READER | Strange Plants by Zioxla
I grew up in my mother’s gardens, which at one time included water lilies in a koi pond, and at another time, trimmed topiaries and low hedges of Japanese boxwood. But I didn’t really appreciate growing up in these gardens until I was an adult and living on my own in an apartment with no outdoor space. There were plants throughout the neighborhood—like night-blooming jasmine and overgrown bougainvillea—but it wasn’t the same. I wanted to experience them. So I brought plants inside my apartment—a hanging terrarium, a potted cactus, and so on. And these plants brought back memories and inspired and enchanted me, just like the art I had hanging on the walls. It seemed natural to create a book that combined the two..
This is how Zio Baritaux, the editor of Strange Plants and Strange Plants II, describes the original idea and the reason why she started this creative project exploring the relationship between two different worlds – Art and Nature. In 2014, Zio opened the creative agency and independent publishing house Zioxla, and published Strange Plants – a celebration of plants in contemporary art. For Zio, who has already written and edited more than a dozen books on art and culture, Strange Plants is more than just a book:
The purpose of making the book was to do something I love. I wasn’t sure it would sell at all, because I did everything myself—compiling, editing, publishing—and had no publicist or distributor. But as soon as the book was released, there was an insane response. The book received a snowball of press, including a review by The New York Times T Magazine. The first edition sold out in less than a month, and so I printed a second, larger edition, which sold out in less than two. The book far exceeded my expectations.
First edition of Strange Plants featured the work of 25 artists—from oozing paintings of rotting cacti to eerie, mesmeric photos of the leafy kudzu vine—and discussed the role plants play in the artists’ personal lives. Strange Plants was featured on The New York Times T Magazine, It’s Nice That, Nowness, 032c and Sight Unseen, among others, and was available in stores such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mohawk General Store, Tenoversix, Table of Contents, Colette, Restored and Marc Jacobs’ Bookmarc.
In 2015, Zioxla published Strange Plants II. The book features the work of 30 artists, and explores what these artists think about plants and how they portray them in their work. It includes viscous paintings of drooping flower arrangements; intuitive photographs of lily pads and lithe bodies; mixed-media collages that juxtapose the tranquility of Japanese Ikebana with the chaotic energy of vandalism; and much more.
For the book, Zio Baritaux brought together several artists who take a unique approach to incorporating plants into their work: Allison Schulnik, Misha Hollenbach, Francesca DiMattio, Zin Taylor, Katarina Janeckova, Stills & Strokes and Ren Hang. Schulnik, for example, used her own garden as a character in one of her short films; Stills & Strokes projected colors and geometric shapes onto the leaves of plants in botanical gardens; and DiMattio filled the sculptures in her exhibition with dramatic and unruly flowers. Each artist’s work is accompanied by an insightful article or interview that delves deeper into the relationships between plants and people.
In editing and publishing the book, I developed an abundance of new and meaningful relationships with artists, photographers, designers, bookshop owners, writers, editors, florists, gallerists and gardeners. Because it grew out of relationships, Strange Plants II includes multiple representations of the human figure, something I intentionally kept out of the first. So among the palm trees and pink proteas, you will find a topless woman posed provocatively next to a blooming carrion plant or a man poking his head out of a pond beside large flowing water lilies.
Discover more about Strange Plants & Strange Plants II:
Images © Silvia Conde