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Using the design schema of plant identifiers in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Melbourne, Botanical Fictions projects fake scientific and common names onto two trees in an urban setting. One is The Tree of Life, the other The Tree of Knowledge. This project was first presented at the Gertrude Street Projection Festival 19-28 July, 2013.
Trees have long had a deep connection to humanity's quest for knowledge; from the Tree of Knowledge that bore the forbidden fruit in Eden, to the Bohdhi Tree under which the Buddha was said to attain enlightenment, to the image of The Tree of Life used as a metaphor by Charles Darwin to illustrate his theory of evolution. Trees have always been central to our understanding of the world. They represent a nexus between scientific knowledge, attaining understanding through creative symbolism and the cyclical nature of the world itself.
Botanical Fictions highlights these relationships with small projections onto trees on Gertrude Street. However there is a conceit, the information displayed in these projections is both incorrect and impermanent. In a constant process of change, the projected signs display descriptions deliberately preposterous and humorous; descriptions such as Gertrude hipstonia (Fitzroy Frotheart) or Conflictia bathurstii (Racey Holdenford).
In one sense this effect is purely about fun – to engage the audience by asking them to decipher the 'pun' of each name – but in another it hopes to encourage deeper questions about the symbolism of scientific knowledge in a digital age. How do we recognise authentic scientific knowledge in a world of digital manipulation and reproduction? Who is in control of representing this knowledge to the world? What are the implications for this in public debates around scientific issues?
Botanical Fictions would not have been possible without the input of both Lilian Pearce and the Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne.