Inside visual artist Diana Scherer’s Amsterdam studio is a long patch of grass. Growing quietly under regulated lab conditions, it glows a vibrant chlorophyll-rich shade of green with dense, shiny blades indicating healthy growth. But for the German artist, this top swathe of the plant bears little interest, for it’s what lies beneath that provides the crucial matter for her ongoing body of work.
Born in Munich and raised in a small village outside the Bavarian capital where her grandparents had a farm, Diana initially wanted to become a fashion designer. After an apprenticeship in dressmaking she moved to London to study fashion design before her Dutch boyfriend at the time convinced her to move to Amsterdam, where she studied Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. Remaining in the Netherlands after graduation, Diana worked for many years as a photographer, and it was this exploration into still imagery that set her on a path towards working with vegetation.
“I first became interested in the below ground parts of the plant after taking a picture of a rootbound pot plant,” says Diana. What began as a series of images quickly evolved into sculpture informed by extensive research guided by scientists. “I’ve learned so much about the root system, the atmosphere around it and the communication below ground and wanted to learn how to weave with it,” she says. Her idea was met with both scepticism and intrigue from the scientists she was working with, but after a year honing her technique, Diana had promising results.
“When I first started, I was making these templates and everything was about the pattern,” she begins, “but where do you start when the world is full of patterns? Six years ago I didn’t have the experience to design my own so I looked to the natural world, which is so full of geometric order, such as honeycomb and cells,” she continues. What appealed to Diana was not only the pleasing nature of geometry but the strength in these formations, which are often used by scientists, architects and designers alike. Starting with a basic hexagon, Diana began to create and manipulate structures, eventually creating her own series of 3D templates. It is these grids that Diana places in the soil as she sows the seeds, training the growing roots of her chosen plants (she prefers grass and oats for their density) to navigate around the patterns. “The most fascinating thing for me is the strength of the roots, this enormous energy and the way they interweave below ground—I can’t see it when it grows so it’s always a surprise.” After four to six weeks of growth, she removes the maze of roots from the soil, revealing intricate, unique and lace-like weavings, which are at once arresting and beautiful.
“I really try to interrupt the beauty of the interlacing roots,” Diana insists, “I don’t want the pieces to be too ‘aesthetic’, which is difficult in this kind of art, but I would much rather have the communication and the feeling around the work.” Diana’s pieces bridge the gap between art and science, exploring our relationship with the natural world. In order to realise her ideas Diana collaborates with biologists and engineers from TU Delft and Radboud University, Nijmegen. Demonstrating how unexpected plants can be versatile materials, Diana “weaves” as if she were working with traditional textile fibres, even likening grass roots to silk. “I’ve tried out hundreds of plants for their root system and for this weaving work only grass will work—other plants wouldn't like to be sewn together,” she explains. In a nod to her background in fashion design, Diana even created a rootbound dress, which was part of the V&A’s Fashioned from Nature exhibition.
Her installations, botany and photographs have been shown across the world with exhibitions at Droog Gallery, Amsterdam and the The National Library of Letland in Riga. She is currently putting work together for the 23rd Biennale of Sydney 2022, which is centred around dynamic living systems with varying degrees of political agency. Fittingly, Diana sees her work as an intuitive collaboration with vegetation and despite her interventions, each piece produces surprising results. “Of course, I sow the work, I make the template, but at a certain point the work makes itself—this is for me the most beautiful part.”
Interview by Andie Cusick.
Images from top:
Interwoven, 2019, courtesy of Diana Scherer.
The Intelligence of Plants, photograph by Norbert Miguletz. Part of an exhibition at Frankfurter Kunstverein until 30 January, 2022.
Hyper Rhizome, 2020, Droog Gallery.
Find Diana's work currently exhibited at a group show, The Intelligence of Plants at the Frankfurter Kunstverein.