Keith Williams

Microcosms: A Homage to Sacred Plants of the Americas

“How you say is what you mean.” – Jan Zwicky

Born of a dream, Microcosmic Phytoformalism in both form and content follows a kind of dream-logic exemplified by strange yet somehow familiar shapes against a backdrop of black. Dreams, like the psychedelic experience, can be epistemological conduits to immanent understandings of our emplaced and relational existence. Microcosmic Phytoformalism, like dreams and the psychedelic experience, offers viewers an open horizon of possibility for alternate forms and the lifeways that they engender. Rather than simply following the binaries and hierarchies instantiated by global capitalism, what if our modes of existence were inspired instead by the reticulated surface of Datura inoxia pollen, Psilocybe cubensis’ pyriform pleurocystidia, osculate stomata of almost any species of higher plant, the puissance of Banisteriopsis caapi meristematic tissue?   

The Matryoshka doll that is confocal microscopy suggests a multidimensional relationship between forms evident to the naked eye and forms that are only visible to humans through technological mediation. How can a felt sense of, an embodied response to, these forms inform our understanding of Turtle Island sacred plants and our entanglements with planty kin?

If, as poet-philosopher Jan Zwicky suggests, “how you say is what you mean” then could attending to botanical macro- and micro-structures be a good starting point for intuitive interspecies communication with plants?

The questions that arise, for me, when experiencing Microcosmic Phytoformalism animate my becoming with the plants on my windowsill, in my garden, and in the woods behind my house. I hope to teach a special topics course on psychedelics at my university in 2025 and this installation as well as the questions that I have detailed here will enrich the learning experience for both me and my students.

Keith Williams, Ph.D. is an assistant professor at Athabasca University, adjunct faculty at the First Nations Technical Institute, and visiting researcher at Vancouver Island University’s Naut sa Mawt Centre for Psychedelic Research.

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