"In my works I like to return to nature, observe and photograph flowers, investigate natural processes, pick plants and fruits, make natural dyes, dabble with alternative photographic techniques and in this way combine botany and art. The lay love for botany has been present since childhood, when my mother and I filled herbariums with dried meadow plants and when my father took me to the forest to pick mushrooms and berries. Creating works of art in nature and with natural materials awakens these feelings that have been soothing me since I was a child."
- Tilyen Mucik
Jennifer Marion in conversation with Tilyen Mucik —
Oct. 2022 — FUCK, it's been incredibly too long. Sorry for the hiatus, but I guess life gets in the way more than we would like to admit. In the past year, we've both been through a lot of changes--Jen is in the first year of pursuing her MFA, and André is working full-time at an art gallery in H-Town. Anyways, we truly hope to get the ball rolling again.
This conversation-interview-thingy is a dive into the work of Tilyen Mucik, a contemporary artist based in Ljubljana, Slovenia whose work fuses nature with various technical photographic processes to invoke feelings of personal nostalgia and solace. We had the honor of first experiencing Tilyen's work through curating Float Magazine's Photo, But Not Photo show; as soon as we saw her submission, we became obsessed with the unique fusion of technically, originality, and just plain beauty she's able to depict through her pieces. We hope you enjoy reading as much as we enjoy her work. <3
Shrubs 01, Tilyen Mucik
Jennifer Marion: Hey Tilyen! I’m so glad André and I had the opportunity to speak about your powerful work through Float Magazine’s Photo, But Not Photo exhibition! As a fellow lover of plants I found your work extremely fascinating and would love to hear more about it and you! So please, tell us about yourself. Who are you? What motivates you and makes you tick?
Tilyen Mucik: Hey, first of all, I would like to thank you for this opportunity, it really means a lot to me! Because I am mainly interested in plants, I sometimes describe myself as a botanical photographer. But the latest projects are somehow also a mixture/hybrid between photography and actual plants, I also create plant dyes and dabble with alternative photographic techniques.
What excites me is the myriad of possibilities in the field of art combined with the endless forms in nature. As a child I made herbariums, the principle of which is strongly present in the way I work today. I am interested in the workings of nature, its cycle, all types and forms of plants and also manic accumulation, collection and documentation. I like to rub my hands with soil or plant fruits, I like to collect plant parts and later experiment with them. Doing so partially feeds the child in me and on the other hand raises new questions and brings up ideas for future projects.
JM: What made you get into art?
Tilyen Mucik: I think this is very much conditioned by the upbringing and the environment in which I grew up. We were outside a lot and as an only child, I was always looking to nature to entertain myself. So flowering summer meadows have always been my favorite thing. My mother and I collected bouquets and filled herbariums and my father and I collected mushrooms in the woods. I remember my father bringing me a bouquet of flowers for each birthday, where he asked the florist to make a bouquet out of all sorts of flowers they have. So it was always the most colorful and fragrant birthday present.
At one point, as a teenager, I expressed my feelings and thoughts through drawing. Until, in the 8th grade of elementary school in a photography club, a teacher asked me to photograph a school celebration. That’s when the leap happened and I knew that photography is a tool that can allow me to transfer (almost) everything I feel.
Flora Femina 13, Tilyen Mucik
JM: So many interesting things are going on in your work. You manage to make plants the center of attention rather than creating a portrait of a person in front of the camera. Speaking of that brings me to the question. How does your photographic practice fit into the way that you see the world, specifically nature and the environment?
Tilyen Mucik: I feel awe and immense, almost manic interest in nature. When I come in contact with it, I always feel small and insignificant, which on the other hand also calms me down. In terms of its independence and perfect balance, everything is always fine in nature - of course, if we do not interfere in it. I admit that sometimes I am ashamed to be human, especially when I remember all the horrors we selfishly cause to our planet. But I sometimes look at it from an evolutionary point of view - it makes sense that we were interested in things and that we wanted to subjugate nature to the point of surviving. Unfortunately, man does not know borders, and this subordination has been crossing borders for some time.
However, in my work I do not moralize and illustrate the ecological aspect, this happens indirectly. The idea I convey through creation is in this regard a reflection on the use of natural materials and an emphasis on the perfect functioning of nature. It is about appreciating the balance, the equilibrium present in nature.
JM: What do you hope your viewers will take away from your work?
Tilyen Mucik: There are two main things that creating with natural materials gives me and which I value more than anything: imperfection and time. When I first created antotypes (where plant dyes serve as an emulsion), I had in mind an end result that never happened. The natural material "worked on its own", which made me angry at the beginning. Until I realized that this chaos is a counterbalance to my desire for perfection, and together they form a unique feature. This is a similar principle to what happens in nature - on the one hand, there must be chaos for order to arise.
