Does Art Serve Nature or Does Nature Serve Art? A Conversation with Monsieur Plant
Sneakers invaded by plants, a man covered in flowers, a skateboard covered in tree bark… The vegetation-covered artwork by Christophe Guinet– also known as Monsieur Plant– often provokes strong reactions. Each of his projects is like a reminder from Nature that it will ultimately reclaim its rights.
As a teenager, Christophe collected orchids– and also the sneakers that he wore in Paris’ best skateboarding spots. Now living in Marseille, he combines his two contrasting passions of nature and urban culture in his art, and first became known for his symbolic “Just Grow It” project – a slogan modified from a famous sneaker brand. Since then, he’s collaborated with brands that surf the green trend and has multiplied his personal projects. Under the moss, behind the bark, between the stems of his unusual creations, we can glimpse a diatribe against today’s consumer society. Below, GC speaks with Monsieur Plant about nature, his art, and the way he’s combined the two to create a beautiful reflection on modern consumer society.
GC: How do you play up the contrast between nature and conspicuous consumption?
Christophe Guinet: As a self-taught graphic designer, I worked on many corporate projects in Paris but, deep within me, I missed nature. So I moved to Marseille where I wanted to play with this contrast and these symbols of capitalism. Monsieur Plant’s message is that nature will always triumph over man. I use what is in fashion, a phenomenon that makes us into sheep, by layering natural elements over them. I jab people to remind them: “think about this”! That’s why I distort brands like Nike or now Apple, [who make] objects I use in my everyday life.
GC: What is the approach of your new project?
CG: I collected a series of old Macs and transform them into flower planters. The underlying message is: “disconnect”.
GC: Does this type of recycling also have an ecological message?
CG: I want to make people conscious that nature exists because we tend to forget it in the city. We’re manipulated by trend phenomenons that create useless needs and we’re continually incited to consume. Ultimately, the more we consume, the more we destroy.
So, choosing to live in Marseille, a city of contrasts, was not an insignificant decision…For me, Marseille is the city in France which, by its size, truly represents the city/nature contrast. Once we leave the center and go to the outskirts, we feel like we’re not in a city anymore, we could be on an island or in another country. There’s the sea, rocky inlets, and huge parks. I began my project in a big park behind where I live. I always get my inspiration there, depending on the season.
“Monsieur Plant’s message is that nature will always triumph over man. I use what is in fashion, a phenomenon that makes us into sheep, by layering natural elements over them. I jab people to remind them: ‘Think about this’!”
GC: Do your creations’ ephemeral qualities have a special significance for you?
CG: Yes, everything ends up disappearing, which I believe is part of the cycle of life. The photo then immortalizes what I do because I use materials that probably won’t last. For special orders, I work with stabilized plants, a chemical process that removes the sap and replaces it with glycerine to preserve the plant color and natural look.
GC: There’s currently a huge craze for green. How do you position yourself in relation to this trend? Do you have influences?
CG: Nature influences me. First, I do what’s in my head and my heart. I don’t really pay attention to trends because they risk taking me in the wrong direction. If I can transmit a message, that’s great, but I don’t have a precise way of working, I just try to evoke something positive. However, I like discovering other artists– for example Duy Anh Nhan Doc, a vegetation artist whose work is very refined.
GC: What work are you most proud of today?
CG: In my profession we’re never satisfied! I’m often more content with an idea than the object. It’s true, there was a huge enthusiasm for my first project with sneakers and also for the bark-covered skateboards… And I like working on people, placing plants on the body. I made my first projects like this with my young niece. I covered her arms with flowers and took photos of her.
GC: What is the technical procedure of ensuring that the flowers stay on the skin?
CG: I make glue by mixing flour and sugar in a saucepan. Since I did a lot of photo shoots with children at the beginning, I found out about procedures that weren’t toxic or dangerous.
GC: And what do you do when you have to glue flowers on objects like sneakers, for example?
CG: I use a fairly soft glue without solvents so the flowers don’t die too quickly. A photo shoot lasts a day and you have to work fast so that the plants don’t fade. It’s a challenge.
Gc: You do artistic collaborations, like the “Metamorphosis” project. Can you tell me about that?
CG: I worked with Florian Gallène, a photographer who adores superheroes. It was during the controversy about Monsanto. I covered myself in flowers and transformed myself into a superhero worried about the situation who was going to take matters into his own hands to save the planet. Some photos are pretty disturbing. I’ll do another project like this because this summer in Marseille, there were giant fires that destroyed huge areas [of natural landscape]. This created an almost fantastic universe and I imagined something fairly impressive around the idea of replanting.
GC: Will you create an event around your current project?
CG: I’d like to do an exhibition with the Macs in November. There will be ten and I imagine an antiseptic universe with plant lighting. I’m currently creating one with sensitive plants– a slab of screens with images that move when you pass your hand over them.
GC: One last simple question: What’s your favorite plant or flower?
CG: I really like orchids because they’re difficult to take care of. In general, I like rare, difficult plants and I find this flower simply amazing. I also like sensitive plants– they always make me hallucinate!