Leverhulme Research Fellowship 2017-20
Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh
10 January 2019 - 22 March 2020
Photos: Caterina Salvi
The tables are covered in layers of objects and fragments resulting from experimentation over the course of the project. Their installation reflects the blurred boundaries between an artwork and its means of production. It also reflects the unbound historical herbarium as a palimpsest and the herbaria specimen as both scientific tool and object of aesthetic value and cultural significance.
Both the flattened herbarium specimen and the imprint left on its drying paper, brings to the fore concepts of the relationship between image and object, and between two- and three-dimensionality. These aspects are explored through a group of wall-based blind-embossed paper casts.
Mirrors, reflective materials and media, light boxes and translucent supports, are all employed throughout each gallery to consider ways in which to interrogate a state of flux.
The relationship between the living plants in their native environment and pressed herbaria specimens – and their shared fragility as material objects led to the artist’s production of these works; images of models made by the artist of herbarium specimens, have been burned into the top layers of the paper support through laser-engraving.
Bowen also worked collaborated with fellow artists, Christopher Jones (UK) and Daniel Laskarin (Canada). A range of material was passed from artist to artist taking the form of an evolving collection. Bowen engraved images of herbarium specimens, onto the fragile gesso surfaces.
Bowen’s large-scale drawings in indigo and bronze pigments transcribe fragments of Hortus Malabaricus’s engravings. The artist repeatedly polished these works with an agate burnisher. As a result, the reflective images seem to disappear and reappear in the sheen of the drawings’ surfaces, echoing the precarious existence of the plants which they describe.
Casts were made from intricate models of eighteen currently rare and vulnerable plants listed in Hortus Malbaricus and sandwiched between two sheets of glass – thus caught like a plant gathered for pressing.
Early historical herbaria took the form of bound volumes. These were often cut up during 19th century and the mounted specimens were sold or exchanged creating new collections. These artist’s books refer to this practice of binding and unbinding – cutting up, re-ordering and re-constructing.
Hortus Malabaricus is considered to be one of the oldest and most comprehensive printed works on the flora of Asia and the Tropics. This extraordinary 12-volume publication describes plants of Malabar in relation to their habit, foliage, colour, smell, taste and practical value as medicines, spices and dyes. A number of volumes from RBGE’s collection are displayed together with corresponding herbaria specimens.
Wall-based lightboxes containing the artist’s laser-engraved works, are positioned in relation to archival objects and installed in a relational light environment.
Galleries Five, Six & Seven
A series of nine video works resulted from Bowen’s artist residency in northern Kerala at the remote Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, set in the bio-diverse moist deciduous rainforest - and whilst travelling through the mangrove swamps of Kadalundi Reserve.
The employment of mirrors both focuses on, and distances us from, the threatened mangrove forests and tiny forest flora. As the artist moves through these natural environments, the mirror seemingly gathers a collection of rare plants and in doing so, challenges our experiential understanding of time and space.
Photos: Caterina Salvi