Humanity is driven by an innate curiosity to know more about the planet we live in and our fascination drives us to explore our world in an attempt, sometimes to understand, sometimes merely witness, the miracle of life. For hundreds of years, naturalists and botanists have been recording the existence of different species in the form of drawings. Through botanical drawings, science meets art in a perfectly symbiotic relationship. “Botanical drawings are still the best medium to take a generic sample of a group of individuals. Drawings incorporate every stage in the life of a plant, its fruits and flowers, as well as creating a symbolic sample of the average of a species,” explains Laurence Ramon, agronomist, botanist and artist.
For the past four years, Laurence has been working as a volunteer helping rehabilitate the Herbarium of Vanuatu (PVNH), located at the Forestry Department. The herbarium was created in the early 70s and its current collection comprises over 20,000 plants. In 2012, France and New Caledonia provided funding to rehabilitate the herbarium to safeguard collections and scientific botanical knowledge in Vanuatu. The project comprised the construction of a new building to hold the current collection with adequate cabinets for its preservation, a new database, training in botany of Vanuatu students, field trips to categorise further species and the recording of species in the form of drawings. During her time at the Herbarium, Laurence has produced over 250 drawings of plants. “Vanuatu has a wonderful botanist, Chanel SAM who firstly introduced me to the wonders of the local flora. It is important to keep studying and recording the diversity of Vanuatu, as there is a large variety of indigenous plants; for example, we have over 180 species of orchids. It would be great to see imported garden plants be replaced with plants that grow in Vanuatu,” she comments. The collection of drawings will be published in the book ‘Remarkable Plants of Vanuatu,’ and the exhibition will showcase some of the drawings that will be part of this book.
Laurence teamed up with Vanuatu artist Julie Sauerwein, whose screen printing work will present the real plants and flowers in a landscape of fictional colour and form. Julie first came to Vanuatu back in 1999. “I was the curator at the National Centre of Photography in France when I first meet Ralph Regenvanu, who was at the time the director of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKS), on his visit to Paris. It was through this meeting that I became fascinated by Vanuatu art and culture and I was invited to come to Vanuatu to visit and see the works held in the VKS collection. The moment I set foot in Vanuatu, I was hooked,” Julie explains. For the next twelve years, Julie would return to Vanuatu several times before finally settling in the country in 2011. She is the designer and creative director behind all the Alliance Francaise communication material and has also collaborated with the Vanuatu Ministry of Education, Red Cross and Unicef creating educational posters, booklets and other materials. The exhibition will showcase Julie’s work as a fictional response to Laurence’s realistic drawings. “Plants have always fascinated me.
We consider plants to be ‘things’ as oppose as ‘living beings’ as they seem passive and uninvolved. Reading the wonderful book ‘In Praise of Plants’ by Francis Hallé, one can get a wonderful perspective of how alive, responsive and generous plants really are,” explains Julie. “We had the idea that I would ‘respond’ to Laurence’s drawings with a visual and purely unrealistic representation of her drawings on screen print form,” she says. Julie’s work has an original and unique style with a child-like simplicity of forms and a great depth of geometrical balance and contrast between colours, light and space. She uses handmade, natural paper as the medium for her screen-printing work. “Screen printing is a very old art form that was invented in China during the 1st century and developed in the 1900s in Europe, used mainly in advertisements. It was popularised by American pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol with the underlying goal to make art available to all. Today it is used as a technique of graphic art, street art, comics and design.
It can be applied to all kind of surfaces such as clothing, paper, wallpaper, books and many different objects,” she explains. During the exhibition, some of her hand drawings will also be on display. Taking the ‘flower-power’ yet another step higher, don’t miss this fantastic exhibition that blends art and knowledge to create a visual experience and a journey into the wonders of Vanuatu’s natural world.
From November 24th to 30th at Espace Culturel Francaise, next to Alliance Francaise in Port Vila’s main street.