Urtica, Projects since 1992


The Stinging Nettle Principle
The urtica-workgroup is a formal transfer from view systems and codes from biology onto the society. With his conceptual rhetoric the artist has also found an adequate and ironic answer to the art-system that still functions after the categorical collector principles of originality, durability and appreciation. It is difficult for art projects of a more transient kind. However the times are over in which plants in the exhibition space were frowned upon. The claims formulated in the 1970’s, to bring art out of the elitist museums and into the public, democratic space, slowly bears fruit. In art that fits the conditions of the “white cube” the distance of the audience breaks down more and more and controversial debates about art in public space causes active feedback and thought processes outside the “institutionalized art melting-pot”.
By looking just at a single urtica work by the artist, you might in view of the droll idea, to transfer, purchase or to cut a nettle think of an original coup. By throwing however a more intense glance at the total workgroup, it opens up the complex, precise set and hierarchical structured urtica-model system. “Seven steps in the evolution” is necessary to achieve “ideal living conditions” for the urtica-individuals. “The life of the individuals has the highest priority”. The first step is the “freeing from the family unit”. Thus the artist helped in the 1990’s wild growing nettles to their “individuality”. In the second step 375 freed urtica-individuals, in the five high-beds in a test zone near the Kunsthaus Bregenz, undergo an increase in value. The creation of a glasshouse with high-beds forms the third step. Within this step the utopic demand for a skyscraper for urtica plays a keyrole. The one-story house for urtica was however realized at the International Garden Show in Graz. It is mobile and on the first floor it provides a bed for the 144 plants which were step-by-step integrated by the visitors into the urban space. During their lifespan in the house they were well cared for and the bed was regularly weeded, to prevent weeds from growing-up. The fifth step represents the “Urtica Exchange Program” in which a new location was created for individuals who have reached their ideal form. 25 of them were planted in the mountains of North Italy. “Public Care”, the sixth step in which 25 urticas were raised onto pedestals, appears as a monumental field of steles with memorial character. Following the idea of the death cell, a closed cell with an urtica plant on a pedestal forms the last step in the evolution, quasi the last possibility for decision. Is the single entering viewer following the instructions of trimming it or is s/he refusing it and executing the plant? In the gradual tapering the circle of the urtica-system closes in a way with the cell, as it both suggests origin and death, beginning and end.
Buchhart sets against the logic and aesthetic of the “administered world” (Adorno) with similar means a playful option, which triggers manifold reactions and chains of associations. Thus you can think of “Public Care” as a memorial, as well as the “gated communities” following the American model, from urban areas strictly guarded by security services. Thereby the artist takes advantage of the authentic aesthetic used in signs and symbols, to keep the instructions as realistic as possible. He transfers their type, symbolic and form. The viewer carries the burden of freedom of choice: refusal or testimonial respect. The artist is interested in the interrelation of perception, knowledge and action and therefore a sensitization of the viewer, even if the art piece is disintegrating and lives on by merging into nature.
That Dieter Buchhart has humour, is witnessed in the end by the recurring continuing flashing irony behind his pseudo-scientific search of terms and calculations (625 cm2 area and an air cube from 15625 cm3 corresponding to the ideal conditions for the preservation of the species of urtica). His stubborn urtica-principle refers to the instability and absurdity of scientific, societal and social rules and order. In view of the increasing dissolving of nature in scientific-technical constructions and the blurring of the boundaries between the artificial and the natural, the artist starts-up a sustained process of questioning, which is incomplete. Robert Smithson, who searched for a world “outside of a cultural prison”, had once expressed “the nature is never completed”.
Petra Schröck
Freelance writer, artcritic, and curator. Since 2004 artistic director of the photogallery at Brotfabrik, Berlin.