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  • Zoë Da Poian

The Botanical Mind - Camden Arts Centre

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and The Cosmic Tree is now open to view at Camden

Art Centre, provided you’ve booked your 30 minute slot and can get in before the Thursday lockdown.

If you can't make it before Thursday, I'd recommend checking out the online platform created by Camden Art Centre (find it here ).

Supporting the lesser-known galleries feels more important than ever right now. I went to visit this particular exhibition a few weeks ago, and left impressed, if a little overwhelmed.

With work from over 50 artists across half a millennium, the exhibition is cross-cultural and multidisciplinary. The exhibition was curated by Gina Buenfeld and Martin Clark, and brings together the surrealist and the contemporary alongside outsider art and historical ethnography.

The exhibition brings forth the idea that plant and human life are intrinsically connected and

have been since the beginning of time.

Drawing on the concept of spirituality and consciousness, we are encouraged to reflect on our relationship with the vegetal kingdom and how our exploitation of the natural world might be the cause of many of the issues we face today.

Delfina Muñoz de Toro, La Raiz (The Root), 2020

At the start of the exhibition, I was greeted with the statement:

"There is a greater urgency than ever to reconsider our relationship with the natural world as the climate crisis accelerates, a pandemic sweeps the globe, and habitats are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate"

Walking through the gallery space, the experience is immersive - in many of the rooms there are atmospheric soundscapes or video installations, creating an aural experience rather than solely a visual one.

And yet, despite thoroughly enjoying the concept behind this body of work, and believing that it is a powerful and relevant topic with a wealth to be explored, the execution of the show was not ideal.

The pieces included were connected loosely by theme but somehow also worlds apart, which was at times quite frustrating. I found the exhibition quite overwhelming; so many different styles, mediums and the sheer quantity of pieces included meant that I left Camden Art Centre feeling a little perplexed. I wanted more consistency, or at least cohesion.

If it had not been for the pocket gallery guide, access to the world wide web, as well as my many photos of the pieces that did capture my attention, I would have struggled to remember the details of the exhibition. I certainly would not have been able to write this piece.

However, with more than 100 exhibits, my critique is: is there a little too

much going on? Too much art, too much noise, too much information, and not enough time?

The amalgamation of works is jarring, however, perhaps this is intentional - an embodiment

of the diversity in the plant world.

Even the rooms themselves are divergent - Being Sessile is a space bathed in natural light, yet Axis Mundi seems dark and grave.

With pieces like that of Fred Tomaselli (pictured below), who brings together hemp leaves, modern medicine and images of human anatomy, perhaps the incorporation of so many different elements is a comment on the many ways in which we find the natural world intertwined with our own.

Fred Tomaselli, Torso (Large), 1999

The blurring of human and plant is ubiquitous in When We Were Monsters, created by James Richards & Steve Reinke during quarantine. The digital video, approximately 21 minutes long, compiles a series of clips of reworked images of the body from archival medical photographs, late 19th Century zoetrope animations, microscopic images of cells and amoeba, as well as distant nebula. Over the top of the video, we hear an ominous voice:

‘Instead of earth, swamp. Instead of heaven, plankton. And to replace gods, the microbiome’.

The images flash dramatically, urging the individual to pay attention.

Andrea Büttner, Stones and Moss, 2020

The last section, "Being Sessile", was my favourite.

One piece in this section is pictured above, the piece by German artist Andrea Büttner. I walked into an open space filled with golden natural light, and see a gallery invigilator spraying a grouping of moss-covered rocks with, what I assume to be, water.

Stones and Moss encourages us to admire the natural beauty of this entirely organic thing. The simple act of the invigilator watering the piece seemed so fitting to me, reflective of the message of the entire exhibition - how in order for us to continue living on this plane, we must also ensure that plant matter is kept alive.

Simon Ling, Untitled, 2020

Many galleries have been turning to nature for their exhibition inspiration lately, for example

‘Among the Trees’ at the Hayward Gallery, or the recent ‘Mushrooms’ at the Somerset

House. With such tough competition, I question whether The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism

and The Cosmic Tree has been a success. Diversity should not automatically result in

bewilderment, and so I feel that the pieces of the jigsaw that make up this exhibition do not

quite fit.

Had there been a stronger connection between the works showcased, the experience as a whole would have been more lucid. Instead, the show has intended to do too much and as a result has not done enough.

This is the kind of exhibition which truly requires a lot of thought, and one issue we find

ourselves faced with everywhere is: time slots.

Of course, an understandable measure. But still, an exhibition like this requires attention and adaptability as you are transported from 1404 to 2020, from psychedelic to contemporary, from video to rock… 30 minutes simply isn’t enough to soak it all in. The online experience provides a way to soak it up, without the time constraint.

You have to respect the ambition of this show. However, I still wonder whether the exhibition would have been more successful had it committed to fewer pieces and deeper connections.


About the author: Zoë's is a 23-year-old British-Brazilian, with a background in languages and a huge passion for the arts. Find out more about her work and art by checking out her IG by clicking here

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