Colombian explorer-artist on Expedition to NZ
3 December 2009
Colombian explorer-artist on Expedition to New Zealand
Taking the role of eighteenth and nineteenth century botanical explorers, Alberto Baraya collects, catalogues and displays artificial plants from some of the earth’s most fertile places.
The elaborate botanical displays of Baraya’s ongoing Herbarium of Artificial Plants merge colonial exploitation with contemporary consumerism, tourism and global exchange. His taxonomies mimic accurate botanical classifications, exposing the arbitrariness of the scientific paradigm, exploring our consumption and use of nature, and commenting on imposed meanings and obsessive categorisation.
“Botanists and explorers already exist. I just change one of the objectives to point at the mechanism itself. It’s an absurd project that points to the absurdity of cataloguing the whole world,”says Baraya.
Colombia’s representative at this year’s Venice Biennale, Baraya has collected new specimens for his Expedition to New Zealand at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery from 12 December 2009 to 21 March 2010.
With many specimens taken from their ‘natural habitats’ in waiting-rooms, restaurants or homes, Baraya re-enacts the ethical quandary of ‘collecting’ by historical scientific expeditions. For his Govett-Brewster exhibition he also wants locals to contribute cuttings of artificial plants – and their stories.
“The best donations will be anecdotes about the relationship of the people to their fake plants. How did the donor come to have this specimen? Are there family connections? Or links with a special occasion, or journey?”
As well as his Expedition to New Zealand exhibition at the Govett-Brewster, Baraya presents a new offsite project SilkFern in the Fernery at New Plymouth’s celebrated Pukekura Park, with dozens of fake ferns placed amongst their living counterparts during the summer Festival of Lights.
“I’m trying to trick the eye. But tricking the eye also makes perception more acute: people look really closely at all the plants to spot the artificial ones. The Fernery itself is also highly artificial, combining plants that would never appear together in nature.”
On ‘expedition’ through New Zealand’s North Island, Baraya has taken his colonial botanist persona one step further, ‘introducing’new plastic plants at waterfalls, lakes and mountain vistas and photographing the ‘improved’ landscape.
He emphasises his concern is representation, not ecological critique.
“A lot of people need a relationship with nature, the good feeling of nature, but they sometimes get it through artificial plants. We need the representation of nature more than the reality”
Expedition to New Zealand and the associated SilkFern are both guest curated by Alejandra Rojas, a Colombian-born Harvard PhD candidate living in New Plymouth.
Image: Alberto Baraya SilkFern III, Taranaki, New Zealand 2009 from the series Herbarium of Artificial Plants (detail)