Wellcome Collection

24 February – 29 August 2022

Press Preview 23 February 2023

 

In February 2022, Wellcome Collection opens Rooted Beings, a major new exhibition reimagining our relationship with plants and fungi. 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 artists 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 while encourage us to rethink the way we see plants and embrace wildness in our lifes, 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’s 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 Fondation 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 highlight historical objects 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. And finally, in collaboration with Wellcome Collection Youth Programme, De La Warr Pavilion and West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, RESOLVE Collective will present a new commission which will take the form of action-research programme inviting young people to think through ideas around stewardship, racialised privilege, and colonial histories in the UK countryside.

Exhibition curator Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz said:

“Rooted Beings proposes a space to meditate on our relationship with the natural world and its impact on ecosystems, our liveliness and our health. The exhibition is essentially an entanglement of collections and artists projects that invite us to embark on a meditative reflection on plant life and what we can learn from it: to be rooted, attentive, flexible and caring – to attain vegetal wisdom.”

Rooted Beings is presented at Wellcome Collection from 24 February to 29 August 2022. It is curated by Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz with Emily Sargent, and it is a collaboration between Wellcome Collection and La Casa Encendida, Madrid. Commission partners: Delfina Foundation, De La Warr Pavilion, West Dean College of Arts and Conservation.

The exhibition is accompanied by ‘This Book is a Plant: How to Grow, Learn and Radically Engage with the Natural World’, published by Wellcome Collection and Profile Books.

 

For further press information and images please contact: Juan Sánchez, Media Manager, Wellcome Collection

E: j.sanchez@wellcome.org | T: +44 207 611 8820 | W: wellcomecollection.org/press

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

Visitor information

• Rooted Beings opens 24 February until 29 August 2022.
• Admission to Wellcome Collection is free.
• Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10.00 to 18.00, closed Mondays. • Address: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road NW1 2BE

Accompanying Publication

This Book is a Plant: How to Grow, Learn and Radically Engage with the Natural World is a new Wellcome Collection title which accompanies the major exhibition Rooted Beings. We’ve become used to thinking of plants as things for us to use, as food, tools, resources, or just as an attractive background to our own lives. But it’s time to change our minds. New research shows that plants can think, plan, and may even have memories. We share our planet with beings whose potential we have only glimpsed. Featuring the writing of Robin Wall Kimmerer, Susie Orbach and Merlin Sheldrake, This Book is a Plant will be your handbook to the new reality: showing you a pathway to completely reimagine your relationship with a different kind of natural world. Delve into a world of moss and fungi: Sheila Watt-Cloutier transports us to the Arctic Spring, Sumana Roy invites us into a world of bamboo and Bengali poetry, and Rebecca Tamás puts roots down through earth and soil. This Book is a Plant is made from paper: it was once part of a tree. But it’s also a seed: the first shoots of a radical new way of seeing the world around you.

About La Casa Encendida, Madrid

La Casa Encendida, Madrid, is a social and cultural centre managed by Fundación Montemadrid, a dynamic space open to audiences of all ages and persuasions where visitors can find some of today’s most groundbreaking artistic expressions as well as educational, philosophical and debating activities that revolve around the centre’s four main spheres of action: Arts, Solidarity, Environment and Education.

About Andreas Lechthaler Architecture – Exhibition Designers

Andreas Lechthale Architecture work at the interface between art, architecture and public space. They create complementing and highly individual settings for art experiences and help artists realise their vision. Their practice works across many scales, from public space, gallery and museum design through to exhibition architecture and furniture design. All interventions are driven from a desire to create coherent, subtle and multisensory spaces that create holistic environments which allow personal interaction and a sense of wonder and unnoticed enhancement. Recent commissions include “Kusama –A Retrospective” at Gropius Bau Berlin, “Pipilotti Rist” at L.A. Moca, “The Soho Photography Quarter” for Westminster and On Happiness at Wellcome Collection.

About Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection is a free museum and library exploring health and human experience. Its vision is to challenge how we all think and feel about health by connecting science, medicine, life and art. It offers changing curated exhibitions, museum and library collections, public events, in addition to a shop, restaurant and café. Wellcome Collection publishes books on what it means to be human, and collaborates widely to reach broad and diverse audiences, locally and globally.

Wellcome Collection actively develops and preserves collections for current and future audiences and, where possible, offers new narratives about health and the human condition. The museum and library work to engage underrepresented audiences, including deaf, disabled, neurodivergent, and racially minoritised communities.

Wellcome Collection is part of Wellcome which supports science to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone. We support discovery research into life, health and wellbeing, and we’re taking on three worldwide health challenges: mental health, global heating and infectious diseases. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.

 

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Posted by Max Mowbray on Friday 19 November 2021