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Thursday, June 13, 2024
<p>Groups of interested onlookers peruse “Botanical Chords,” a nature exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History.</p><div> </div>

Groups of interested onlookers peruse “Botanical Chords,” a nature exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History.


There are several reactions you can elicit from a person to indicate that you have asked him or her a stupid question. He might (1) chortle at you; (2) sneer at you and sneak a sideways glance at his nearest compatriot to make sure that he, too, is in on the inside joke that has just become yourself; or he might (3) simply unhinge his lower jaw so it hangs in the air like the mouth of a hooded pitcher plant. When I asked the front desk of the Florida Museum of Natural History to see the “Botanical Chords: The Art and Science of Plants and Cells” exhibit, I was granted reaction number three.

(A brief aside: I have written a number of articles for the Alligator in which I interact with people and ask them questions. Unfailingly, I am always greeted with befuddlement and incertitude. I can only assume that I either speak Korean to people unwittingly or I am a giant cat that has somehow learned how to talk.)

From experience, it is never a good sign when someone acts surprised after you request to see something that has been advertised. It means they are making assumptions about you or the thing in question is terrible. I will not go as far as to say “Botanical Chords” is bad, by any means — but it is wholly underwhelming.

The exhibit itself is located in a hallway of the museum across from the insect display and is only a handful of images. To be honest, I walked back and forth thinking I was lost before I realized that what I thought was background art (think coffee shop paintings of sunflowers) turned out to be the exhibit itself.

“Botanical Chords” is a series of composite images of a flower, paired with a magnified image of the flower’s epidermis. What you see is the flower superimposed over an image of its flower guts — the combination is supposed to instill in us the notion that we should have an “appreciation of the beauty that lies just below the level of resolution of our own eyesight,” to quote the artist/botanist, Terry Ashley. Ashley is a retired research scientist from the Yale University School of Medicine who considers microscopy “an under-recognized art form,” according to the exhibit.

Of Ashley’s work, two images that did catch my eye were composites of the “Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia minor) with cellular border” and “Moss with cellular border.” The hooded pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant that has always generated an intense curiosity in me, and the moss, at first glance, looks like a photo of a moonrise, which calls attention to the hidden geography of microscopic images and the complexity that lies beneath the surface of things.

“Botanical Chords”’ biggest drawback is that after a number of images, you start to get the feeling you’re looking at bathroom art — which might be due to the potpourri quality of the medium — and that the exhibit is directly across from displays of rare bugs, giant tarantulas and cocoons hatching live butterflies. This may actually explain the exhibit’s curious placement, because while I’m busy looking at the butterflies, there’s something for the butterflies to take in as well.

Groups of interested onlookers peruse “Botanical Chords,” a nature exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

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