press release

The exhibition Melantropics features work by German and Brazilian artist Janaina Tschape that explores the amalgamation of the female body and landscape through the use of photography, video, and drawing. Created in public and private gardens, the work in the exhibition presents a curious botanical milieu embodied with notions of solitude and references to mythology and folklore. Melantropics is a concept invented by Tschape that combines the words melancholy and tropics and refers to the epidemic of melancholy that occurred in Brazil at the end of the 19th century. Hybridity is a thread throughout Tschape's work and titles—she combines elements found in nature with fabricated costumes and props and blends words and languages to form new ones which results in her own fictitious botanical nomenclature. In the photographs and videos, Tschape constructs imaginary environments that exist between the natural and the artificial. Tschape produced a new series of photographs and videos during a weeklong residency at the Missouri Botanical Garden located in St. Louis. Founded by Henry Shaw in 1859, it is one of the oldest botanical institutions in the country and a National Historic Landmark. The Garden serves as an oasis in the city of St. Louis—79 acres of beautiful horticultural display, including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden and the Climatron conservatory simulating a tropical lowland rainforest. In addition to the work made in St. Louis, Melantropics also includes photographs and video work Tschape produced on-site in the tropical Parque Lage, located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Designed in the late 1840s by the English gardener John Tyndale, Parque Lage is comprised of gardens, dense forests, and small grottos.

Tschape's performance-oriented photographs and videos are created amongst lush botanical settings wherein she directs human models, in this case young, quiescent women wearing artist-made costumes that are biomorphic in form and include various appendages of latex, inflatables, and colorful fabrics. These curious, artificial extensions of the youthful female body evoke imaginary and fictitious creatures. The models interact with props, such as helium-filled balloons, fabric forms, and the natural and man-made surroundings. The vibrant costumes transform individuals into hybrid living things—part creature, part flower—where they linger quietly in a location that is neither here nor there (not quite in the natural world and not fully in the realm of fiction). In these images, the discovery of a new mythic creature in its habitat suggest secrets abound.

Nestled amongst the lush foliage of the garden, the young woman in the photograph Ovalaria Floris might be mistaken for a flower or a garden nymph. Pink and white fabric appendages drape from her body and lie beside her like fallen flower petals from the tree she sits beneath. In Octopussi Mollis, a squid-like creature with tentacles that protrude and spread out on the verdant green lawn lies motionless as if resting, sleeping, or perhaps even deceased. In other photographs, Tschape populates the surroundings with vegetation she creates from handmade fabric and plasticine in an effort to create a tension between what is natural and what is artificial. These surreal sculptural forms of bright oranges, blues, yellows, pinks, and greens appear to be new growths, suggesting that their origins are possibly magical or perhaps even invasive.

The large-scale photographs from the public settings are complimented with the inclusion of Polaroids Tschape produced in her private garden in Brooklyn where she cultivates a variety of plant life. These images contain paper-doll cutouts of costumed models arranged within the foliage and then re-photographed. The images of pixie-like figures and garden nymphs interact within their enchanted settings. As referenced in the title of the series, A Botanist's Dream, these tiny hybrid creatures might be found in a terrarium where they frolic in their surroundings and/or are kept captive for display, study, and enjoyment. Accompanying the Polaroids in the gallery are three new videos, entitled Insomnia, where the restless mythic creatures intermingle with one another as they roam their surroundings with curiosity.

The garden is a locus of marvel and delight, where things blossom, flourish, entice, wither, decay, and die. It is also a place of nature and artifice as it can effectively be shaped, controlled, and cultivated. It is a territory that fosters growth and manipulation; where human intervention entwines with the organic. The settings Janaina Tschape conceives in her work are vibrant, seductive, surreal, and at the same time contemplative, still, and melancholic. Her fabricated creatures and vegetation enhance the existing botanical environments by taking them into the realm of dream and fantasy.

Andrea Green Curatorial Assistant


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Janaina Tschäpe: Melantropics