Ten Potted Plants

Yehudit Matzkel


Assaf Romano's one man exhibition consists of ten photographs of potted plants that are supposed to introduce nature into the space of a building. The photographs are clean, well illuminated, with no background details and no floor, with nothing, in fact, no suggest where the plants were photographed. Was it winter or summer?  In the morning or in the afternoon?  One thing is clear, though; potted plants are an inseparable part of Israeli ambience, Israeli apartments and Israeli public facilities.

'' The work began when I had to go to the employment bureau, the result of the inconstancy of a lecturer's life in an academic institute,'' says Assaf. At the entrance you spot the object that is supposed to greet you and make you feel welcome and comfortable, but it seems to cry out: ''I am a living dead!'' It's very posture implies misery. This is how the 'client' finds out, after visiting several public institutions, that all the potted plants ''decorating'' them have something in common: a hidden hand controls their destinies.

Assaf Romano has formulated this experience in the language of art, and is very convincing. The esthetic manipulation he has employed is sophisticated, and may lead to the wrong conclusions. The works are so neat, and the potted plants are so highlighted that the viewer is required to scrutinize the details and identify them, like carefully studying the face of your interlocutor. The viewer is asked to read the subtext.

Neither the officials nor anybody else bothers to find out whether the potted plant is still alive. Even when it is dead nobody takes the trouble to throw it out and remove it from view. The predicament of the plant may be analogous to that of the citizen's seeking the services of a public agency. The attitude he receives there is epitomized in the look of the 'public' plant. 'To receive services' is exemplified in the appearance of objects – the appearance of the potted plant and the architecture of the public institution, as well as its order and organization. The directions given to the public, and the cold, greenish \ bluish neon light, that makes you blink. 'The condition of the potted plant \ the condition of man' This is an allegory about the way we interact physically and emotionally, and about the bilateral relationship between the public and public bureaus. In this context we may recall the works of Nikolai Gogol, Frank Kafka and philosopher Adorno.

Romano's resolve is easily identifiable in his works. His biting, blatant words are as convincing as his precise works. Romano's has made his plants a marker, a symbolic object, symbolizing officialdom, like man – made manicured gardens, which embody man's dominance of nature. In the case of the potted plant, nature is made mobile, but is also neglected, which is a brutal iniquity evident in Israeli public facilities.

Assaf Romano is carried away and captivated. He practices art as an investigator of social symptom, and points out a weak spot in Israeli society.

According to him this is a nation – wide symptom. No city or settlement, no public facility is blameless. The situation affects every one of us. True, many have given up or have resigned themselves to the situation. Others, however, still fight in an attempt to bring about change. Romano is one of these naïve people, but he does it with courage, sensitivity and great talent in the only way and language he knows – art.

''I have chosen to neutralize the potted plants, and have infused them with a poetic quality as an analogy of the humility which is a lot of the frustrated person in need of the services of the authorities. They remember only the reason for my coming to them, not who I really am.'' A mobile plant, a transient plant, a plant in a plastic plant pot – ungainly, easily ignored. It's so easy to put out a cigarette in its dry soil, defying the ''No Smoking'' sign.

The potted plant is a perfect example of the individual's humility in front of the civil servants representing the authorities – the executive agency. The applicant standing in line in such a place is made to feel at the bottom of the human pyramid – an inferior creature granted a favor.



The postal authority has chosen to replace the 'living \ dead' potted plants in its branches with plastic and silk plants.

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