Parallel Botany

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Long quote from this excellent book, recommended by Chiaozza, who breed their own fantastical parallel species.

Dulieu first asks himself the question: What is it that distinguishes the parallel plants from the supposedly real plants of normal botany?

For him there are clearly two levels, or perhaps even two types, of what is real, one on this side and one on the other side of the hedge. “On this side,” he writes, “in our everyday garden, grow the rosemary, juniper, ferns and plane trees, perfectly tangible and visible. For these plants that have an illusory relationship with us, which in no way alters their existentiality, we are merely an event, an accident, and our presence, which to us seems so solid, laden with gravity, is to them no more than a momentary void in motion through the air. Reality is a quality that belongs to them, and we can exercise no rights over it.

“On the other side of the hedge, however, reality is ours. It is the absolute condition of all existence. The plants that grow there are real because we want them to be. If we find them intact in our memories, the same as when we saw them before, it is because we have invested them with the image that we have of them, with the opaque skin of our own confirmation. The plants that grow in that garden are not more or less real than those others which bend and sway in the wind of reason. Their reality, given them by us, is quite simply another and different reality.”

That the parallel plants exist in the context of a reality that is certainly not that of “every day” is evident at first sight. Though from a distance their striking “plantness” may deceive us into imagining that we are concerned with one of the many freaks of our flora, we soon realize that the plants before our eyes must in fact belong to another realm entirely. Motionless, imperishable, isolated in an imaginary void, they seem to throw out a challenge to the ecological vortex tthat surrounds them. What chiefly strikes us about them is the absence of any tangible, familiar substance. This “matterlessness” of the parallel plants is a phenomenon peculiar to them, and is perhaps the thing which mainly distinguishes them from the ordinary plants around them.

The term “matterlessness,” coined by Koolemans and widely used by both Duluth and Furhaus, may not be a very happy one, suggesting as it does the idea of invisibility, which except for certain abnormal situations is not generally true of parallel botany. “Para-materiality” would perhaps be a more correct word to describe the corporeality of plants that are usually characterized by a fairly solid presence, sometimes almost brutally intrusive, which makes them objectively perceptible to the same degree as all the other things in nature, even if their substance eludes chemical analysis and flouts all known laws of physics.

But “matterlessness” does suggest that apparent absence of verifiable structure on a cellular and molecular level common to all the parallel plants. Each individual species has some special anomaly of its own, of course, and these are more difficult to define and often far more disconcerting, although they are always attributable to some abnormal substance that rejects the most basic gravitational restrictions. There are plants, for instance, that appear clearly in photographs but are imperceptible to the naked eye. Some violate the normal rules of perspective, looking the same size however close or far they may be from us. Others are colorless, but under certain conditions reveal a profusion of colors of exceptional beauty. One of them has leaves with such a tangled maze of veins that it caused the extinction of a voracious insect that at one time had threatened the vegetation of an entire continent.

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Reading List

Readings about the representation of nature in lit and pop culture:

Lawrence Buell (any of his books, esp The Future of Environmental Criticism)
The Ecocriticism Reader
Noel Sturgeon’s Environmentalism in Popular Culture
Greg Garrard’s Ecocriticism
Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence
Reed’s essay “Environmental Justice Ecocriticism”
and Kolodny’s Lay of the Land (older)

IN-SITE Proposal


As an artist, I am interested in the intersection of nature and culture, including the way that we humans represent plant-life in illustrations, advertisements and logos, as well as for decorative purposes. The many representations of nature are, in my estimation, about as numerous and varied as real plant species. They range from the most simple geometric shapes to detailed illustrations and photographs, sometimes referencing existing or even imaginary species. As we are increasingly separated from direct contact with wilderness, these representations can sometimes stand in for the real thing. I’ve been playing with this idea in projects such as the fabric sculpture Canopy (2010), my collage series Field Studies (2011), as well as my recent public sculpture on Randall’s Island, New Growth (2013).

I propose to create a conceptual project in which I collect and scan real leaves from downtown South Orange and the park area as well as representations of leaves also found in the downtown area, such as those printed on packaging in stores, signs, on clothing fabric, decorative fake plants, elements of logos, architectural elements reminiscent of plants, etc. I will organize these “specimens” into a digital herbarium in the form of a website with accompanying information about each leaf (photos of the leaves as they were found, along with information such as location, context, size, and species).

I will also enlarge several of these images to approximately 2 feet tall (quite possibly larger) and wheatpaste them onto walls in public space throughout the downtown area. A QR code symbol will accompany each leaf which will lead viewers to the project website. This will function as a dispersed “natural” history display.

Wheatpasting is a temporary way to adhere paper to an outdoor wall. It’s made of water, flour, and sugar. It can last for months in an outdoor location. Wheatpasted images can be removed with hot water.

QR Codes are square black and white bar codes which can be scanned using smart phones. These codes can have web addresses embedded in them. Scanning the code will take you to the website.

Images attached:

1. Examples of leaves and leaf imagery found in downtown South Orange.

2 & 3. Digital collage of wheatpaste installation for one leaf.

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Deinstalling New Growth

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I deinstalled my sculptures on Randall’s Island a few weeks ago with the help of Mike and Peter as well as Deb and her crew. First we unscrewed the nuts and used a mallet to whack the bolts loose (pictured above).

When we removed the plywood pieces from the signpost, we found some creatures living inside:

The signpost + 3 ft of concrete were ripped out of the ground by a large machine.

Long day spent mostly in a U-Haul driving all over NY and NJ. Lots of traffic. Some Japanese food at the end.


One of the things that’s lost when seeing art via the internet is being able to see tiny details and the texture of the object. These details are one of my favorite things about my FLOW piece. In the more detailed images, the way the graphics were converted to vectors is really cool — the image gets broken up into shapes of solid colors. In most of the trees, you can see the grain of the plywood through the translucent paint or ink.

These photos are by Tsubasa Berg.

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New Growth Installation

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8:00 AM I arrived, met Deb and Fin, and we started drilling out the holes. 8 holes, 3 ft deep x 1 ft diameter, with two being “long holes”: 1 ft wide x 2 ft long. Cleaned up the holes with shovels.

9:20 AM Mike arrived with sonotubes. We widened some of the holes and inserted the sonotubes.

10:00 AM Eric and Chris arrived with the sculptures. We started putting them in their respective holes, staking them, and wrapping plastic around the bottom to protect from concrete splashes.

10:45 AM Concrete truck arrived. Mike and Eric started filling holes while Chris and I continued to place and stake them. Cleaned up the concrete a little.

12:15 AM Concrete truck left. Cleaned the wheelbarrows and shovels, gathered tools. Ate lunch.

Hand Painting

Chris is hand painting two of the most graphically simple trees. The process is this:
1. Project image onto plywood
2. Trace
3. Make stencil with blue tape while watching Law & Order
4. Paint
5. Remove tape