Current Exhibition

Tired Palm Trees

July 9 – August 4, 2024

The Ground, Art Sonje Center

Tired Palm Trees

Art Sonje Center is pleased to present the exhibition Tired Palm Trees from July 9 to August 4, 2024 at The Ground. Committed to addressing climate change and the ecological issues, Art Sonje Center has explored actionable strategies as an art museum to promote sustainable living. This exhibition is part of the museum’s 2024 program, designed to uncover new possibilities for addressing the global crisis, guided by three pivotal themes under three keywords: “Transversality, Time, and Possibility.”

Despite its title, Tired Palm Trees is not an exhibition about palm trees, but rather an exhibition that borrows many symbolic images implied by palm trees. It explores the impact of human desires on climate change and the social phenomena derived from it, such as habitat encroachment and migration due to political power structures and the appropriation of nature through artifacts within a political, social, and/or historical context. Highly symbolic plants like palm trees have long been utilized as political tools on many levels. For example, houses and cities are intentionally decorated with plants to cover up something or to greenwash. In this exhibition, palm trees emerge as objects that are not only tired of the colonialist attitudes and gaze of humans but also the constant misinterpretation and misuse of their habitats that plants have had to endure throughout human history. Plants are symbols and witnesses to colonial practices, which for centuries have arbitrarily displaced habitats, “scientifically” categorized and exploited species, and led to the death of both humans and plants. Plants carry this history, even if we humans want to deny it.

The exhibition also examines the human desire to enjoy only the aesthetic and psychological benefits of nature by artificially recreating natural elements in manmade environments. Urbanization and technological advances—and attempts to integrate nature into our daily lives while ignoring the complexity of real ecosystems—are driven by political power structures that prioritize economic growth and resource extraction, leading to the overexploitation of resources and ecosystem destruction; the ever-increasing number of natural disasters forebodes the future of palm trees and humanity. As global warming becomes more extreme, palm trees will be able to grow anywhere in the future, but their natural habitats are increasingly threatened by climate change.

What all the contributions to Tired Palm Trees have in common is that their plants are suffering and tired. Symptomatic of the tiredness of a society that cannot find rest even in the soundest sleep, this exhibition aims to form an empathetic view of climate change and the environment by anthropomorphizing them as symbolic trespassers of borders and migratory subjects through the works of eight artists who address some of the many social phenomena surrounding plants.

Supported by the Government of Austria and organized in collaboration with Morocco’s Le Cube – independent art room, this third edition of the exhibition builds on previous editions held at Pavelhaus, Austria (2019) and Le Cube – independent art room, Morocco (2022). Art Sonje Center has invited six artists from these earlier exhibitions, along with Korean artists Mi Jung Shin and Jongwan Jang, to broaden the symbolic interpretation of palm trees from diverse perspectives.

About the artists
Regula Dettwiler (b. 1966)
Specialized in drawing, installation, sculpture, and public art, Regula Dettwiler focuses on the artificial nature found in environments ranging from amusement parks to synthetic flowers, which she replicates using old master techniques. Her botanical studies present mass-produced plants as objects of research in an exaggeratedly detailed process, as if exploring a new scientific field. Dettwiler’s work subtly critiques the commodification of nature, highlighting how industrially produced plants, with their durability and decorative appeal, alter our interaction with the natural world. Her approach critiques this shift without making overt accusations, inviting viewers to reflect on the artificiality and commercialization of nature in contemporary life. Based in Vienna and Kleinriedenthal, Regula Dettwiler studied art at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and sculpture with Bruno Gironcoli at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. She has held residencies in Chicago, Paris, Montreal, and Japan and presented her work in numerous international exhibitions at Ursulinenkirche, Linz (2020); Stadtgalerie, Saarbrücken (2014); Kunstverein Friedrichshafen (2012) and Kulturforum Austria, Tokyo (2005).

