Aeration, transplantation, propagation: The Plant Issue 12

The cover of issue 12 of The Plant Magazine

Last week I made the trip out east to the new Claire de Rouen shop in Bethnal Green for the launch of issue 12 of The Plant—one of my favourite independent publications, and one which I've had the privilege of contributing to. In recent years I've seen a change in my magazine tastes, partly due to lack of money and lack of space. I've turned away from larger publications, resembling small books in physical size, and become more interested in smaller cheaper publications—PICPUS, the LRB, Real Review—the type you can roll up, stuff into a bag, rip pages out of and scribble on without feeling as though you're somehow destroying them. The Plant is an exception, it feels as though this publication deserves something a little more permanent, more firmly rooted.

At the same time, it's good to aerate stale soil and to transplant to larger beds; this latest issue sees a subtle redesign of the seven year-old glossy format. The new design, overseen by creative directors Isabel Merino and Carol Montpart, is slightly larger than the previous, more generous with whitespace and columns, and now printed on uncoated paper that lends each page a smooth touch. The debossed masthead, designed by Seb McLauchlan, is set in an elegant transitional typeface with sharp thorn-like serifs that draws on the 18th century work of Jean-Francois Rosart. As with some previous issues there are two different covers, one a black and white portrait by Sam Rock, the other—the one I opted for—a still life of delicately textured yellow and pink flowers by Nobuyoshi Araki. The title page leads with an editor's letter, short enough to be an epigraph, quoting a old bookshop in Barcelona,

Within the logical yearning to survive, we sense, however the presence of a desperate attitude of rigour, and within the premises of our commercial activity, a stubborn, ambiguous, appetite for adventure.

Inside, the issue opens with Brigitte Lacombe's black and white photographs of the landscape of Northern California. Her photographs describe a sense of surrealism or abstraction in the landscape, which is never an untouched wilderness but filled with signs of human intervention; tree stumps and hedges with rectangular passages cut through their ostensibly natural forms, a tree on a beach, felled by wind and erosion, becomes some kind of Henry Moore reclining figure. Black grass undulates in hills and bowls, and contrasts sharply with the clear sky, farm houses and fences, painted white to match the clouds, carve up the dark land.

Claire Touzard talks to the Bouroullec Brothers, describing them quite accurately as, utopians in the disguise of prolific designers. It's captivating to read of Ronan, talking on behalf of the pair, speaking his mind on the significance of the brothers' young life in the countryside, their modernist principles of honesty of forms and truth to materials, and how this relates to their understanding of the relation of industry to nature. Previous generations like my parents' fought against nature. It is rare to see weeds grow in gardens, but they have so much charm and are so beautiful. Today we are finally thinking of new ways of incorporating weeds and letting them grow.

It's difficult to pick out a single lead feature, but towards the middle of the issue are a full sixteen pages dedicated to Lorena Muñoz-Alonso's profile of Sofu Teshigahara, the Japanese artist whose work and theory revolutionised ikebana, or the art of flower arranging. Sofu founded the Segotsu school of ikebana in the 1930s, radically expanding the medium beyond the boundaries of the natural world and exhibiting outside of the traditional setting for the arrangement, the domestic tokonoma. He introduced metal fragments in place of flowers, unusual untraditional containers, and displayed his creations in shop windows. The school he founded went on to introduce the European avant-garde in the form of happenings and musique concrète to Japan, and vice versa, linking Segotsu aesthetics to John Cage and Camille Henrot.

In previous issues there was section at the back dedicated a few practical articles on caring for a particular plant. It's a shame to see this dropped from the redesign—not just for the advice, but because I enjoyed playfulness of this section, which dropped the serifs and broke out bold sans typefaces, coloured inks, and many illustrations. In its place is section called Loose Leaves, with a series of single-page articles accompanied by just one or two images. There actually seems to be more writing published here than in the front half of the magazine, but by separating the longer features from these smaller articles the pace of reading the issue front to back is steadied. In terms of editing and printing the issue it's a clever way to fill blank pages that inevitably appear.

Eric Fleuret describes his ideal garden: Californian, filled with cacti, sand, and wild grasses, surrounding a Richard Neutra villa, dotted with geometric objects made from Eternit—a mixture of asbestos fibres and cement developed after the Second World War as a cheap, grey, neutral, standardised building material. Eternit was pioneered by the Swiss designer Willy Guhl, who manufactured semi-natural forms, cones, dishes, cubes, as an abstracted furniture. To my mind it sounds perfect.

Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe of artist group Cooking Sections write on a dinner held at low tide on the Isle of Skye. They eat oysters farmed directly around them, sea forest crackers made of laver, dulse ice cream, and sea lettuce scones. The pair note that the tidal zone is one of the last areas of truly common land in Britain, vital to the historic crofters of the Western Isles, and perhaps to wider society as food stocks and cultivated environments are enclosed and depleted.

In Gods of Jumblingness Tomoki Yamauchi introduces the Japanese practice of kokomaki, wrapping up plants with protective rice straw mats for winter. He writes of how this practical solution to the adverse effects of the cold on non-native species such as the Japanese sago palm have been fetishised in with a degree of orientalism. At the same time, he sees the fascination with these plants and sculptural forms as simply a vision of, the deranged and displaced medley of our interwoven contemporary world.

I think this design is a step in the right direction, too often it feels as though a larger format is simply to allow for larger adverts, but it's encouraging to see this issue has a good mixture of photography and writing. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Loose Leaves section will be used in future issues, hopefully it'll allow lesser known writers to be featured alongside the more established contributors. I'm also interested in following up on the non-traditional definition of the garden; I'll be reading more on Willy Guhl, and thinking about enclosed and common spaces. This expanding definition of the garden—expanding at least, from a European point of view—explains this issue's focus on Japanese and Californian garden aesthetics, both of which have inspired 20th and 21st century designers, architects, and horticulturalists. Though, I think it'd be important to see more non-European examples beyond these two histories.