Ben Kamm

Confocal microscopy is a tool for botanical exploration the way the Hubble Space Telescope, or more recent JWST, is to astronomy. These “stunning revelations of hidden beauty” elate and vitalize us with “exclamations of rapture”. This is frontier work, our first static glimpse at phytogenic interiority–an eerily familiar and yet utterly alien facet of our own world.

As a botanophile, I’ve been keenly tuned to plants most of my life–and by ecological extension the landscapes, biota and people in all their myriad relations. My observer-scientist eye immediately begins to look for patterns in Microcosms‘ primal shapes and otherworldly landscapes. Could this offer a new vista for taxonomical understanding and classification? Perhaps, but the luminous pictures also evoke a childish wonder, causing me to laugh at my strange simian propensity to auger and order life’s evolutionary unfurling.

The images made visible through confocal microscopy appear to us more exotic geography than phyto-morphology, affirming the nature of reality long known to folklore–that “the further in you go, the bigger it gets.” My playful child’s heart would like to suppose that we view the landscapes the “little people” roam, those my Cherokee ancestors called the Nunne’hi, my Gaelic forebears the Sidhe, my Celtic foremothers the Fay.

Gazing through these “astonishing and startlingly new” images also brings to mind those early, possibly mythical, pioneering curanderos who first answered the communion call of the vegetal to part the quotidian veils of perception and traverse that weird and wondrous liminal terrain, where all the cosmos speaks in sensual dialogue. Like curanderos, Steve and Jill are no simple sightseers to these phantasmal phytoscapes, but seek to recover our wayward souls, reestablish harmonious discourse with all our relations, and bring healing back to our communities through their work.

The tragedy and immense embarrassment of our current technophilic culture is its outrageous ecological illiteracy–which reveals a catastrophic failure of the imagination within the modern psyche. Great art, especially when born of the living world, has the potential to rouse us from imagination’s slumber, rehydrate and vivify desiccated thinking, inspire fresh pathways of relationality. Truly thinking and relating ecologically demands a limber imagination–to actively engage the world in all its diversity you must have the expansive imaginative capacity to recognize its complexity. Imagination is central to ecological understanding, to empathy, to maintaining meaningful relations with the co-inhabitants/co-creators of our planet–the fauna, flora and beyond. The bizarre beauty of Microcosms pollinates our imagination towards germinating a better today and growing a more fertile future.

Microcosms is an affirmation of the sacred, a homage of reciprocity to the plants and peoples of the Americas. Microcosms is metamodern ethnobotanical art, co-emerging through the holy trinity of plants, humans and technology–a step forward in furthering human relations with Life in all its riot and lavish wonder.

Ben Kamm, ethnobotanist and conservation horticulturalist,
Founder of Sacred Succulents: Rare & Endangered Beneficial Plants & Seeds
(Conservation of Resilient Biodiversity through Propagation, Dissemination and Education)

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