Plants’ significance to human life and spirituality explored at reopened Camden Art Centre

PUBLISHED: 11:51 01 October 2020 | UPDATED: 11:51 01 October 2020

Camden Arts Centre The Botanical Mind

Camden Arts Centre The Botanical Mind


The Botanical Mind features work by 50 artists spanning thousands of years from sixties psychedelia to Christian illuminations and beadwork by Amazon tribespeople

Camden Arts Centre The Botanical MindCamden Arts Centre The Botanical Mind

Camden Art Centre has thrown off the dust sheets with a stunning group show themed around how plants have been significant to human life and spirituality across cultures and centuries.

The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and The Cosmic Tree was due to open this spring at the Arkwright Road gallery, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Now running until Christmas, the exhibition, curated by Gina Buenfeld and Martin Clark, brings together a huge range of works by more than 50 artists, spanning 500 years - from surrealist, modernist and contemporary works, to historical artefacts, textiles and manuscripts.

Delving into the mysterious world of plant intelligence, the show revolves around the idea of the plant kingdom as an Axis Mundi or Cosmic Tree: an archetype that crops up in the symbolism and mythologies of cultures around the world, connecting humans to the living world via images of plants.

Camden Arts Centre The Botanical MindCamden Arts Centre The Botanical Mind

Documents on display include Psalterium Cantuariense depicting Christ among giant mushrooms; illuminations by Christian mystic Hildegard Von Bingen; and an Assyrian relief of the cosmic tree dating to 865BC-860BC.

Recurring motifs include the visions induced by hallucinogenic plant medicines.

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Examples of art and literature that emerged with the 60s psychedelic cultural include works by Bruce Conner, William S Burroughs and Brion Gysin.

Camden Arts Centre The Botanical MindCamden Arts Centre The Botanical Mind

The intrinsic relationship between patterns and music, drawing on the spiral geometries of plant forms and flowers is another theme.

Artists including Giorgio Griffa, Channa Horwitz and Yves Laloy explore how these abstract geometries are often thought of as blueprints for the natural world and reveal an encoded intelligence in the plant kingdom.

Outsider, surrealist and modernist artists, such as Anna Zemánková, Charles Filiger, and Eileen Agar explore consciousness, animism and spirituality.

And several artists who have previously shown at Camden Art Centre, including Hilma Af Klint, Matt Mullican, and Joachim Koester are included because their practices explore the nature and mysteries of life.

Scholarly articles expand on the exhibition’s key themes, alchemy; art history; plant ontology; Gaian ecology; anthropology; and ethnobotany and how the differing approaches of philosophy, science, the spiritual, and artistic all meditate on the cosmic significance of plants.

Finally the indigenous communities of the Amazon rainforest can teach us much about the harmonious co-existence between humans, flora and fauna.

Over millennia, they have developed plant and music-based healing rituals and cultivated a way of life grounded in ancestral wisdom, ethics and practical knowledge. The exhibition includes examples of woven or embroidered textiles or intricate beadwork featuring traditional kene designs of the Huni Kuin, Yawanawa and Shipibo-Conibo people, sacred geometries which connect them to the spiritual entities of the rainforest.

The Botanical Mind runs at Camden Art Centre until December 23.

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