ARTFORUM

"Psychobotany"

MACHINE PROJECT
1200 d North Alvarado Street
May 12–June 17

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Center for Tactical Magic, Vital Psigns, 2006, tomato plants, grow lights, automatic watering system, instructions, and psychic energy, approximately 8 x 5'.

Is it just me or do words like sustainable and organic give off a whiff of xenophobia? Those who long to go off the grid and eat raw foods in a yurt are recoiling in no small part from the human density and hybridity of urban life itself—because what lies behind the hivelike sprawl and technological advances of the city so much as the heterogeneity of colliding cultures? These are a few of the thoughts that passed through my mind at “Psychobotany,” a part-art, part-education exhibition mounted by Machine Project, the genesis of some of Los Angeles’s more advanced riffs on the 1960s paradigm of the Happening. (The venue’s mission statement claims it “exists to encourage heroic experiments of the gracefully over-ambitious” and “to promote conversation between artists, scientists, poets, technicians, performers, and the communities of Los Angeles as a whole.” May it harden into institutional senescence!) The purpose of the show is to demonstrate interactions between humans and plant life: Tiny leafy sprigs are anthropomorphized in countless ingenious ways by a consortium of artists and green-minded thinkers. In Machine’s little Echo Park storefront, viewers are encouraged to bombard potted plants with positive thoughts and are offered herbal-tea samples cached in bags marked with nude female silhouettes. The notion of botanical sentience suggests a willful projection of humanness onto the fragile green material our addictions are rendering toxic—maybe, if the little creatures could only scream for help, somebody might listen? Is the whole show a McSweeney’s-style put-on? A theatrical acting-out of the hippie/hipster duality that lies within every Echo Park resident? All I know is, the real poetry comes in a book sitting in a kindly intended reading area near the back—Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, which renders the exhibition’s hominid/flora standoff with great moral complexity.

Matthew Wilder

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