Botanical Mind

Jordan Belson, Untitled, c. 1950, Oil, enamel, and wax on paper mounted to board in artist’s frame, 23 x 18 cm, Estate of Jordan Belson, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery


July, 2021


If the pandemic has demonstrated anything it is that, even after an Enlightenment of trying, mankind is not in control of nature. Camden Art Centre’s project 'Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and The Cosmic Tree' is one of a number of recent endeavours to refocus attention on mankind’s inescapable dependence upon the natural world and its unfathomed wonders. A fungus might be the biggest living organism on earth, but it is plants that make up 80% by mass of all living matter on the planet. This book and website address not what can be empirically known about plants, but what has been felt and experienced by people living or exploring beyond the narrow realm of Western rationalism. The spectacular images on show range across times and cultures from illuminated manuscripts describing astrological botany by the twelfth-century mystic Hildegard von Bingen, to the sacred geometries woven into textiles by the Yawanawá people of the Brazilian rainforest. They throw into stark relief how prosaic much of contemporary existence has become and how limited our imagination is when it comes to the natural world, but also suggest how much we could learn about living well by embracing both the natural and the supernatural. There is hope that plants can show us new forms of understanding and intelligence that may teach us how to imagine radically new ways to be.

Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater. Seeing of Music: The Music of Gounod from Thought Forms, (1905), Public Domain.

Jordan Belson, Untitled (c. 1950). Oil, enamel, and wax on paper mounted to board in artist’s frame, 22 X 19 cm. Estate of Jordan Belson, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.

Anna Haskel, Untitled (1940). Pastel and pencil on paper, 30 x 22 cm. Courtesy of The Museum of Everything.

The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and the Cosmic Tree, Gina Buenfeld & Martin Clark (eds), Camden Art Centre, 2020.