Home > Mutating the Signature > Zuihitsu: Botanical Traces

Zuihitsu: Botanical Traces

March 11, 2009

Image by Steve Rago (click to view at larger size)


Perfection wounds the single
leafed beauty pressing
against glass to blot
out a patch of grey light
splintering winter’s work,
its chill, its ice. We peer
through a window to sheen
of jungle bright, study leaf
rib and spine, find worn
symmetry in petiole and blade.
Is this how memory
is found, some unclaimed
thing, a trace of botany
blooming at the vanishing point?

by Pamela Hart

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Process notes

We started with a strategy, but to paraphrase John Lennon, art is what happens when you get busy making other plans. Our idea had been to wander around the New York Botanical Garden, independently and together, with camera and notepad, to dig for content. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and the 250-acre-garden grounds, seemed, especially in winter, like good locations for capturing germination and mutation. We had planned to spend time looking, photographing and writing on our own. Then we’d find a particular “thing” that called to us and share that beloved treasure (plant, sculpture, architecture, whatever) with the other. Once material was generated, studio work would proceed.

The best-laid plans went awry at the ticket counter when we learned we wouldn’t be able to visit the Conservatory (the place with all the cool plants) due to a holiday show. So we walked around the grounds. Frustrated by the lack of access, we peered from the outside into the beautiful hothouse, looking at the weird and wild plant life that pushed at the paneled glass.

This decision proved fruitful. From the outside looking in, Steve found and photographed leaves and reflections. Pam was intrigued by the way exotic plants seemed to clamor for escape, and by the layering of cityscape and Edenic scenery. Our stumbling block had become a platform for collaboration.

Later, in putting together image and text, both of us let go of brainstorming notions on arrangement to let the words and photographs collide and combine as we played with page layout, stanza and line breaks and even with the title. The Japanese notion of zuihitsu seemed a final important element. Ultimately, the piece — text and image — excerpted here exists as a series of interconnected essays, fragmented and then woven together on the page. These are our contemplations on the rather unnatural environment we discovered one winter afternoon, which turned out to be, quoting from poet Robert Duncan, a place of “first permission, everlasting omen of what is.”

  1. March 11, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I love this poem and the way it works with the image. They both have layers and depths. And they complement each other beauty-fully. I especially love the echo of memory as it settles on the image and the leaf that seems at times submerged in water and just the tip emerging, and the way it bleeds into the rest of the composition. Just like memory does…

    I also found your collaborative notes quite poetic. And to add to that quote by Lennon, I recently came across a quote by Francis Bacon: “I always think of myself not so much as a painter but as a medium for accident and chance.”

  2. pamhart
    March 18, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks Daniela for you thoughtful read and comments. And for the Bacon quote, which I’ll add to my notebook.

  3. March 28, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    It looks rather primordial in there, and the leaf seems to have an air of quiet desperation as it presses at the glass.

    I like “worn symmetry” -that must be what the brain itself eventually becomes.

    A lovely poem produced from potential disappointment.

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