sometimes she longed to be a plant

“I wish to arrive at revelation on wings, while you advance steadily on foot, magnifying glass in hand. I am a smattering wanderer, seeking God within the outer contours, searching for a new way of knowing. You stand upon the ground, and consider the evidence inch by inch.”

- Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things

sometimes she longed to be a plant is a series of cyanotype prints created in collaboration with The Open Book Art Collective, a Vancouver-based art collective/book club hybrid. This series was shown in a show inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel The Signature of All Things, a wide-reaching novel tracing the life of the fictitious—but historically inspired—botanist, Alma Whittaker. The show was exhibited at Van Dusen Garden in October 2016.

Alma is a woman in search of answers. She seeks to know things: the woods, her parents, her body, mosses, Ambrose, and, ultimately, the mechanics of the world itself—the signature of all things. But answers evade her. Her chasing after knowledge—particularly in her relationship with Ambrose—leaves her dissatisfied. And yet, she persists in investigating the little things, such as the incremental movements of moss along the north side of a boulder in the woods.

In this series I have joined Alma in paying attention to the little things by creating a series of cyanotype prints documenting the small weeds that grow around the places I call home. Sir John Herschel developed the early photographic process of cyanotypes in 1842, and this process was used by British botanist Anna Atkins in her luminous botanical works Cyanotypes of British Ferns and Foreign Ferns and Photographs of British Algae. I imagine that Anna Atkins and Alma Whittaker could have been friends, two women united in their passion for precision and knowledge.

These pieces draw on both scientific and sacred imagery, with frames of cathedral windows paired with the precision of cyanotype prints. I’ve paired these portraits of small plants with descriptions of Alma and those she loves. At the heart of Alma’s botanical inquiry lies a longing to know and be known herself—a hope she expresses at a young age in her longing to be a plant that her father might love her more.

© 2020 Copyright Kristin Voth Davies

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