Artist Inspiration: Plant Cure (Part 2)

Todays’ guest post is introduced by Maddy Rosenberg, curator and founder of CENTRAL BOOKING. The New York Academy of Medicine Library and CENTRAL BOOKING collaborated on the exhibition Plant Cure.  For this exhibition, five artists were selected to do research at the Academy Library over six months to produce work with their own unique take on medicinal plants. The project will culminate with an exhibition at CENTRAL BOOKING on the Lower East Side from September 6-October 29, 2017. Part 1 can be read here.

The next two artists featured in the Plant Cure collaboration between CENTRAL BOOKING and the New York Academy of Medicine Library are Susan Rostow and C Bangs. Susan’s sculptural work is extremely textural and beckons to be touched, while with C it’s our eye that takes the journey over the surfaces. Both artists’ works engage us and demand closer scrutiny.

Susan Rostow

I spent many wonderful hours of my childhood reading the encyclopedia. A set of books from A to Z neatly organized on a shelf with the entire world’s information gave me great joy. I may be a romantic, waxing poetic and nostalgic about the past, but that has not stopped me from enjoying the present times of clicking and swiping through Google images and other websites. My ongoing fascination with information, books and images continued to grow through decades and is presently expressed in my sculptural books.

The first time I entered the New York Academy of Medicine Library and was surrounded by rare books dating from the 15th through the 18th centuries, I felt as though I traveled back in time and entered the Middle Ages. I was taken with the smell of the leather covers, amazed by the weight and size of some of the books, marveled at the odd titles on the bindings, and was captured by highly detailed and precise illustrations. Prodigiorum Ostentorum Chronicon (1557) by Konrad Lykosthenes and Osteographia, or, The Anatomy of the Bones (1733) by William Cheselden are a couple of my favorites.

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Susan Rostow working in studio.

Feeling incredibly inspired, I took my excitement to the studio along with photos of the pictures from the various books I had observed. Armed with a plethora of images and plenty of ideas, I began to work on my vision. Images of medicinal mushrooms and text pertaining to plant cures were put to use by first making carborundum printmaking plates. This is a low tech method used for making plates by hand. This simple, but elegant technique allowed me to connect with some of the similar hand techniques used by the original artists. I printed them with an etching press, a simple press whose basic principle has not changed for centuries. Choosing to use this technique with an old style press made me feel connected to some of the reproductions from the New York Academy of Medicine Library’s rare book collection.

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Susan Rostow, Bone Fungus. 2017, mixed media sculptural book with carborundum prints on paper, dried mushroom, wood, parabolic mirrors, real and plastic bones, sand, glass beads and pigments, 25 x 26 x 26 inches.

After printing hundreds of images of mushrooms and text on paper, the prints were bound together with dried mushrooms, mud, natural glues, and pigments. Paper, tree fungus, roots, soil, and casts from bones merged together creating sculptural books that look, smell and feel like unearthed relics secreted beneath the earth. Hopefully this synthesis captured some of the magic that I felt when I first viewed these incredibly illustrated books.

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Susan Rostow’s sculptural book Bone Fungus (left and center), and detail of Cheselden’s anatomical illustration (1733) (right).

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Prodigioky Ostentory Chronicon (left) William Cheselden’s anatomical illustration (1733) (center), and detail from Susan Rostow’s sculptural book Bone Fungus (right).

C Bangs

My art investigates frontier science combined with symbolist figuration from an ecological feminist point of view. A decade long collaboration with quantum consciousness physicist Dr. Evan Harris Walker has lead me to incorporate his equations in my paintings in a manner mutually agreed upon, designed to posit questions related to his theories. Functioning as design elements that often speak to the interconnectivity of everything in the cosmos, the equations parallel the sacred writings found in illuminated manuscripts. In recent collaboration with my partner, Dr. Greg Matloff, we investigate consciousness from the point of view of panpsychism philosophically, historically and scientifically.

The books I researched at the New York Academy of Medicine Library included Robert Fludd and Konrad Lykosthenes. What does humankind preserve and what do we eliminate? Fludd had a theory of cosmic harmony and Kepler correctly accused Fludd of being a theosophist. Additionally Fludd is remembered as an astrologer, mathematician, cosmologist, Quabalist and Rosicrucian. His writing centered around sympathies found in nature between man, the earth and the divine.

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Flowering Pavonis seeds used as an abortifacient with fetus studies. C Bangs (2017).

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (1705) at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden ultimately lead me to contact the New York Botanical Garden. Merian wrote that slave women’s use of the peacock flower was deeply political, using it to abort pregnancies forced upon them by their slave owners. The history of abortifacients is nearly as old as the written word and the determination of pregnancy was left to the woman, who was not considered pregnant until she declared herself to be so. When the Catholic Church realized that they could not regulate abortifacients or convict the women who used them, they began persecuting midwives, declaring them witches.[1] The enforcement of religious law and witch burning was an effective tool for breaking a chain of knowledge about abortifacients that had been in circulation for over a thousand years. Despite Merian’s revelation about the peacock flower in her book, widely used by botanists and men of medicine, this knowledge was ignored. Merchants valued the plant’s looks and shipped large amounts of its seeds to their home countries, where the flower decorated many royal gardens.

Cosmic Pavonis Fludd mix copy

Flowering Pavonis and diagrams from Robert Fludd’s Utriusque cosmi majoris scilicet et minoris metaphysica (1617-1621). C Bangs (2017).

Ironically, when I wished to photograph the peacock flower at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or the New York Botanical Garden, I found that it had been deaccessioned by Brooklyn and is kept in a section not available to the public at the New York Botanical Garden.

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Flowering Pavonis and images from Konrad Lykosthenes’ Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon (1557). C Bangs (2017).

Reference:
[1] Edwards, Stassa. The History of Abortifacients. Jezebel: 2014, November 18.

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