Tau Lewis balances between organic and artificial, challenging perceptions of what it means for something to be natural as opposed to manmade.
Her series Poorly Potted Plants features work modelled on living cacti. Lewis’ plants undergo a kind of embalming process—which they don’t always survive—as she creates her eerily lifelike sculptures. The end result is a very fake plant which looks surprisingly real.
Cast in Day-Glo shades of waxy resin, Lewis’ cacti seem as if they’re always wilting slightly, recreating the stress of the live plants as they’re subjected to her modelling process.
“I start with a live cactus,” she explains. “The needles and scales are carefully removed. Silicone is used to cover the live plant, bit by bit, leaving holes for it to breathe. This has to be done quickly or the plant will die. Once the mold is removed I spend the next few days or weeks, depending on size, reconstructing and repairing the mold.
“Cacti don’t like being cloaked in rubber, so I’ve had to amputate parts of a plant after the process in order to save it. I’ve also had a plant die on me.
“Once the mold is repaired, I mix resin, and different pigments, and start filling the mold bit by bit. Once removed, it’s sanded and buffed, then spines and scales are implanted onto the imposter plant. I’ve been potting the plants in cinderblocks, which I collect from construction sites in gentrifying neighborhoods.
“The resin cacti are so far from being real, yet so closely replicated. In this sense, they offer a physical representation of our efforts, as humans, to improve and beautify our surroundings.”