Orchid breathing in deep blue mode

installation with photographic prints on silk and aluminium 

*commissioned by Anca Rujoiu for the Botanic Gardens Singapore, opening late 2020

This triptych features scanned imagery of an orchid under latex bondage; the stretched and oiled latex skin revealing/ concealing the plant pressed against it in both abstract and recognisable form.

It was created with the display collection of 19th century botanical books in mind, which the work references in both concept and context.

 

The ability to print in multiple editions meant being able to publish and share botanical information gathered throughout the 1800s period of European colonial enterprise in the tropics. Copperplate etching, engraving and lithography were technologies allowing intricate botanic drawings to be reproduced and preserved in striking detail, in many instances even in vivid colour. The delicacy and beauty of these laboriously published botanical volumes inspired the artist to create an installation that would bring out the fine details of hand- printed etchings, engravings and lithographies using the contrast of large, abstract visuals and evoking immersive liquidity. 

 

The availability of periodicals such as Curtis’s Botanical Magazine  L’Illustration Horticole 

 fed rising European interest in tropical plants- encouraging amateur botany as a pastime as well as scientific pursuit- one that unlike most others was socially acceptable for women to take up.

Looking through the Curtis magazines one may encounter descriptions of various tropical plants, as well as recommendations for cultivating imported specimens. While reading these written descriptions the artist was struck by how often the plants were praised or evaluated for their decorative qualities and potential to adapt to the very different climate they would be exported to.

In these horticultural fantasies of collection , the plants become exotic items of decor and objects of a partially scientific gaze of desire, specimens from other worlds removed from their context both physically and conceptually.

Formats and layouts of the botanical periodicals and volumes that form part of the showcased collection also showed interesting parallels, with plants and their parts arranged on the pages similarly to how clothing and parts of clothing were arranged in the pages of equivalent era fashion periodicals. This inspired the artists treatment of the glass panels, referencing material trade and shop window displays through the draping of silk fabric and inset of the smaller aluminium prints within.

 

Some details of the orchid are still visible; in other areas, the swell of its form and texture beneath the natural latex stretched over it is all that can be deciphered, creating an abstract, otherworldly atmosphere.