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Beautiful Books: Sara Angelucci: Undergrowth / Broussailles
In stunning, complex botanical compositions that blend native and invasive plants, photo artist Sara Angelucci comments on ongoing settler colonialism and current global trade routes, and their impacts on our ecology. Below, Sara shares four such compositions from her new book of photos and essays: Undergrowth / Broussailles (ECW Press, in partnership with the Art Gallery of Sudbury).
Image #1 – August 15, 2022 – Cardinal flower, Mint, Joe Pye Weed
I have been working closely with plants for over five years now. The impetus to make images evolved from gardening in my tiny city plot, where I withdrew after the tragic death of my sister. The garden was a place where I could be alone in the privacy of my grief, holding it fully, accepting its weight. As I clipped dead stalks and dug around, I saw things I had never noticed; the obedient plant’s moveable petals, the beauty of the creeping bellflower, a pink columbine hidden under the peony bush. I learned the names of every growing thing, cultivated and “weeds” alike. In shifting my attention to the smallest details, I saw beauty I had never recognized. A world opened up, something shifted in me, and I realized…that even grief has its gifts.
Learning to look closely evolved into the series Nocturnal Botanical Ontario. In 2019 I began to orient myself to a study of plants in the area around my cottage in the Pretty River Valley. Working at night, my visual perception and orientation was ungrounded. I had to work with all my senses on heightened alert, feeling my way through tall grasses, listening to the night sounds. Uncovering plants with my flashlight, I worked with a scanner to make images of flora I encountered growing together, my interest in their communal connection to place. The images depict luminescent specimens emerging through the darkness. Attracted by my presence and the light, insects interacted with my compositions appearing as strange streaks of colour.
The detailed ecologies in these pictures are embedded with layered histories, speaking to something beyond botanical still life or nocturnal landscape. Indigenous plants grow entwined with introduced and invasive species. Considering these compositions closely, my passion and attachment to this place is entangled with the deep colonial histories and ongoing commercial interests in the land. Using high-resolution imaging tools, looking closely raises difficult questions. To whom does the land really belong? And how did these plants come to be entwined?
Image #2 – August 23, 2022 – Bottle Gentian, Queen Anne’s Lace
Image #3 – June 10, 2023 – Love-in-a-Mist, clematis, broomrape, mint, oats.
I am intrigued and amused by the vernacular names given to plants. They reveal so much about how plants are encountered and used in various cultures. Most have many different local names. This is one of my new favourites. The Latin name for this beauty is Nigella damascena given to this annual flowering plant of the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. But who’s going to remember that? In English speaking countries it’s known as love-in-a-mist, or devil in the bush, but in a recent photographic trip to Italy where I scanned this little gem it’s known as la principessa spettinata (the princess with the messy hair). My husband says it’s my new moniker.
Image #4 – Arboretum, Sister-Elms, 2016
Twinning and sisterhood are themes that appear in my work again, and again. My sisters are/were twins. After losing Clara I became extra sensitive to this doubling of beings, my living sister embodying her absence. In this image from the series Arboretum, I combined a photograph of two elms I’d taken with a cabinet card I found of a pair of sisters. The trees’ stems and trunks coalesce as shared vessels and bodies. I am reminded of Kahlo’s The Two Fridas, two hearts exposed, veins connected. One of her most powerful self-portraits. I think of the twin elms in the same way the writer and forest ranger Peter Wohlleben suggests, as social beings who “can nurse sick neighbours, warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals through a fungal network, and for unknown reasons keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.” The trees hold and nurture each other, one sister entwined with the other.
All images courtesy of the artist and the Stephen Bulger Gallery. Reprinted with permission.
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Sara Angelucci is a Toronto-based artist working in photography, video and audio. Her work explores vernacular photographs and films, analyzing the original context in which images are made. Learn more at sara-angelucci.ca.