In Robert Voit’s first book New Trees (Steidl, 2014), he traveled the world and photographed the typology of cellphone towers disguised to look like trees with the intention that they ‘fit’ in with the natural landscape – though the immediate perception is one of the fake and absurd.
Instead, they wind up looking like some alien device meant for harm, as if their creators had never really looked the natural predecessors closely. Towering palm trees sparse with fronds reveal metallic receiver panels; a saguaro cactus (perhaps the most realistic) with a black cable snaking from its trunk; unconvincing pines and redwoods with branches bunched only at their tops.
Voit’s latest book from Hatje Cantz is called The Alphabet of New Plants and again, deception is at work. Instead of the grand and physically large cellphone tower, he has turned his attention to a smaller form inspired by nature – artificial houseplants.
The Alphabet of New Plants has its precedent in Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst published in 1929, a book that found the intersection between science and art through photos of magnified botanical specimens so the details of the plant’s structure could be examined.
Unlike Voit’s previous project, one can easily be duped by these artificial versions. It is not until the viewer falls under the spell of the images that one starts to perceive the small ‘unnatural’ seems of a plastic-molded stem or the cloth texture of a leaf.
Comparing Blossfeldt to Voit one senses the inverse nature of both bodies of work – Blossfeldt’s were real specimens that when magnified become almost unbelievable that they are naturally occurring, while Voit’s specimens are completely artificial but appear remarkably natural to the eye.
The Alphabet of New Plants is clean in design much like New Trees. They share the same trim and plate size with captions on the left facing page. In essence one can see these as companion volumes – a set of two books that bridge nature, man, and the absurd.
The Alphabet of New Plants
Hatje Cantz, 2016