top of page

found among the leaves;

a bibliophytology


Compost Book no.1, 2019

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



      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.

Arbor Scientiae (The Tree of Science)


The Majorcan mathematician and mystic Ramon Llull showing the Arbor Scientiae to a monk. From roots to branches, the divisions of knowledge organize along an arboreal axis. Image from a 1505 edition of Arbre de Ciència by Ramon Llull (1232?-1316).  Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.


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

These letters on your screen and their imperceptible flicker are brought to you through the botanical realm by ferns, horsetails, and phytoplankton all that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Their chloroplasts photosynthetically captured and converted the sun's rays into chemical energy that has been stored deep underground in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas. Our technological and industrial growth has been, in the most fundamental sense, powered by the vegetative prowess of plants from the very start.

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.




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

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



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:

bottom of page