Jongwan Jang (b. 1983)
Jongwan Jang portrays the endless anxiety of human-centered societies and modern humanity, which emphasizes selfish rationality, from a peculiarly warm but cynical perspective. Jang’s works combine colorful and seemingly lighthearted images with his astute insights on contemporary society. The ironic landscape maximizes its kitschiness through the use of animal hide, symbolizing the human desire for salvation, the neglect of nature and animals, and foolish, blind faith. In recent years, Jang has held solo exhibitions at FOUNDRY SEOUL, Seoul (2023); Arario Museum In Space, Seoul (2020) and Arario Gallery, Seoul (2017). His work has also been featured in group exhibitions at the 22nd SongEun Art Award, Seoul (2022); Museum of Contemporary Art Busan, Busan (2021); Ilmin Museum of Art, Seoul (2021); Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul (2021) and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Cheongju (2019).

Seif Kousmate (b. 1988)
Seif Kousmate is a visual artist who lives and works in Tangier, Morocco. As a self-taught artist, he began his journey into photographic imagery by exploring documentary photography. His lens was focused on capturing the diverse manifestations of marginalization in Africa. His early projects served as a platform for the narratives of post-genocide Rwandan youth, formerly enslaved people in Mauritania (Haratin), and Sub-Saharan migrants in search of a better life in Europe. In Morocco, Kousmate’s work revolved around Bujlood celebrations and documented the lives in the Atlas Mountains in the face of climate change. His ongoing photographic series Waha واحة, deals with oases and the changes they are facing. Kousmate’s artistic practice has evolved over the past decade, now intersecting with contemporary art and photography. His upcoming project explores masculinity and fatherhood, pushing the boundaries of photography into the realm of installation artwork and video art. Kousmate’s work has been shown internationally and it includes Contact Photography Festival, Toronto (2023); San José Foto, San José (2023); Foam Museum, Amsterdam (2022); Les Rencontres d’Arles, Arles (2022) and Addis Foto Fest, Addis Ababa (2018). He was awarded the prize of Explorer by National Geographic (2018) and won awards from the Magnum Foundation, and Prince Claus Foundation, and is the recipient of the Prix de la Photographie of Musée du Quai Branly.

Edith Payer (b. 1975)
The central point in Edith Payer’s art practice is to collect and re-contextualize found objects and bulk products. In her installations, she creates scenarios to relativize and satirize common social views and traditional practices. Her most crucial interests are the reflection and discussion of the anthropocentric perspective for evaluating the world, mostly in terms of culture, implying evolutionary schemas through which societies inevitably progress. Her works have been shown in numerous exhibitions at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo (2024); EKO 9 Triennial of Art and Environment, Maribor (2024); ACF London, London (2016); Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, Havanna (2015) and Le Cube – independent art room, Rabat (2014). She participated in residencies in Athens, Greece (2022); Petrozavodsk, Karelia (2019); Šmartno, Slovenia (2018); Shanghai, China (2017); Paliano, Italy (2016); Rabat, Morocco (2012) and Paris, France (2012).

Víctor Cruz & Hugo Portillo (b. 1978)
Víctor Cruz & Hugo Portillo was born in El Salvador. He works between Austria and El Salvador. After studying International Relations, he graduated from the Friedl Kubelka School of Artistic Photography in Vienna. His award-winning works have already been exhibited internationally and are in several public collections. Víctor Cruz & Hugo Portillo is his artist name. In a play on words, he splits his real name into two so as to incorporate a part of his childhood and youth that was shaped by the upbringing and influence of his late grandfather Víctor Cruz into his artistic practice. The artist is interested in showing a social reality within our stereotypical image of tropical countries and using artistic practice as a means of communicating with the public to create dialogue. Inspired by the life experiences and coping strategies of the communities living in the countryside of El Salvador, Víctor Cruz & Hugo Portillo’s work, while capturing the essence of collective responsibility dealing with life’s adversities, is not without a touch of black humor and parody that makes the viewer think. His work has been featured in group exhibitions at Museo de Arte de El Salvador, San Salvador (2023); Parallel, Vienna (2021); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2018) and the 17th Media Art Biennale WRO, Wroclaw (2017).

Mi Jung Shin (b.1983)
Mi Jung Shin’s works reflect her interest in the demolished sense of place, where only traces of individuals excluded from the grand narrative and their lives remain. She primarily creates videos based on oral histories and historical materials collected through fieldwork and experiments with the construction of micro-narratives within the tension that emerges at the boundary between images and records. She is particularly drawn to recording the lives of individuals who have been forcibly forgotten or erased from modern Korean history, experimenting with the potential of video works through open-ended interpretations. For Mi Jung Shin, the landscape of the nature presented in her works is not just aesthetic object. Instead, it represents an artistic space where forgotten placeness and the temporality of history coexist as one. In the past, Mi Jung Shin has held a solo exhibition at POMA, Seoul (2024); SeMA Bunker, Seoul (2021); space 9, Seoul (2018) and been part of group exhibitions at the Diaspora film festival, Incheon (2024); Space Mirage, Seoul (2024); the 23rd SongEun Art Award, Seoul (2023); Nam-Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul (2021) and Ottawa Korean Film Festival, Ottawa (2021).

Katrin Ströbel (b. 1975)
Katrin Ströbel lives and works in Marseille, France; Stuttgart, Germany; and Rabat, Morocco. Her drawings, site-specific works, and installations are based on a critical questioning of social, cultural, and geopolitical conditions that define our everyday lives. Ströbel’s work deals with cultural codes and (visual) languages, but also with issues such as colonialism, migration, and displacement, and shows the intricate relationships between geopolitics and the politics of gender. With a critical-ironic view, the artist deconstructs gender relations and female stereotypes in a variety of drawings and collages. Since 2004, the artist has worked and exhibited regularly in Germany, France, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Peru, Australia, and the United States. Her work has been shown internationally and is represented in private and public collections. Katrin Ströbel studied visual art and literature. She holds a PhD in art history. She is a mother. From 2013 to 2023, she held a professorial teaching post at Villa Arson, École nationale supérieure d’art Nice, France. Since 2023, she has been a professor at ABK State Academy of Art and Design, Stuttgart, Germany.

Roswitha Weingrill (b. 1984)
Roswitha Weingrill is an artist and educator who graduated from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna in 2010. Her works include mixed media pieces, interventions in public space and research-based approaches. Breaking down big global topics into small specific issues has been a crucial strategy for many of her recent projects. She has used salt crystals to capture the specifics of Bad Ischl, an Austrian town where royal glamor is used to deflect from social and ecological hardship. A book project involved women in mineral mining from a secluded Austrian hilltop, whose professional and personal lives have been strongly influenced by several multinational corporations. She dipped various test strips into communal and municipal wells for a project on the accessibility of clean water in Graz. A collaboration with Nellya Dzhamanbaeva combined audio material from interviews about gardening with data models made from various kinds of soils collected in Vienna. Recent projects include exhibitions at Galerija Legat, Belgrade (2024); GPLcontemporary, Vienna (2023); Peter Gaugy Gallery, Vienna (2023) as well as workshops with Kaeshmaesh, Vienna (2024) and Atelier Schillerstraße, Graz (2023). She is currently researching public fountains in Bregenz and sedimental river materials in the Czech town of Brno.

July 9 – August 4, 2024
The Ground, Art Sonje Center
Regula Dettwiler, Jongwan Jang, Seif Kousmate, Edith Payer, Víctor Cruz & Hugo Portillo, Mi Jung Shin, Katrin Ströbel, Roswitha Weingrill
Curated by
Elisabeth Piskernik (Founder and Director, Le Cube - independent art room), Markus Waitschacher (Curator, FORUM STADTPARK)
In collaboration with
Heehyun Cho (Head of Exhibitions, Art Sonje Center)
Exhibition Management
Seowon Nam (Assistant Curator, Art Sonje Center)
Organized by
Art Sonje Center, Le Cube - independent art room
Supported by
Austrian Embassy Seoul, Federal Ministry of European and International Affairs, Federal Ministry for Arts, Culture, Civil Service and Sport