On the other hand, time is probably the most precious thing in today’s hectic world. Due to the fast way of life, we are in a hurry all the time and so was I with my wish to create art. But natural materials take their time. In nature, things happen more slowly. So I had to compromise and tune my watch to the hour of nature. That's how I forget about all the pressures and obligations, time becomes relative and for a few moments, I am in no hurry. I am just here while creating.
In my creation, the process is of primary importance and I consider physical work as a by-product of it. This is also something I want the viewer/observer to feel.
JM: For your Flora Femina series, you created dyes using different fruits, flowers, and plants. Can you explain the process in making these? Was it important to you that the dyes used in the work were made by you?
Flora Femina 09, Tilyen Mucik
Flora Femina 03, Tilyen Mucik
Tilyen Mucik: Anthotype is an old alternative photographic technique that was actually born with a desire to do color photography. In doing so, things that were used were things available at the time - namely, plant extracts. It works on the principle of preparing an emulsion from vegetable dyes, which is spread on paper and a positive image is placed on it. The whole thing is then illuminated in natural sunlight, which can take several weeks. Sunlight slowly whitens the light parts of the image (fading natural dyes), while the dark parts of the image remain in the color of the emulsion.
The chlorophyll process, which I also used in the Flora Femina series, works similarly. Instead of paper coated with vegetable dyes, a green plant leaf is used. When exposed to the sun, the sun fades chlorophyll in light parts of the image, while in dark tones the image remains green. Later, when the leaf dries, these shades turn brownish.
In making such images, the preparation of dyes is exactly the step I like best. It’s a game of color, density, and filtering. The whole charm lies in gathering plant material, cooking, mixing, filtering, testing and even waiting.
Flora Femina 02, Tilyen Mucik
JM: What do you find limiting about photography? What helps you reconcile/ push past it?
Tilyen Mucik: In photography, I think the biggest limitation is the two-dimensional image. I think the wildness of nature gets lost in this oversimplification. Among other things, the photograph lacks the smell (the smell of the forest, the smell of freshly cut grass, the sweet smell of flowers), the sound (dry grass underfoot, birdsong, the sound of leaves rustling in the wind) and lacks much of the personal experience, which I experience during the process itself.
All of the above was very present in the Shrubs series, where I photographed wild plants and exotic plants in botanical gardens. When I developed and scanned the films I was disappointed. Photography has robbed the nature of its wildness and organicity. So I started making hybrids between photography and actual plant matter to give back to the images what was taken away from them in the soulless technical aspect of photography. I did that by combining film negatives with parts of plants, sewed images with a thread obtained from the yucca plant , buried some films in the ground (which then partially decomposed), and colored others with plant dyes.
JM: What has been your biggest personal achievement?
Tilyen Mucik: I think I can highlight here just this hybrid I mentioned above and
the connection between the image and nature. I am probably most grateful for
my stubborn character, for whom a partial result is not enough. When my ideas are born, I
usually don't really know how hard it will be to reach the end result and I
delight myself with the challenges that come and open up new options in the
I consider listening to my inner voice and intuition to be my
greatest achievement. As well as the fact that I never try to create something
by force. I try to understand and submit myself to the whole process, which
sometimes involves long periods of no ideas. Just as in nature, something has
to die in the winter in order to be born again in the spring. And I know that like
nature, there is always something dormant inside of me.
Forced Symbiosis 3, Tilyen Mucik
JM: Tell me more about your plant store! We read that there’s an online component. Please tell me more! I can never have enough plants….just don’t tell André. He’s an undeniable plant murderer.
Tilyen Mucik: Haha, I think a cactus would be the perfect gift for him! :D
Yes, a big part of my current life is an online houseplant store. My long-time friend Tjaša and I created it in 2020 with the desire to increase the offer of interesting and rare houseplants in Slovenia. The trend of collecting and embellishing our homes with houseplants has been very popular lately, so we decided to try our luck during the first wave of covid-19 lockdowns. It is primarily an online store, but we also have a physical store in Ljubljana. We currently operate in Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy.
Tjaša and I also found a great balance, as she takes care of the market and business side of things while I take care of everything that is plant / art related. So I could really say that plants are everywhere I turn. :D
JM: Last question! This is the one we always have to ask :) What’s next?
Tilyen Mucik: For my master's degree project I developed CMYK printing inks made from plants, with which I then print my own photographs (link to the work here). I was able to create cyan, magenta, yellow and black, successfully filter them and insert them into inkjet printer cartridges. I also managed to print botanical photos with them!
In the future, I would really like to make a special printer for these purposes. The problem is that my inks have a very different structure from the factory ones, so the printer only prints them for a short time (about two days) before it gets clogged up and I have to use another one. This represents both a high financial cost as well as an inappropriately large environmental problem. But still, I am very much looking forward to the next steps, all the new attempts (successful and unsuccessful) and the new challenges they will bring. :)
JM: Thank you so much Tilyen for letting me pick your brain. Looking forward to seeing what the future brings for you and your fantastic work. <3