The Harn Museum of Art recently opened an exhibit that highlights the appreciation of plant life through various mediums of art collected from an array of cultures and eras.
Entitled “Plant Life,” the exhibition contains 12 pieces of artwork from the museum’s permanent collection that reflect the influence of plants on human society. The exhibit will remain open until Feb. 20 of next year.
Dr. Terry Harpold, an associate professor of English at the University of Florida, curated the exhibit with 12 UF graduate students in his Spring 2021 seminar on Critical Plant Studies. Harpold said the course was modeled to allow his students to express their analysis of plant appreciation in the media to the general public.
Harpold describes the field of Critical Plant Studies as “an emerging, important field that has huge consequences for how we think about human and non-human forms of life, particularly in a world in which plant life is increasingly under stress.”
Showcasing a variety of mediums of art, the “Plant Life” exhibit includes photos, paintings, and carvings that portray the overall theme of human appreciation of plants. These pieces depict plants’ impact on human culture over time and encourage viewers to appreciate their presence.
Dr. Harpold said the curators at the Harn Museum gave him an initial pool of 75 pieces of art that they estimated to be “plant-centric.” During the process of constructing the exhibition, Harpold and his students were tasked with drawing one piece of art from this collection to analyze using the tools they learned throughout the seminar.
The exhibit pairs each piece of artwork with an analytical essay, written by the participants of Harpold’s seminar, that reflects on the contribution of plants to human life and the planet as a whole. These essays can be viewed either by scanning the QR codes beside each display or via a physical copy set up in the exhibition.
“I wanted these students to speak to the public about what moved them when they looked at the wide range of images and objects we chose from the collection,” Harpold stated.
Erick Verran, one of the graduate students involved in Harpold’s seminar and a contributor to the “Plant Life'' exhibition, said the course material they read throughout the course prepared them to conduct their analysis for the exhibit.
“The seminar was a very stimulating and collaborative environment where we were given a complete layout of perspectives of plants from fiction and nonfiction texts to analyze and discuss,” Verran said.
Verran also said the students in the seminar took a variety of perspectives when selecting their artwork and analyzing its importance to the study of plant life.
Verran said of the piece he selected for the exhibit, “It’s a photo taken in Yosemite Park in which the camera is pointed straight down at some foliage found on the ground. The photograph has a kind of abstract, expressionist quality that I compared to contemporary art and wallpaper design.”
Both Harpold and Verran said they wanted visitors of the exhibit to gain a greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of plant life with human lives.
“It’s a plant-centric world,” Harpold said. “We need to see that so we can understand not only our appropriate role in that world as a civilization, but also so we can appreciate the extraordinary vitality of the plant world.”
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