The Botanical Revolution: On the Necessity of Art and Gardening

11.9.2021-9.1.2022, Centraal Museum Utrecht

The botanical Revolution: On the Necessity of Art and Gardening is an exhibition in Centraal Museum Utrecht curated by Laurie Cluitmans. The exhibition design is by studio Formafantasma, a design studio that prioritises environmental sustainability in their approach. The exhibition features an array of modern artistic interpretations of the ecological and shifting cultural importance of the garden. It is important to note that the exhibit largely represents a Western view, though there are a few exceptions.

The exhibition’s routing takes the visitor along several galleries. Starting with the biblical theme of nature as Paradise, to Front Yard/ Back Yard/Allotment and its nineteenth century values on the virtues of gardening then and now. On to The Botanical Revolution that deals with the human need to index plant life and shows how gardens supposedly mirror our society. Next is Gardening In The Anthropocene, which displays how human dominance of nature led to our current climate crisis but also wants to leave the visitor with hope for the future. Then it heads up to the Entresol where Accidental Green, seedlings of the city exhibit is displayed. An initiative by Hans van Lunteren that celebrates spontaneously sprouted seedlings in public urban spaces in the city of Utrecht.

Ecological art is a common medium to educate people on the environment (Goodfellow 2020, Inwood 2010). Whether it’s publicly accessible land art such as 7000 Oaks: City Forestation Instead of City Administration, started by Joseph Beuys or part of a more closed-off art piece as part of an exhibition in a museum. Museum exhibitions have in and of themselves potential to be an immersive experience that can stimulate ecological awareness. Some parts of the exhibition of The Botanical Evolution are more explicitly designed to environmentally educate and consequently promote ecoliteracy and eco practices. Take for example the Accidental Green, seedlings of the city exhibit: This part of the exhibition showcases local narratives and stories of Utrecht citizens, and a particular accidental seedling that has become a beloved fixture in their urban environment. These stories have also been featured by two local news outlets, RTV Utrecht and DUIC.

Furthermore, the exhibit introduces a protective label for the accidental seedling. The words ‘desired seedling’ are on the label and it protects the plant from being removed by the municipal greenery department. Citizens can pick up these labels at Centraal Museum and other locations in Utrecht in order to tag and protect their beloved piece of spontaneous natural growth in a public space. Citizens can also index and map the accidental seedling on the website of Utrecht Natuurlijk, a foundation that promotes sustainability in Utrecht.

This labelling of urban greenery stimulates civic engagement by creating an eco practice while also educating people on the different types of plant life in urban spaces.

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