As the current environmental crisis exposes the vital yet fragile connections between human and planetary health, this exhibition will present plants as so much more than simply a resource for human consumption, tools or even decoration. Through new artist commissions as well as botanical specimens and historic works, it will explore what we can learn from plant behaviour as we rethink the significance of these ancient, complex, and sensitive beings. Rooted Beings will encourage us to rethink the way we see plants and embrace wildness in our lives, landscapes and hearts.
The theme of colonial violence and indigenous knowledges takes as a starting point, the botanical specimens and information brought to Europe from Latin America in the 18th and 19th centuries during the scientific expeditions and housed in the archives of Wellcome Collection and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This period saw an unprecedented moment of global expansion in knowledge, trade and industrialisation, which happened at the expense of indigenous cultures being erased and ecosystems destroyed. Both artists’ works demand a move beyond this instrumental approach to the living world, instead reasserting the role of plants in nurturing our ecosystems and our imagination.
Patricia Domínguez’s new commission Matrix Vegetal, produced in collaboration with Delfina Foundation, will bring together experimental research on ethnobotany (the study of how people from particular areas or cultures use indigenous plants), healing practices, and the commercialisation of wellbeing. The installation will feature five futuristic totems displaying botanical reproductions from Wellcome collection and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, honouring the narratives of violence and healing embodied by the displayed material.
Joseca, a Yanomami artist from the Amazon rainforest, produces detailed drawings that combine images of shamanic plant spirits, summoned to restore health and fight off disease, with scenes from daily life in the forest. Joseca’s drawings from the collection of the Foundation Cartier pour l’art contemporain (Paris) illustrate the significance of trees as central to the ecosystem that supports human and non-human life.
Simultaneously, installations by Eduardo Navarro, Gözde Ilki, Ingela Ihrman, explore the theme of symbiosis and what can be learnt from plant behaviour and our complex interdependence with the vegetal world. Eduardo Navarro’s commission The Photosynthetics comprises a series of drawings on biodegradable paper envelopes containing the seeds of London plane trees that, after the exhibition closes, will be returned to the soil activating the seeds within. In collaboration with philosopher Michael Marder, Navarro has produced a series of instructions showing how to experience the exhibition as a plant, inviting us to embark on a journey towards vegetal enlightenment.
Meanwhile Gözde Ilkin will present As the roots spoke, the cracks deepened, a series of hand–sewn textiles expanding her interest in plant intelligence and interspecies symbiosis creating visions that transcend human, animal and plant categories; and Ingela Ihrman’s A Great Seaweed Day, inspired by the artist’s love of swimming in the sea will propose a deep connection between the ecosystems of the oceans and the human bodies. The seaweed sculptures suggest links between her intestinal flora and marine flora. Ihrman will also present The Passion Flower, a costume activated by the artist in a performance where the audience pollinated the plant by drinking ‘ nectar’ from the flower, an act of intimacy and attraction.
Some key historical object highlights include: a 19th Century textile depicting Jambūdvīpa, the central continent of the middle world in Jain cosmology; illustrations from John Ernest Weavers’ The Ecological Relations of Roots; and an Egyptian papyrus from 400AD thought to be the earliest fragment in existence of an illustrated herbal for medical purposes.
Finally, the theme of wilding encourages us to break down the artificial wall between nature and culture to ‘rewild’ our land and our minds through new commissions by Sop and RESOLVE Collective.
Artist Sop returns to Wellcome Collection to present The Den 3, a new installation where Sop narrates the process of constructing a secret den in the wood near their house in London, as they were shielding during the Covid-19 pandemic. It reveals how their relationship with the woods chimes with their experience of illness, finding solace in the longevity of nature set against our relatively fleeting human lives.