Flora Fantastic: Eco-Critical Contemporary Botanical Art

curated by Corina Apostol, Tashima Thomas

Ananas comosus (L.) Merr., 1872, from Belgique horticole, journal des jardins et des vergers (1851-1885)
  • This information will be updated.
  • Dates: November 4 - December 23, 2022
  • Location: 291 Church St

Working from global perspectives of Europe, the United States, South-East Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean this exhibition considers indigenous and imported plants as active agents in colonial history, through the lens of visual culture both past and present. Topics that will be addressed include subjects that pertain to nature as well as humans, including the economics of plants, indigenous and Western medicine, imperial and local state-supported science, plant and human migration, bio-contact zones, nationalism, as well as plant diplomacy in the modern period.

"Flora Fantastic" provides an unexpected perspective on questions researched both within academic and art discourse, based on unique stories in the history of colonial botany, and highlighting versatile artistic forms that highlight complex relationships between East, West, and South in the 20th century and how those ramifications manifest in the present-day. If the traditional representation of plants has worked as a tool for imperial worldviews, how do contemporary artistic tools offer us strategies for resistance while making visible structures and patterns of oppression that have been historically elided?

The artists we selected to represent and engage with these topics have been chosen based on their deep dedication and highly compelling work, which raises intriguing questions regarding entangled histories which are not only about this national context or another colonial past.

The first artist explores a wide range of art mediums with an interdisciplinary approach and focuses on the discourse of food. Through food, she intends to scrutinize power, social and economic inequality in this world. In 2015 she initiated Bakudapan, a food study group with colleagues from different disciplines such as anthropology and philosophy. With Bakudapan she has researched food within the socio-political and cultural context. The second artist explores the spatial and pictorial conditions of history and memory, focusing on blind spots of representation and forms of haunting. Orlow brings different image-regimes and narrative modes into correspondence, looking to the botanical world as a stage for politics at large through film, photography, installation, and sound. The third artist's art is best characterized as a dialogue between urban society and the natural world, contextualizing humanity's constantly evolving accord with its natural vessel. In a salvo of color, the distinction between plant, animal, and human is broken, leaving only understanding. The fourth artist addresses issues of collective memory and forgetting, and the memorial uses of public space, she often searches for ways to physically and symbolically intervene in the environments in focus. Her recent films challenge questions of colonialism, gender representations, and botanical perspective towards both femininity and belonging. Her works poignantly reflect on the difficulties of entangled histories and the relationships between "perpetrators" and "victims".

While botany has received little systematic attention within art history, its visibility and significance have grown concerning the threats of environmental exploitation and destruction. By engaging contemporary artists? visual and political engagement with botanical legacies and environmental conditions globally and highlighting theoretical, political, and cultural developments?this book offers a significant contribution to the intersecting fields of art history, botany, visual culture.

Special thanks to the Smithsonian Institute.

*The text above was submitted to apexart's 2022-23 NYC Open Call, and rated by over 600 jurors. Any specific artists mentioned are unconfirmed and subject to change.
Corina L. Apostol is a curator at the Tallinn Art Hall and the co-curator of Beyond Matter – Cultural Heritage on the Verge of Virtual Reality. She has been appointed as the curator of the Estonian Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale (2022). She is the editor of Making Another World Possible (Routledge, 2019).

Tashima Thomas is an art historian, gastronome, and cultural critic specializing in the art of the African Diaspora in the Americas. Her research examines food pathways, visual and material culture, racial formation, and the environmental humanities. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed journals, exhibition catalogues, and edited volumes.

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the National Endowment for the Arts, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Kettering Family Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, The Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Governor and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.