BMW Art Residency Winner Is An Organic Ephemeral Work That Questions Production, Consumption And Ownership – Forbes


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Almudena Romero, “Family Album” from “The Pigment Change”, 2020 for the BMW Residency

Almudena Romero

A vertical canvas of living watercress reveals an abstracted figurative image. The plant has taken only three days to grow thanks to the nitrate-rich Spanish water used to cultivate the seeds. As the green sprouts and spreads, the image — a negative depicting a family and projected directly onto cress panels — will fade away. Eventually, this living artwork will also disappear. This is “The Pigment Change,” the work of the London based Spanish artist Almudena Romero created with the support of BMW. Her impermanent and autobiographical organic photographs ask the viewer to question production, consumption and ownership. Hers is a meditation on the ephemerality of life.

Almudena Romero works mainly with plants letting the natural characteristics and pigment change ... [+] determine the end form of her work as a way of renewing the medium of photography

Almudena Romero

Romero is the 10th winner of the annual BMW Residency program which sees an up-and-coming artist take a three-month placement at the Gobelins School of Visual Arts with the work then exhibited at the Paris Photo fair. The benefits are clear for the artist who gains much-needed funding to continue their research. For the carmaker, the transaction is more subtle, yet vital for brand communications. And it must be worthwhile since BMW has been involved in cultural philanthropy for 50 years. Projects include the iconic BMW Art Cars created alongside some of the most revered artists in modern history. The marque has helped steer careers for struggling artists who are now known names, as well as support galleries, art, design and musical institutions and events around the world.

Sponsored artists have covered topics such as virtual and augmented reality, assessing the human/machine relation and finding commonality between cultures. With its direct ecological commentary, Romero’s work chimes neatly with BMW’s hopes and aspirations to work towards circularity and a more sustainable future. Intrigued, I caught up with Romero to discuss her work within the residency.

Artist Almudena Romero waters her artwork using water from her grandmother's garden

Florian Leger/BMW

Nargess Banks: You talk of finding ways of renewing the medium of photography. Can you explain?
Almudena Romero: Photography has been a conservative medium. It has taken a long time for it to move out of print because it has largely been used as a tool for representation and documentation. For me photography is a process rather than being about the result. If we start to understand photography as writing with light, then it becomes a very simple rudimentary concept that makes sense. This way it can be liberated, become more performative, more conversational.

Your work is very organic, working directly with plants to create photographic images via photosynthesis, as well as being highly autobiographical. Can you explain your process?
I started my research on plant-based photography at my grandmother’s garden in Valencia. I work with her plants and her nitrate-rich water to create my work, then I use my hands to project images onto the leaves. Some of the images are sharp, some not. There is a lot of invisible feminine labor that goes into growing a family and growing a garden. The fact that my hand images are not all obvious I feel is a metaphor for the invisible labor that makes the trees and plants and nature grow.

Almudena Romero uses plants’ ability to change pigments to record very detailed images of her own ... [+] hands

Almudena Romero

Your grandmother sadly passed away before the original show in the summer at Rencontres d'Arles in France.
Yes, she passed away before I exhibited and I’ve been reflecting on our relationship and her impact on me ever since. When I was a teenager, my grandmother would tend to her plants and I would listen to the Spice Girls not realizing how much of her and her work stayed with me. My mother says this is the real heritage, my grandmother’s legacy and the passion and understanding I have of plants.
That is really beautiful. I’m intrigued by the layers of multiple meanings in your work. Is this intentional?
Much of my work is self-reflecting. As an artist, I want to know what’s the impact of one’s own practice, contributing to the dynamics of producing, accumulation — all of which is at the roots of the environmental issue. I want to contribute to a wider conversation as to why and where does photography exist, what’s our relationship to nature, to photographic productions such as photosynthesis. A better understanding of plants can help us be more respectful to nature. 

Almudena Romero organizing “The Pigment Change” to be transported to Rencontres d'Arles in the ... [+] summer

Almudena Romero

Your final piece, the vertical watercress for the BMW Residency at Paris Photo, is made to disappear, which to me seems like a direct commentary on art ownership.
For the BMW Residency I wanted to move the project on to be alive. I have a good scientific understanding of plants and began looking at all sorts of green elements until I decided on watercress. I got the idea from garden walls which always have cress as it can grow vertically and doesn’t need soil to make roots. I had to search hard to get the right type of seeds which will bring the color and tonality I’m after. Growing it vertically gives it one focal length so you get the sharpness in the picture, then as the plant grows the picture disappears in complete greenness.
It is a highly ephemeral work of art.
Exactly, it is ephemeral but at the same time in ephemerality there is hope for the future. We have a serious environmental crisis based on production, accumulation and disposal. I used to teach at the Stanford University overseas study program in Florence and I would often think of what I wanted to pass on to my students, what knowledge and skills would make sense to them in the future. This plant-based photography is part of my vision as a teacher in that these materials are ephemeral in the short run, but in the long run they are the only thing we will be able to practice. Because ephemerality is the only thing that lasts.

The plants' selective reproduction strategies acts as a metaphor to express Almudena Romero’s ... [+] decision not to become a mother due to the environment crisis

Almudena Romero

Perhaps it is a question of redefining object ownership in that the memory of a piece of art, that moment of connection, can be the value rather than possessing it as an object. In fact, we have an ephemeral connection to most works of art anyway since we see them fleetingly in museums or galleries after which they remain only in memory.
That’s a really interesting concept: this idea that because the piece is ephemeral it disappears. But art disappears from everyone’s eyes unless you own it. As an artist I’m interested in contributing to the wider conversation, help change our understanding of the photographic medium, of our own lives and our relation to nature, rather than decorating someone’s house.
That’s quite a radical statement.
We have to review property and ownership. This is part of the problem. “Me and mine” are the dynamics of the ego. It extends to “my perspectives”. This is why I’m very keen on collaboration and on passing my knowledge and processes to my students, as I think it’s rewarding to pass on your knowledge and see it grow elsewhere and without the need to be the master of the original idea. I feel the art world needs to move more towards this direction.
Learn more about BMW Cultural Engagement; take a look at other art projects supported by the BMW Group: Frieze Art London,  8X Jeff Koons, MINI Strip by Paul Smith, Émeric Lhuisset at 2019 Paris Photo

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