Branching Out: Botany and the Sculptural Object moves beyond well-explored examples to shed light on the fact that vegetable matter and plants have been used by artists, collectors and theorists not only as a concrete material, but also on a metaphoric or symbolic level.
Botanical imagery, fantastical and decorative or realistic and pedagogic, has formed a powerful undercurrent in European sculpture and engagement with the object since the seventeenth century, inspiring artworks ranging from Gian Lorenzo Bernini's ‘Apollo and Daphne’ (1622-5) to the relief sculpture of Gilbert Bayes' ‘The Lure of the Pan Pipes’ (1932-3). Often expressing a multiplicity of ideas about nature, the perennial appeal of botanical symbolism to sculptors has resided in its ability to negotiate a complex network of meanings, standing at the interstice between the sacred and profane; mysticism and science; conservation and consumption; colonisation and transplantation; growth and decay.
From the seventeenth century onwards, science has played a key role in the sculptural representation of flora. Horticultural grotesqueries spoke of a plant world rendered worryingly unstable by the 'new science' which had begun microscopic investigations of living cells and newly examined the effects of light and gravity on plant development. The work of Lamarck and Darwin created a powerful new vision of nature for the nineteenth century, with the visual impact of this work reflected in the ornamental excesses of the Art Nouveau movement that drew upon the overabundance of plant imagery available during the fin-de-siècle to produce objets d'art inspired by the exotic and unfamiliar.
In the twentieth century, the dying embers of imperialism witnessed the last great botanical expeditions to the Himalayas, while new technologies and the birth of genetics helped both publicise botany's position at the cutting-edge of scientific enquiry and the capricious mechanics of vegetable life. Recognising in these discoveries proof of marvels hitherto unknown, sculpture in the early twentieth century drew on botany as an exhilarating symbol of hybridism and metamorphosis. Post-war artists from Joseph Beuys to Yves Klein and Mario Merz have also incorporated readymade objects with vegetative connotations, such as tree-trunks, sponges and fresh vegetable into their oeuvre.
This conference examines the ways in which botany has acted as a continuing source of inspiration in sculpture, concentrating on sculpture produced between the mid-nineteenth and the mid-twentieth century.
Deadline for submissions: Monday 2 April 2012. To apply, please send a 300 word abstract and one page CV to Dr Elizabeth McCormick, Henry Moore Institute Post-Doctoral Research Fellow: email@example.com
Conference Convenors: Dr Edward Juler and Dr Marion Endt-Jones, both Henry Moore Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellows, 2009-11 and 2008-9 respectively.
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