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The Botanical Turn


  • Location: McIntosh Gallery Western University
    1151 Richmond Street
    London ON N6A 3K7
  • Telephone: 519-661-3181
The Botanical Turn

The Botanical Turn

September 23 - December 11, 2021

Carrie Allison, Paul Chartrand, Joscelyn Gardner, Zachari Logan, Sarah Maloney, Amanda White, and ZOFF 
Curated by Helen Gregory

Bringing together artists working across media including beadwork, embroidery, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and hydroponics, The Botanical Turn examines how botanical imagery has been used to explore issues of agency, identity, gender, empowerment, and colonization. In recent years, there has been a proliferation in the use of botanical imagery in contemporary art to explore complex ideas and to articulate embodied knowledge. Given the current focus on human/non-human relationships as we consider our impact on the natural world, it is unsurprising that the examination of the role of plants within human systems of meaning is increasingly extending beyond the scientific and ecological to encompass the socio-cultural and metaphysical. As Donna Haraway reminds us, no species acts alone. “We have a mammalian job to do, with our biotic and abiotic sympoeitic collaborators, colaborers … Who and whatever we are, we need to make-with—become with, compose-with—the earth-bound.” Each of the artists in this exhibition considers interspecies relationships between humans and plants through various perspectives, be they concerned with the making of kin, self-determination, or critique of use-value.

For this exhibition, Nêhiýaw/Cree and Métis artist Carrie Allison utilizes the slow, meditative practice of traditional beadwork to depict a series of plants with healing properties, drawing parallels between beading as an act of care and our collective responsibility to care for the earth’s flora. With a focus on the relationship between people and plants, Allison references the Indigenous belief that the plant family was the first family on earth and sustains all other life forms, both human and non-human. Paul Chartrand’s practice engages with environmental issues through the construction of sculptural life support apparatuses populated with living plants. Here he critiques a human-centred view of plants, positioning science in relation to gender and use-value as it relates to cannabis cultivation in which an unpollinated “virgin” sinsemilla clone is valued for its medicinal value rather than its reproductive value. Creole-Canadian artist Joscelyn Gardner weaves together images of intricately braided Afrocentric hairstyles, brutal iron slave collars used to punish enslaved women who had been accused of inducing abortions, and the botanical specimens purportedly used as abortifacients, highlighting the imbrication of the slave trade, colonization, print culture, and the Enlightenment pursuit of natural history. Zachari Logan explores queer identity, memory, and place using depictions of Saskatchewan wildflowers to challenge accepted images of the male body. Often using images of ditch-weeds, Logan draws parallels between plants that are regarded as undesirable and relegated to the margins, and queer sexuality which often occupies a similarly peripheral space. Sarah Maloney applies a feminist lens to consider the scientific, cultural, and economic values of botanical specimens and how they have shaped history and material culture, and have been implicated in the construction of nature and gender. Concentrating on maligned and overlooked common weeds, Amanda White considers the use of language and rhetoric around such species, in particular the distinctions between the categories of introduced, invasive and noxious, and examines the language used to describe them in the context of settler and Indigenous relationships, nationalism, and xenophobia. The exhibition also includes the extraordinary “The Land is the Word The Word is the Land” Cape, created by Toronto-based designer ZOFF with LUXX Ready-to-Wear, and worn by Jeremy Dutcher for his performance at the 2019 Juno awards. The cape combines floral embroidery and Cree syllabics to celebrate the protectors of this earth, Dutcher and the Wolastoqiyik peoples, and to inspire all nations, faiths, ethnographic identities, sexualities, and gender identities.

An exhibition catalogue is forthcoming, featuring essays by Giovanni Aloi, Helen Gregory, and Franchesca Hebert-Spence.

Image: Zachari Logan, Nel Mezzo Del Cammi Di Nosta Vita (The Gate)  2018 (detail). Courtesy of the artist and Paul Petro Contemporary Art.

At McIntosh Gallery:

McIntosh Gallery is open by appointment. Gallery visits for up to five members of one household or social bubble can be scheduled online here. Visitors to McIntosh Gallery are required to complete a symptom check through the Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 self-assessment and provide proof of vaccination or proof of accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

If you have questions or are seeking additional information about visiting the gallery, feel free to reach out to us at mcintoshgallery@uwo.ca.

For ongoing coverage of COVID-19 protocol and operations at Western University, visit https://www.uwo.ca/coronavirus/

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