The Archive of Hypothetical Flowers
An investigation into our interdependent relationship with the Plant Kingdom during this time of great social-ecological destabilization and loss.
I am creating a physical space called The Archive of Hypothetical Flowers. This Archive will be both a sculptural installation as well as a complex theatrical set I will utilize to create experimental animation. I imagine this Archive as a hybridization of library, plant conservatory, seed-bank, and museum storage facility. The Archive will hold a lexicon of imagined botanical forms existing in relation to an inventory of human hopes for various kinds of healing. This is a collaborative project! I am performing "fieldwork" in the collective botanical imagination, and I hope you will participate, regardless of your artistic skill-level! See below for more information.
I will generate the plant/flower forms for the Archive by developing 2-dimensional images into 3-dimensional manifestations. The Archive will thus consist both of catalogues (of drawings) and shelves of sculptural, fabricated flowers and plants. I will make these using a combination of ceramic hand-building methods and also by using drawings from the Archive to create 3D-models using CAD software. I will then 3D-print these 3D-models using a ceramic 3D-printer. Each translucent porcelain flower/plant will be glazed with the colors specific to it's design. The "specimens" will be shelved in the Archive according to my own invented archival logic, based on information gleaned from submissions. This is a long-term project, reminiscent of and inspired by the Harvard University Blaschka Collection of Glass Flowers, but consisting of imaginary specimens that answer to our deepest longings for healing and reconciliation.
A daily activity I've done for years is to draw imaginary flower and plant forms. In this project, I seek to mine this drawing/ doodling habit for its meaning, as well as to expand my scope of imagination and understanding through collective involvement and public collaboration.
Though plants are not always benevolent to humans, without them, there would be no animal life. I build this project upon the remarkable generosity of the Plant Kingdom; this generosity which naturally opens our hearts toward plants. Over human history, we have relied on plants not only for food, clothing, useful materials, adornment, aesthetic experience, and medicine - but we have entrusted them to convey the meanings of our hopes, ideals, fears, and grief - in friendship and love, as in death. There are vast repositories of complex meanings and symbolism as well as actual applications of plants and flowers, specific to times, places, and peoples that I continue to learn about. I do not strive to incorporate all this content, but the meaning of my project depends upon it.
That real plants have healing properties is common knowledge. For example, as many as 40% of medicines in use in the USA derive from plant sources. Some 80% of the world's population employ plants as primary medicines. And angiosperms (flowering plants) comprise about 80% of all known green plant species. Yet only a tiny percentage of known plant species have been studied by scientists for their potential application as healing agents. There are also the realms of plant shamanism and "magical" healing traditions which employ plant "spirits" and "songs" to help heal people from physical, emotional, or spiritual ills. The ayahuasca vine of Amazonian Peru is one currently well-known example of this.
Scientists have mounting evidence that we are currently living during a new period of mass extinctions. Species loss is occurring at such an alarming rate right now - some scientists estimate that as many as 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird, mammal are going extinct PER DAY. We are losing actual richness that we don't even know.
If only we knew Plants, more intimately.
Influential cultural theorist Donna Haraway (A Cyborg Manifesto) once joked that she "would rather develop a theory of the unconscious based on the reproductive practices of the fern rather than the nuclear family."
"....If we extend our relationships to our non-human relations, then there are so many more baroque possibilities… The liveliness and deathliness- the depths- of subject-shaping and reshaping .... our psychic determinations... The... kind of intimacy that is seriously valued - is life determining.... the intimacies... of connections to non-humans- are absolutely fundamental." -Donna Haraway, from How Like A Leaf
My investigation/ guiding questions:
How do we imagine Plants?
How do we imagine our relations with Plants?
What do our botanical imaginings reveal to us about our desires, our unconscious, our fears?
Of what ills do we long to be healed/ how do we feel vulnerable or wounded?
How do we imagine Plants might act as our healers?
How might our (botanical) fantasy lives be linked to an awareness of the global ecological catastrophe we are in the midst of? Is that awareness conscious or repressed?
How does human fantasy life relate to specific ecosystems undergoing degradation or under direct threat? Ex: deserts, tropics, alpine, aquatic, etc..
Is our relationship with Plants exploitative or mutual in some sense?
Could we eventually 3D-print imagined plants so that they would actually live? In a world of cloning, genetic modification, and in which researchers now approach 3D-printing vital organs for organ transplant, it doesn't seem so far-fetched. Stranger things have happened. And, to leap back into the "magical" realm, would any plant spirits come to inhabit these things, oddly situated between death and life; between the human and the non-human?
Through this project, I explore these questions in a speculative, imaginative - hypothetical - manner.
Please collaborate with me and contribute to the Archive!
Click here to submit!
Here are some guidelines:
You may draw the plant/flowers from one - or from as many - angles as you like. You can draw it as a whole or in parts. You may approach this anywhere along the spectrum from fairly casual doodle (most of my drawings are like this) to fully-rendered botanical illustration. "Drawing" can also be interpreted loosely; basically any form of image-making practice - collage, etc - that reflects your imagination is valid for this Archive.
Be as specific as possible about describing the COLOR information of your invented flowering plant (the leaf color, the flower color, etc) if you do not render the color in your drawing. You can include color swatches or a verbal description.
If you want to describe the kind of climate you imagine your plant inhabits, or its smell, or its flowering season, or its pollinators, its dimensions, or any other possible information you imagine - please do! I also might ask you some questions about your submission to the Archive once I receive it.
PLEASE be sure to write what ailments - physical, emotional, spiritual, social, etc - your plant HEALS and how it does so. Also include if there are any dangers or risks in using the plant for these purposes.
Your name (from the submission form) will be adapted and re-imagined as the genus and species information of your flower. For example, Elizabeth Meyer becomes plant name: Zabet Merata
Thank you for participating. I will keep you informed as this project develops.