LP:
The ideas of what was wrong and right, how society would judge you.

PO:
Yes, and I was also thinking about our friendships—with Steven, and all the other friends.

LP:
We were all kind of immigrants.

PO:
Who mis-used the language.

LP:
Mis-translating, mis-articulating… bringing new meanings. Or destroying them!

PO:
When you asked me to do something on paradise, I was thinking that, to me, paradise is probably when you are in the moment of an idea—and you also feel connected to friends.

LP:
Yes, the moment when an idea is taking shape.

PO:
When you can’t quite pin it down but its hovering somewhere in front of you.

LP:
At first when we talked about the piece, was it more of a printed collage? Or printed photographs?

PO:
I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to print on something solid. I saw them more as sketches of a story than standalone pictures. That’s why it was nice to project them, as in the Netwerk Aalst exhibition, or make them dissolve into a film like now.

LP:
I know you like flat things too… Has this piece got anything to do with nature printing?

PO:
Yes, the next part of this piece which I’m working on will involve flattening some plants.

LP:
It’s the first 3D printing technique, yes? Which you brought back to life!

PO:
Yes! It’s a method, whereby the plants reproduce themselves in a way. They become lifelike and they have a texture to them, and they seem strangely real.

LP:
And you press the plant in the copper.

PO:
It’s an old technique, where you have a dried pressed plant that is pushed into lead. It leaves a perfect impression, almost like an X-ray of the plant, and this is then turned into a copper plate which you print.

LP:
It takes you about five months to make?

PO:
It takes about five years!

LP:
Not as fast as a new 3D printer! Trying to bring the business back to: slowness.

PO:
It’s very hard to reproduce a leaf. I took one to be 3D-printed, and the 3D printer just broke down. It was too flat. It couldn’t render it and the whole thing melted. Which I was quite happy about because I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t a quicker way of doing it, that I wasn’t aware of.

LP:
I think everyone will move back to these technics now. It’s time to slow down and to do things properly. Should we now have that little glass of bubbles? We too need watering...

*Pia Ostlund made it across town on November 2 to sit on her gloves on some doorstep in London and have a conversation with Laure Prouvost about her video Paradise Field (Flowers and), 2020.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

Category
Nature & Ecology, Urbanism
Subject
Plants & Forests, Video Art
Return to Here is where we are
Return to Artist Cinemas
Filmmaker

Pia Östlund is interested in plants and humans and their entangled histories. In a blend of the factual, the observed, and the imagined, she works with printing, drawing, textiles, and design often inspired by archival material, plant shapes, and color. She has revived a lost nineteenth-century printing process, known as nature printing, that creates curiously life-like images of plants on paper.

Subscribe
I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for subscribing to e-flux

Feel free to subscribe to additional content from the e-flux platform.