Found Among the Leaves; a Bibliophytology delves into the rich and complex relationships between object & information, image & medium that are embodied within books and libraries as vehicles of knowledge. The exhibition takes four forms, described and documented below.

The history of phytology (aka "botany") is the history of books twofold. For not only have books been the enduring medium for botanical study across the centuries, but plants are also the material basis of the pages and paper upon which botanical knowledge has long been inscribed. Any book about plants is itself of book of plants in the most physical and literal sense.

The most abiding metaphor for knowledge and its organization in the Western tradition is the tree, and specifically the Tree of Knowledge. How befitting an arboretum and its library. The arborescent branches are figurative of the branches of knowledge – all connected, growing, and spreading root to tip. Meanwhile, in the same tradition, nature has often been conceived of a a book to be read – the Book of Nature – a text written by a divine creator, and studied its followers

The exhibition is composed of:

 

1 > A series of new collages whose images were gleaned from the leaves of

      books and journals de-accessioned from the LA Arboretum Library's

      collection.

2 > Sculptural objects – books, plants, books about plants, trees made of books,

      pages on their way to compost. Along with these are specimens drawn from

      the Arboretum's herbarium and associated collections, in collaboration with  

      the Curator of Living Collections, Jim Henrich.

3A set of leafy book/stack marks throughout the Library that highlight books

      as part of a "Found Among the Leaves Reading Tour" of texts that unpack the

      remarkable biology of plants and the complicated & enmeshed

      relationships  that our species has with them. Perhaps these leaves will give

      the sense of walking through the woods as you walk through the stacks -

      stories within the understory.

     

      Halfway through the run of the exhibition, a group of young artists from

      Sarah Gilbert's Sculptural Books and Distributed Art at Pitzer College will

      add their own set of leaves based on list of books they select. Their leaf- 

      shaped stackmarks will be made from leaves and plant material foraged

      from the Arboretum grounds itself, creating an aesthetic ecological loop in

      the process  – leaves to leaves.

4 > A companion essay, Planetary Garden as Fantasy Island: an Arboretum of

      the Anthropocene, that explores the Arboretum as an experimental site of the

      Anthropocene, the new geological epoch within which humans have

      become a predominant biogeochemical force on the planet. The

      Arboretum's journal, Lasca Leaves, functions as a primary source for

      exploring that entangled history.

L'arbre à alphabet (The Alphabet Tree)

In this woodcut a monk invites a young boy to learn the alphabet from the Tree of Knowledge.The monk's hand lays upon a book, a material derivative of the physical tree, and communicative medium for the knowledge embodied in its metaphorical branches. By Johann Zainer,1490 (?). Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Fossil Giant Horsetails (known as 'calamites') embedded within a coal seam, betraying the botanical roots of fossil fuel. Courtesy of the

American Geophysical Union

In an era where the intimacy of printed books is giving way to digital formats, drawing the historical and material connections between books and their physical bases has never been more relevant or interesting (even if plants turns out to be its underlying basis of the digital revolution as well...)

In Acknowledgment

Special thanks to Susan Eubanks, Jim Henrich, Richard Schulhof, and the LA Arboretum for their generosity and support of this project, as well as to Shirley Watts for her invitation and support of an artist residency that brought me to the Arboretum in the first place. Much gratitude to Maddie Coven for her artistic assistance with the installation and keen eye, to Marie Csete, John Doyle, Sara Schnadt, and Sarah Gilbert for their hospitality and camaraderie during my stays in LA in preparation for this project, and finally the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Department of Liberal Arts for the research and travel support.

INSTALLATION VIEWS

"FOUND AMONG THE LEAVES" READING TOUR

> The reading tour list complied by Andrew Yang and Maddie Coven.

> The Pitzer College "Sculptural Books and Distributed Art" intervention. (forthcoming)

COLLAGE + PHOTOGRAPHY

The images for this series of collages were gleaned from the leaves of books & journals de-accessioned from the LA Arboretum Library's collection They reflect themes, hopes, and histories unique to the Arboretum and its role in helping transform the Southern Californian landscape. They also draw inspiration from the Library's late modern interior design and1950s palette. 

...and photographs: