Juliette Warmenhoven grew up in Holland’s so-called bulb district, near Haarlem, in a small village called Hillegom. Her father is a flower farmer. If it all sounds very quaint, it might have been 20 years ago — but then tulip production went the way of the meat industry thanks to globalization, and farming became a race to create the maximum amount of homogenous bulbs in the shortest amount of time. “My father feels farming is like working in a factory now,” says the Arnhem-based designer. Just as shrink-wrapped steak has been divorced from the killing of the cow, plants are more about the perfection of the end product than the actual growing process. “I believe that when you explain that process to people, they get more feeling out of it,” she says. For Everyday Growing, her graduation project at Arnhem’s ArtEZ school this January, she built a series of small monuments to plants’ humble — and often imperfect — origins.
As a kid, Warmenhoven remembers lovingly gathering and making art out of branches, leaves, and whatever other materials she could find in her backyard. But with Everyday Growing, and an earlier group of ceramic vases chemically coated to look like iridescent insects, she uses conspicuously artificial materials in her explorations of the natural world. There’s a low-tech bonsai incubator molded in liquid plastic and fiberglass, and a working music box that’s cut out of paper, dipped in plastic, and loaded with a tiny sprouting potato that spins as the music plays. “The first idea was to give all the attention to the plant,” she says of her fanciful creations. “But then I wanted to show that culture and nature are equally important.” On the other hand, there’s also a wry reference in there to the plastic foliage which has grown in popularity in Europe in recent years, and which she thoroughly loathes.
Warmenhoven managed to make every part of every object in the Everyday Growing series herself, except for the music box movement, a handmade version of which she’s working on now. When a piece required special knowledge — like how to naturally irrigate the soil in the incubator using water tanks, or how to mold fiberglass — she worked out her own approach just by experimenting. When we initially spotted the project at DMY in Berlin, it was accompanied by a beautiful book of photographs documenting that process; a selection of those images are reprinted here, along with a closer look at how each object aims to change our perceptions of plant life.