The global award in photography and sustainability

Saskia Groneberg

“Büropflanze” (office plant) is an ostensible scientific study of German office fauna. It meditates on workspaces and inherently questions the forms and values of daily work life. The bits and pieces of nature, almost unconsciously brought to the workplace, seem to reveal lot about the basic needs of human beings when artificially placed into an inorganic, standardised environment, where everything present is assigned to fulfil a specific function.

Even when provided by the company as a decorative element, the office plant is something that is allowed to unopposedly thrive and blossom: A tiny bit of anarchy amid the rigid clockwork, something amorphous among the geometric forms, a spark of life within the mechanisms of control. In contrast to the holiday postcards, family photographs or other attempts to personalise the impersonal office architecture, plants are prone to change and grow – sometimes utterly unnoticed, and sometimes under close observation and loving care – up the ceiling, around and behind the heater and encroaching through the blinds. Plants can only be controlled to a certain extent, yet they are utterly dependent; they must be watered and cared for to survive in such an arid and artificial habitat. From the mail room to the chief executives office, you will always find the same robust species of plants transferred from exotic subtropical regions, adapted to a life with dry periods and flooding at room temperatures. The close relationship between human and plant can last for many years – sometimes for the duration of an entire career. Office plants seem to fulfil a primeval human need for being surrounded by the organic, particularly in an unnatural and impersonal space, constructed purely under the premises of functionality.

On numerous expeditions into the office fauna of Germany, I photographed office plants within their “natural” habitat, deep in the spheres of western workspaces. I collected leaves for a herbarium, meticulously archiving them with the help of a scanner. Accompanying texts composed by various employees offer a glimpse into the plant owner’s psyche. The results of my research are cumulated in an extensive book reminiscent of old illustrated botany books. The collected cuttings continue to exist as a living archive in a laboratory-like installation in which they are able to strike roots and grow.

“Büropflanze” was awarded the German Photography Prize ‘gute aussichten_new german photography 2012/2013‘. The book object was nominated for the Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award, Arles at Les Rencontres de la Photographie, Arles in 2015 and was included as part of the permanent collection of the Fotomuseum Winterthur in 2013. The work has been shown in many national and international exhibitions.