The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and the Cosmic Tree

This group exhibition investigates the subjectivity and being of plants: their significance to wisdom-traditions, and how we engage with and activate them in culture, counter-culture, art and music. It situates the plant as an axis mundi – the Cosmic Tree – and seeks to reveal through the symbolism of diverse cultural artefacts and in the works of visionary, surrealist, modernist and outsider artists, how the vegetal kingdom has been esteemed with metaphysical importance to the development of consciousness and spirituality.

The exhibition brings together an extraordinary presentation of trans-cultural art that reveals an encoded intelligence inherent in plant forms – patterns that can be thought of as blueprints for the natural world. These same patterns relate to ancient metaphysical beliefs shared by diverse cultures globally, manifest in the connected principles of micro- and macro-cosmos, sacred and fractal geometries, and the psychoactive visions induced by mind-manifesting plant medicines.

A major new commission by the Yawanawa people from Acre, Brazil, will celebrate their kene (sacred designs) and music. Passed through ancestral lines, these traditions connect them to the rainforest in which they live and this deeply entwined relationship with plants highlights the way in which music and visual abstraction are active technologies for communicating with a more-than-human world. The exhibition draws a connecting arc to the heritage of a contemporary European worldview, exploring the beliefs that existed before our culture was shaped by the scientific revolution; reappraising the ancestral wisdom traditions that were driven underground by the same colonial values that destroyed indigenous cultures abroad. The modern and contemporary works in the exhibition explore relationships between music and geometric abstraction, mysticism and modernism, psycho-active plant medicines, art and literature of 1960s cultural revolution, and an expanded philosophical and ethical engagement with non-human entities.

 

Image: Eileen Agar, Figures in a Garden, 1979-81. © Tate, London.