Year

2008

Degree Name

Doctor of Creative Arts

Department

Faculty of Creative Arts

Abstract

This study examines specific visual systems of representing vegetation in western science. Through digital and analogue printmaking, artist’s books, projection and sound installation my creative work uses the imagery of plants to explore the lacunae between contemporary visual art and western science.

Looking at early plant representations from the copy of the first century BC Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica in the Codex Vindobonensis 512, to Hans Weiditz and Leonhart Fuchs’ woodcuts at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and through to Carl Linnaeus in the eighteenth century, the study shows the interrelationship of knowledge to image, and the importance of visualizations to an emerging scientific framework in categorising all plant species. A significant figure, in the development of empirical visual knowledge, and situated between art and science, is the artist and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717). Drawings at this point and in following centuries constituted knowledge and European conventions of representing botanical subjects were recognised as a universal graphic language as exemplified in the works of botanist botanical artist Walter Hood Fitch (1817-1892).

Improvements in microscope lenses, the development of photography and chemistry in the nineteenth century combined to produce new knowledge and techniques for observing and representing nature that have since challenged these universal graphic conventions in the task of representing the plant subjects of biological science.

In recent geo-science and biological research another visual system of representation has become dominant through remotely sensed data, and the development of the digital has allowed new comprehensions of scale, colour and form in installation works, such as Mona Hatoum’s “Corps étranger” (1994) and Drew Berry’s animation of molecular processes “Apopotosis” (2007).

Research using confocal microscopy and Landsat Multispectral Scanner imagery reflect how perspective, spatial resolutions and spectral characteristics, (acquired, transmitted and archived by machines), are radical departures in visualising processes and functions of the natural world. This research does break new ground in investigating overlays between science and visual art in observation, experience and visualisation of nature by electronic technologies.

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