marisa morby

Design & Nature Reimagined: Can art give us hope?

I've been thinking a lot lately about how art influences us and the way we influence it. I think that having nature inspired art is a wonderful way to both appreciate nature, and even discover things that you hadn't noticed before. I have a belief that while art influences us and we influence art, what we consume matters. Be it art, music, writing, what we read, listen to, and spend time on will influence both how we see the world and how we move in it. Because of that, I think it's important to think about what we consume, and also think of the impacts that the art can have on us. We see this idea through the common saying: Life imitates art. And I do believe that's true in a way. I think that there is, honestly, a lot of dystopian and terrible art that gets glorified. We see shows like Black Mirror, Squid Game, or a Handmaid's Tale becoming so popular. These shows and books are really engaging, but they're also warnings. And I don't think it's good to be surrounded by constant warnings. By constant negative information. When all we hear and see is negativity, how do we find hope? So today I want to imagine something better through art. And this art won't be a dystopian take on all the terrible things that might go wrong. Instead, I want to see how different artists are connection with nature to create something beautiful and hopeful.

Pictures through photosynthesis

First I want to talk about Almudena Romero (@almudena.romero), who uses the photosynthetic process to develop photos on plants. Her images are beautiful, inspiring, and ephemeral all at the same time. I particularly enjoy the series of hand images on leaves. As someone who loves plants and works with them a lot, it's fascinating to see human hands imprinted on a leaf, when usually a gardener is interacting with the plant in a totally different way; using our hands to alter the plant in some way. Just seeing the images on the leaves is amazing; thinking about how a natural process can be harnessed in a totally different way than it was intended. The fact that she's using leaves to produce art also creates a lower waste medium; the leaf will just decompose. And I think that's where we see that this really is ephemeral. This is something you can contemplate and appreciate for a set amount of time, but as all living things, there will come a time for that piece of art to reach its end of life.

A photo of two hands on a long green leaf.

Recreating found items

Next we have Colleen Southwell, also known as The Garden Curator (@thegardencurator). Living in New South Wales, with a large garden as her backyard and inspiration, she creates handmade pieces that are made to remind of us herbarium displays. Her pieces mirror nature in that they are not made to be manufactured to perfection, they are made to look natural, and occasionally even contain found items from her garden. Because gardens are constantly changing, it also makes them a constant source of inspiration. You can see this in her work since each collection has different types of insects, feathers, nests, seed pods, blooming flowers, sprouts, and the list goes on. A garden is a place of endless beauty, magic, life, and death. Ms. Southwell captures all of these feelings in each of her displays. Often she removes color from the pieces in the display, making everything white or light grey on a white background. This allows us to really focus on the individual parts that make up the whole.

Paper and wire flowers in white and grey against a white backdrop.

Infinite Herbarium

In keeping with the herbarium feel, we have Caroline Rothwell who has combined photos and machine learning to create an interactive herbarium display called Infinite Herbarium (Thank you to @devdevcharlie for highlighting this artist. If you love creativity in tech, check out her newsletter, Creative Technology or her site where she does amazing human-computer interaction projects!).

The concept for Infinite Herbarium is simple: you photograph two different plants and the machine learning algorithm creates an image of a new plant with both characteristics. It's imaginative, interactive, and fun.

Nature is constantly evolving and changing species to adapt, and this lets humans imagine what new plant species might look like. The resulting plants are inventive and gorgeous, and I think the idea of creating a completely different plant from what we're already familiar with helps us consider and appreciate our plants in a new way. The best part is that you can watch your two images morph into something new right before your eyes!

A bright pink plant with deep green leaves, illustrated in a field guide style against a black background. The text reads "This plant morph was made from Geranium and Avens."