Who is the Cactus Man, and why has he taken up residence in a gallery in Rome? We ask Israeli artist Meital Katz-Minerbo about the Cactus Man’s relationship to the work of Odilon Redon, the “otherness” of plants and the end of anthropocentrism.

S5, 2018, courtesy Meital Katz
S5, 2018, courtesy Meital Katz-Minerbo

Where did the exhibition’s title, The Invisibility of Plants, come from?

It’s a phrase that sounds poetic and melancholic at the same time, and it points to the shortcomings of “human” perception in relation to other living creatures. These creatures seem to be present but lacking in presence. Plants are always around us: in the landscapes or inside our houses or offices—growing, loving, reproducing, moving and even communicating in ways and at frequencies that the “human” isn’t able to perceive. One can say they seem dumb to human perception. Similar to the plants we can find different beings living in silence, being invisible, being “Others”. Through the realm of flora I intend to embrace all kinds of Otherness to the “human”, where “human” means that which doesn’t take into consideration all forms of life. The Invisibility of Plants is the invisibility of all those who are invisible to man.

  • Large2
  • XL 3
  • L3, 2018, courtesy Katz-Minerbo
  • XL1, 2018, courtesy Katz-Minerbo

Your Cactus Man character took its origins in an Odilon Redon drawing.

Odilon Redon made his Cactus-Man charcoal drawing (1881) in response to the scientific, political and social changes of his era. In his drawings, lithographs and paintings Redon is known for creating a fantastical world of hybrid and mutant forms. He was an emotive Darwinian with a profound interest in and vast knowledge of botany and evolutionary theory. Redon’s Cactus-Man shows the torso of a “primitive” covered with thorns, planted inside a square flowerpot bearing an image of an Amazon defeating a male figure.

“My Cactus Man is also a hybrid: the merging of a cactus and a man into an androgenic creature covered with thorns.”

XL1, 2018, courtesy Meital Katz
XL1, 2018, courtesy Meital Katz-Minerbo

Through this piece he questions theories about the hierarchy of races developed and supported by anthropologists and scientists of his time, which involved notions of white male supremacy over women and non-white races that were considered a lower stage of human evolution. Redon, unlike his scientist friends, was conflicted about his relationship to the “primitive”: on the one hand, strong and beautiful, united with nature; and on the other, barbaric and uncontrollable. His Cactus-Man shows the essence of a delicate plant, the suffering of a human and the rage of an animal, imprisoned in what seems to be an emblem for Western civilization (the square plant pot) on the verge of a big change, a fin-de-siècle.

My Cactus Man is also a hybrid: the merging of a cactus and a man into an androgenic creature covered with thorns. The Cactus Man is also the brand that stands behind the line of wearable art articles I have developed across the last three years in the belief that fashion is a voice for new identities.

Vivi’s garden, 2018, variable size, mixed media, ed. 1+1AP, photo by Giorgio Benni
Vivi’s garden, 2018, variable size, mixed media, ed. 1+1AP, photo by Giorgio Benni

My Cactus Man has two sides: one that reflects the tragic story of an individual and another that outlines the mechanism of a system that hollows/transforms it into an empty shape. Redon’s Cactus-Man’s specific resemblance to an African native reflects the fear of Otherness typical of his times, filtered through the vision of an empathetic white man. My Cactus Man has never been seen—he remains a resonant idea or empty form waiting to be filled. Through the Cactus Man I intend to bring together two different world outlooks: a fantastic, rich and free one and a capitalist one. My Cactus Man is a reflection of an ever-changing Other who doesn’t want to be defined.

L1, 2018, courtesy Meital Katz
L1, 2018, courtesy Meital Katz-Minerbo

Can you describe the gallery and the way the work is organized within it to resemble a home of sorts?

The concept behind the curation of the show is based on the idea of squatting or the appropriation of a public space and how it becomes personal. The Gallery Apart has two exhibition floors: a ground floor and a basement. The Cactus Man takes over the gallery spaces temporarily. The works are disseminated in the gallery as a series of personal objects alluding to a domestic place. They can be easily put in a suitcase to be transported from the current residence to the next. This is not a traditional sedentary home. The exhibition presents an ever-moving house, a nomadic idea of a house belonging to a nomadic subject.

The ground floor of the house is structured as a normal private home. The bed recalls the human nature of the Cactus Man. The living area has artworks on the walls, clothes on hangers, a mirror, shelves to empty the pockets and a large table full of accessories, personal items and anything else the Cactus Man uses to define his relationship with the world. The basement is obscure and gloomy—it represents the dark side of the Cactus Man. This is the room where commercial transactions take place.

Personal vitrine, 2018, variable sizes, mixed media, ed 1+1AP, photo by Giorgio Benni
Personal vitrine, 2018, variable sizes, mixed media, ed 1+1AP, photo by Giorgio Benni

There are objects of many sorts in the show.

The exhibition is comprised of a large number of articles/objects, all of which belong to the Cactus Man. They are divided into two groups to reflect his dualism, being at once an individual and a commercial company. They let us know him through his things without his ever being actually present; he remains undefinable.

The group of wearable items under the Cactus Man brand combine characteristics of urban style with elegant male tailoring. The black hoodie jacket was the first item I designed and developed. The Bandana Paintings are one-of-a-kind: you can wear them or frame them. The Portable Bed features a set of sheets designed under the Cactus Man brand. They are white but when light touches their surface a green light appears from within due to the use of a special colouring technique. The fabric has the texture of a cactus.

M2, 2018, courtesy Meital Katz
M2, 2018, courtesy Meital Katz-Minerbo

You say the show “highlights the end of anthropocentrism”.

The exhibition looks like an empty house inhabited by a ghost or an entity that hasn’t yet returned from the outside. It portrays the Cactus Man’s character through his personal objects and vestments; by them, we understand his behaviour and style preferences. The exhibition gives room or space to a voice that hasn’t been heard yet, the voice of the Other, of that which is different from the human. The exhibition highlights a strong desire for or expectation of the big change that is on its way.

Al images courtesy the artist unless otherwise stated

The Invisibility of Plants

Until 7 September at The Gallery Apart, Rome
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