By A. Tosini (G Agostini "dis. in. pictra”). 16thC print.

Research: Hortus

Hortus, Research

Hortus is a new project, which involves research into the early Renaissance Botanic Gardens of Padua (IT) and Leiden (NL). I’m very glad to receive the a-n Artist Bursary so I can start my project by visiting these sites and their libraries. I know, the 16th Century is going back a bit but it is for a very good reason.

The early botanic gardens were among the first places to catalogue and research new plants and animals. European explorers of new trade routes and territories brought back a large number of new species, which led to a rethink about what people knew about the world. To be able to make sense of it all, or to impose some order on the wide variation of the expanding natural world, a classification system needed to be created. It was the Universities who initiated botanic gardens as places to research and teach a new understanding of the world, not only from books but from life itself. The study and categorisation of plants and their medicinal properties led to new science, Botany. The gathering at the Hortus of new, otherworldly specimens of animals became exhibitions of the natural world. The Hortus as garden became a place where you could wonder about the world. The University of Leiden even staged life anatomical dissection of bodies for the public in an anatomical theatre next to the Hortus. (Who needs reality TV?)

My research aims to investigate early practices of collecting and cataloguing as exemplified by the 16th Century botanic gardens and libraries of Padua (IT) and Leiden (NL).
I am particularly interested in the inter-relationships between catalogs, herbals, herbaria and botanic gardens because they show various ways in which objects have been represented, referred to, cataloged and placed within a larger collection. It is relevant for my artist’s practice because I use archives and databases as part of my artwork. From these collections, I create artwork that explores transformations between text, image and objects. All together these linked entities form a network that is dispersed and flows between expositions, publications and archives. See for example the project ‘Unconsumable Global Luxury Dispersion’ exhibited at John Hansard Gallery Southampton UK.
Another point of interest is a history of science and environmental issues. I am drawn to the 16th Century because the revolution in science and society that took place was linked to discovering new worlds and an expanding world view. Our world today seems to be shrinking: disappearing environments and more and more species becoming extinct.
The research will lead to creating a new art installation with digital and physical objects, that draws on the above mentioned two key world views, expansion and contraction.


Top Image: The Botanical Garden of Padova (Orto dei semplici) in a 16th-century print.
By A. Tosini (G Agostini dis. in. pictra) – lithographed by “Kiev”? in Venice – Unknown. Reprinted in “L’Orto botanico di Padova nell’ anno 1842” by Roberto De Visiani (1842).
Public Domain. Wikipedia.