...I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my

- Pablo Neruda, from Sonnet XVII

The Secret Life of Plants draws its inspiration from a verse by Pablo Neruda in which plants are taken as metaphorical messengers carrying the "hidden flowers" of profound human emotions, intimate associations that "live darkly" in our bodies, and ways in which we make sense of our world and our lives. Through a dialogue among a diverse body of works that span the disciplines of painting, photography, performance art, sculpture, video installation and mixed media approaches, the show explores the way in which the natural world-exemplified metonymically through plants-comes to be invested with profound personal, social and cultural significance.

Metaphors from the world of plants fill our everyday language, as we speak of life cycles and growth, seeds that contain their own latent telos (like the acorn and the oak), pollination and fertilization, cultivating, and harvesting, blossoming and withering. We speak of radical change in metaphors of root and branch, problems as thorny, and possibilities as fecund, fertile or barren. We speak of consequences as reaping what we sew. We talk about germinating ideas, planting the seeds of doubts or new ways of thinking and doing. And if we have even a kernel of wisdom, our plans just might come to fruition. We rationalize the idea of dominion over nature as domesticating unruly wilderness and reclaiming fallow spaces though agriculture and landscaping, and depict laying waste as slash and burn. We use metaphors of putting down (or pulling up) roots to describe making a home. We describe cities as concrete jungles, and people as solid oaks, hothouse flowers, prickly cacti, bromeliads, late-bloomers, and more. Even our lexicon of love and romance is filled with floral metaphors.

Occupying the liminal space between seemingly inanimate object and possibly sentient life form, that both feeds human life and provides the air we breathe, plants offer a powerful, affective site in which the imagination can take root and blossom. The body of works in the exhibition explore The Secret Life of Plants from a variety of perspectives: from gendered signifiers of Eros, desire, and sexuality, to sources of life nurturing sustenance such as food and oxygen; from objects of labor and cultivation to mimetic vectors of biological and reproductive life systems more generally; from repositories of memory and affect, to symbols of the knowledge of good and evil; from reflections of socially constructed notions of urbanized order to antimonies of inexorable, uncontrollable chaos, and spaces of silence and solitude, plants speak a secret language that unfolds in a temporality different from our own, and tells us as much about ourselves in relation to our world, and the ways we make sense of our own lives and the human condition as it does about the playful surface subject.

- Concept Note, Copyright © 2012 Maya Kòvskaya
Notes on Sonia Mehra Chawla's 'THE CORE'


'The Core' draws inspiration from Percy Bysshe Shelly's poem 'The Sensitive Plant' which symbolically talks about life cycles and transitions. The cycle of youth (bloom) brings with it ideas of beauty, fertility, and desire that are both latent and manifest. The seed, the womb, the unborn child, connections cerebral and sexual, the placenta as the giver of life...

These complex and layered concepts are presented through the anthropomorphic and symbolic portrayal of a plant ('The Sensitive Plant') and its passage through the cycle of birth unto death. Further, the work highlights that this transitory and evolutionary pattern is the arch of nature, the natural order of things, 'the browning of a leaf', and the 'death of a gardener'. The transition and transfiguration from beauty and desire into death is thus inevitably, a transformation of sense perception.
© sonia mehra chawla