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  • From "Hunt & Gather, Terraria," a photo book by Wawi Navarroza (Published by 5 Ports & The Office of Culture & Design)

05/14/15 Wawi Navarroza’s Photo Book, “Hunt & Gather, Terraria”

Words by Margarita Buenaventura

It’s rare to find a book on plants that won’t eventually gather dust in a stack of coffee table tomes, but photographer and multidisciplinary artist Wawi Navarroza may have created just the thing. Her photo book Hunt & Gather, Terraria is a culmination of photography, crowd sourcing, and research—all for the love of gorgeous terrariums.

To create the book, Navarroza invited several Metro Manila dwellers to forage and gather soil, plants, and other urban elements from various corners of the capital. The book details with precision the origin of every rock or twig—from potted plants in a posh mall to rocks foraged from one’s backyard. In many ways, with its exhaustive catalogs and sensual botanical photos, the photo book is a unique love letter to a tumultuous city.

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Hunt and Gather, Terraria first appeared at Silverlens Gallery Manila in 2013, but officially premiered at the New York Art Book fair in September 2014 through The Office of Culture and Design, the book’s co-publisher. It has since traveled to the Singapore Art Museum, and finally came home this year for its Philippine launch, facilitated by the book’s co-publisher, 5 Ports.

At the launch of her book in the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, NOUS takes a few moments with the esteemed photographer to talk about the importance of hunting and gathering, new ways to love the city, and the trick to introducing more greens to one’s life.

Congratulations on the book, Wawi. Can you share what inspired the project? 

The project is crucial to me because it presents a very aesthetically pleasing, easy-on-the-eyes terrarium. Beyond the beauty, I wanted to invite viewers to go through the plants that were foraged in different parts of the city. These are weeds, these are things you see along the way when you’re commuting. These are things you don’t even bother to look at: soil, pebbles, open cracks of cement…things that grow on the staircase as you go up the MRT. The project is essential because it turns the acts of hunting, foraging, and gathering for these things into poetic ways of marking these places with meaning. Manila is Manila, it’s a place we’re all at, but when you look at things differently, it gives you that heightened sense that these things kind of grow.

I also wanted to point out that the book is an artist’s book. It’s a unicorn, but it can happen. We did it. It’s a very important part of the art project, and it provides the backbone of an otherwise just pleasing picture book. With the book, you choose your own adventure, you see and discover places, you read through different essays, you see a different kind of graphic design. I think people who have had an experience with the book would appreciate their relationship with where they stand, where they walk, and where they go. It’s not a tourism campaign, but it kind of makes you think about where you are, especially in the city.

So in making the book, you wanted to sort of romanticize where we live? 

Ah, no. It was actually very clinical! It was more of a scientific stance, so that facts could be presented as is. It’s quasi-scientific, because there was a lot of field work, a lot of gathering, and documentation and cataloguing. From the get-go, it was an art project. But for the project to be actualized, it had to assume a position. And it was a neutral position, a non-judgmental one. It came from places you know, like the mall, or your house. Or like the landfill, or places you just see in the news. It gives you a softer entry into understanding other ways to look at other territories.

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The bell jars you used are also quite interesting. Was there any method to choosing a particular jar for a terrarium?

I like glass, because it’s dreamy, and it’s shiny. The shapes they assume are beautiful. When you put the plants inside it, you can’t help but think of Victorian, traditional ways that greenhouses were made. Most of the glass is actually recycled or repurposed.

Does the book teach you how to make a terrarium?

Yes, there’s a part of the book that details, with illustrations, how to make your own terrarium. It’s a good way to get involved in things for them to survive, despite the odds. (Laughs) These days, it’s not uncommon to have condominiums with no balconies and things like that. Terrariums, I think, they’re good ways to introduce more greens in your life. (Laughs)

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