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Explosions of light
Chernobyl Herbarium

Anaïs Tondeur
16 jun – 14 oct. 2022


Linum usitatissimum

Comandra umbellata santalaceae

Dolichos pruriens

An ongoing project, Chernobyl Herbarium is a rayographic herbarium through which I attempt to reveal, with the very materiality of the photographs, the stigmata of the nuclear explosion on the bodies of Chernobyl plants.
The herbarium comprises one rayogram for each year since the explosion, produced by directly imprinting the plant species that grew in the radioactive soils of the Exclusion Zone on photosensitive plates. In an attempt to create a space where plants can speak, or at least have a presence, I encountered the trajectory of the philosopher Michael Marder, author of Plant Thinking, who was contaminated by the 1986 reactor explosion himself. Together, we are trying to reflect, signify, symbolize, as unthinkable and unrepresentable as it may be, the consciousness that this event has fragmented and perhaps pave the way to a more environmentally attuned way of living.

Anaïs Tondeur

Some images in Anaïs Tondeur’s Chernobyl Herbarium are explosions of light. Others are softly glowing, breathing with fragility and precariousness. The explosive imprints are, in effect, reminiscent of volcanic eruptions at night, hot lava spewing from the depths of the earth. Even assuming it is not an actual trace of radiation (which the specimens in the herbarium have received from the isotopes of cesium-137 and strontium-90 mixed with the soil of the exclusion zone) that comes through and shines forth from the plants’ contact with photosensitive paper, the resulting works of art cannot help but send us back to a space and time outside the frame, wherein this Linum usitatissimum germinated, grew, and blossomed.
The images are the visible records of an invisible calamity, tracked across the threshold of sight by the power of art. The literal translation from Greek of the technique used here, photogram, is a line of light. Not a photograph, the writing of light, but a photogram, its line captured on photosensitive paper, upon which the object is placed. In writing, a line is already too idealized, too heavy with meaning, overburdened with sense, nearly immaterial. In a photograph, light’s imprint is further removed from the being that emitted or reflected it than in a photogram, where, absent the camera, the line can be itself, can trace itself outside the system of coded significations and machinic mediations. The grammé of a photogram imposes itself from up close. Touching… it endures: etched, engraved, engrained, the energy it transported both reflected (or refracted) and absorbed. Much like radiation, indifferently imbibed by whatever and whoever is on its path — the soil, buildings, plants, animals, humans — yet uncontainable in any single entity whose time-frame it invariably overflows. Through her aesthetic practice, Tondeur detonates, releases the explosions of light trapped in plants, its lines dispersed, crisscrossing photograms every which way. She liberates luminescent traces without violence, avoiding the repetition of the first, invisible event of Chernobyl and, at the same time, capturing something of it. Release and preservation; preservation and release: by the grace of art.

Michael Marder

Press release