Anjo Boarda in his most recent exhibition, MINE, digs into the lucrative plant industry currently trending in the Philippines. A Google search for “plants for sale” yields about 129,000 hits in under a second. With social media sites full of flexers of expensive plants cherished for their aesthetics and limited supply, prices for some choice plant babies can cost as high as 300,000 pesos, with even then-neglected greenery now being poached and sold at online and physical markets. “Mine” is the word used by enthusiastic plant collectors to get first dibs on the plant of their choice, and translates collecting foliage to hunting for treasure and harvesting the earth’s bounty for business and pleasure.
Usual mining practices lead to metal leaching, erosion and wastage in residual gold, but phytomining research has tested some plant species to observe their potential to recover these resources. Uncannily, plants like the badiang (Alocasia Macrorrhizos) or giant taro and other species are found to be hyperaccumulators, able to absorb precious metals like gold from soil and water, tailings dumps and waste rock piles at many mining locations. A plant can absorb gold from the ground, and the gold deposits are routed to its leaves, glowing yellow and orange under electrographs.
Bolarda in Mine exhibits a video of the artist prospecting for gold with a metal detector, set against a backdrop of lush foliage. He also creates cyanotypes in the shape of the holey monstrosity Variegated Monstera Deliciosa, currently one of the most expensive plants in the global market due to its unsettling beauty and rarity. These plants are sold per cutting and valued depending on the number of leaves, so Bolarda offers them ready to pick. Instead of the vivid green and milky white tones of the real plant, cyan blue and light streaks characterize the photographic prints that show faithful renderings of the “Swiss Cheese” plant and gold deposits on leaves under electrographs, with the application of generous gold leaf lending rich contrast. Another work delves into phytomining, this time imitating the patterns of the Pteris Vittata fern with suminagashi. In phytomining, plants absorb metals in water, filtering the liquid to help clean mining sites. In the suminagashi process, water and floating ink are used to deposit pigments on paper, making each print a unique monotype of random patterns following the flow of water. Cut into shapes modeled from fern fronds and then collaged to resemble the actual plant, pastel shades of blue offer sensations of air, lightness and breath, evoking the subtle motion of leaves.
Why plant collecting has turned into a veritable gold rush is anyone’s guess. It must be the thrill of the hunt, a culture of accumulation, the brain erupting into serotonin boosts when shopping, getting giddy high on carbon dioxide or domestic bliss related to nurturing life, but one may only wonder when the plant bubble bursts. When is it too much? The Hawaiian saying related to giant taro leaves that are perfect either as improvised umbrellas in a sudden tropical downpour or simmered in coconut milk, chili and garlic, “Ai no i ka ‘ape he mane’o no ka nuku (The eater of ‘ape will have an itchy mouth)”reminds us of consuming too much of a batch of poorly cooked laing: when we partake of something bad, or too much of one thing, there will be consequences. Perhaps better to invest in works of art rather than in temperamental ornamentals, or at least make more room. Greenhouse not required.