Radical Botany explores the artist’s role in the collecting and recording of flora while uncovering stories about biodiversity, trade and extinction.

The current classification of plants, their taxonomy as we know it, is inherently linked to the acquisition of botanical collections. Artists travelling with scientists collecting evidence of newfound flora would record specimens on their travels and on their return.

Plants have been traded, sold and moved across the globe, their travels mimicking the migration of people through time. Unfortunately, with this movement, and the colonising of land, whole ecosystems have often been disrupted and species lost. 

Could we ever again smell flowers driven to extinction by humans? This question motivates Resurrecting the Sublime, an ongoing collaboration between artist Dr Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, smell researcher and artist Sissel Tolaas, and an interdisciplinary team of researchers and engineers from the biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks, led by Creative Director Dr Christina Agapakis, with the support of IFF Inc. Using tissue samples from a dried specimen from the Harvard University Herbarium, the artists have recreated the scent of a completely extinct Hawaiian flower, allowing us to experience its smell a hundred years after it disappeared. Using biotechnology, smell and reconstructed landscapes we can once again experience a flower blooming on a forested volcanic slope, revealing the interplay of species and places that no longer exist. Resurrecting the Sublime asks us to contemplate our actions, and potentially change them for the future.

'When you view the works in the Florilegium, try to quell any impatience you might have and dwell a little time on each work. By looking closely you see into the wonder of living things, their complexity and their total fitness for purpose. Only by allowing yourself this luxury of time can you feel that tingling go up your spine which signals a glimpse of something very special'

Sir Tim Smit KBE, Executive Vice-Chair and Co-Founder Eden Project

Drawing from an archive of over a hundred botanical paintings, Radical Botany showcases selected works from the Eden Project Florilegium Society collection. Founded in 2000, the Society is made up of a group of botanical artists and illustrators interested in plant sciences, dedicated to documenting and recording the plants of the Eden Project and Cornwall. A selection of twenty works will on show, by artists Jan Cheshire, Mally Francis FLS, Ros Franklin, Fran Patterson, Anita Pearman, Julie Peart, Edwina Pickard, Gillian Roue, Chrissie Russell, Laura Silburn, Meriel Thurstan, Jenny Ward, Alison Wilkins and Dominica Williamson.      

In his mesmerising photographic series, Suburban Herbarium, artist William Arnold plays homage to Victorian botany. Referencing methods used by early botanists, Arnold has surveyed the perimeter around his workplace in Cornwall, identifying and cataloguing living specimens collected from hedgerows, kerbsides and desolate wastelands. In the darkroom these plants have been projected, enlarged and logged as pure form-study. The resulting artworks elevate these common ‘weeds’ to a rarefied status, highlighting the importance of under-appreciated flora for biodiversity.

From the scent of an extinct flower to the beauty of everyday vegetables, Radical Botany invites us to contemplate and reflect on the seemingly ubiquitous yet aesthetically pleasing world of plants, our relationship with them and their effect on the wider human experience.

Banner image: Photo: Grace Chuang, courtesy of Harvard University Herbaria, © Ginkgo Bioworks, Inc., The Herbarium of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

Entry to the exhibition is free with Eden admissionMembership, or a Locals' Pass.

Supported by Arts Council England and the Eden Project Florilegium Society