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6 May 2022

Plant science and art combine in new exhibition

Sydney artists are helping catapult plant science into the mainstream in an effort to increase conservation education and efforts.

The Tellus Art Project, to be held at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan from May 14, will feature two art exhibitions representing the vision of plant-human connections.

The artists aim to re-value the prized specimen collection at the National Herbarium of New South Wales, which recently unveiled its new state-of-the-art facility at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, all forming part of the Australian Institute of Botanical Science.

Vivid Frequencies is an audio - visual artwork experienced through a web application on a mobile device.
Vivid Frequencies, by artist Anna Raupach, is an audio-visual artwork experienced through a web applicationon a mobile device.

A collaboration between the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, the University of NSW Art and Design, Bundanoon Trust and Open Humanities Press, the exhibitions aim to raise awareness of the importance of plant life and the Herbarium collection of more than 1 million specimens.

The art program forms one part of the Herbarium Tales research project funded by the Australian Research Council. Lead Investigator Dr Prudence Gibson, a scholar in Critical Plant Studies which connects plant science with the arts, said the project aimed to rethink plant qualities and the public’s engagement with herbaria.

As part of the move, the entire Herbarium collection has been digitised so that scientific records can be accessed the world over.

Dr Gibson said previous art approaches had been “conventionally botanical” and this project would use the digitised collection and specimens themselves to curate an exhibit that would test how arts events contributed to public narratives and understandings of herbaria.

“In Art there have been significant shifts in the way plant knowledge and experience has been communicated to the public beyond science and herbaria,” she said.

“Our solution is the development of a more appropriate curatorial framework, which focuses on the experience of plants. It devises new ways of enlivening the material archive and the newly digitised collection, via test case studies.

“This project will open the Herbarium collection to a wider audience by making it more visual and visible.

“While there is current research on how the arts can inform public opinion, we will develop and test studies which will have a direct effect on public cultural engagement with plants and plant collections.”

Vivid Frequencies at the Australian Botanic Garden.
 While walking around the Garden, viewers can watch or listen to the app digitally recompose the camera view and soniclandscape of the surrounding physical world.

Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Chief Executive Denise Ora said the project would help take plant science education further.

“This project couldn’t come at a more perfect time, with the opening of the new Herbarium, the first anniversary of the Australian Institute of Botanical Science and the historic digitisation of one of the most significant botanical resources in the Southern Hemisphere,” she said.

“This will serve as an important first effort to communicate the effects, impact and public benefits of the digitisation of a major collection, the first of its kind.

“Integrating art with science helps further our efforts to change plant perception, re-imagine our scientific collections effectively for the future, and redefine the way plants are understood.”

The first exhibition, curated by Professor Marie Sierra, will feature artists Associate Professor Fabri Blacklock and Dr Anna Raupuch.

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