Botanica Colossi

    Sara Angelucci, JULY 24 (Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Grape, Daisy Fleabane), (detail), from the series Nocturnal Botanical Ontario, 2020. Courtesy of the artist, Stephen Bulger Gallery, and Patrick Mikhail Gallery

For several years, Toronto artist Sara Angelucci has undertaken a close study of nature in an area surrounded by Crown Land in rural Ontario. Cloaked by the darkness of night, she captures detailed ecologies of native plants entwined with cultivated and invasive species. Presented on the exterior of the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA)—formerly the Peel County Land Registry Office, Courthouse, and Jail—Angelucci’s luminous compositions speak to the complicated histories inscribed in this evolving landscape.

Drawing from her recent series Nocturnal Botanical Ontario (2020), which came about as a way to contend with deep personal loss and grief, Angelucci’s three massive images shift the perspective on nature. Here, the artist elaborates on her project:

I made these detailed images of wild plants during sojourns in the Pretty River Valley, while fumbling through tall grasses in the late evening. Limited sight put my senses on heightened alert as I worked with a scanner to uncover specimens growing entangled at my feet.

Working at night, luminescent images emerged through the darkness. Attracted by my presence and the light, insects appeared and interacted in creating compositions.

Shown at a colossal scale, these images of ordinary wild plants become something extraordinary. But why is this enlargement needed in order to really see them? Biologists J.H. Wandersee and E.E. Schussler coined the term “plant blindness” to explain the human tendency to ignore plants. They believe we don’t pay attention because plants are stationery and similarly coloured, and also because many cultures (especially urban ones) don’t recognize the importance of plant life. Paradoxically, their existence is paramount to all living beings, forming the basis of most animal habitats and all life on earth.  

The power and value of plants, and our need for what they offer, are deeply embedded in Indigenous knowledge. Reading Indigenous botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, I have come to value what grows around me, to understand the unique qualities of the plants I encounter, and to embrace my responsibility in their stewardship. In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Wall Kimmerer writes, “Plants know how to make food and medicine from light and water, and then they give it away.” If we take time to look, these plants reveal themselves as unique, strange, and beautiful.

 The detailed ecologies in these photographs also point to invisible and layered histories. Native plants grow entwined with foreign, cultivated, and invasive species. Considering these compositions closely, my passion and attachment to this place is entangled with an awareness of the deep colonial histories and ongoing commercial interests in the land. This process has raised difficult questions: How did these plants come to intermingle? To whom does the land really belong? Whose interests direct its management?

Ultimately, these images reflect the idea of memento mori—remember death. They are intended as a reminder of life’s brevity, and the need to see and protect the incredible life forms that grow at our very feet.

Installation Views

    Sara Angelucci, Botanica Colossi, installation at Peel Art Gallery, Museum + Archives, Brampton, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
    Sara Angelucci, Botanica Colossi, installation at Peel Art Gallery, Museum + Archives, Brampton, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
    Sara Angelucci, Botanica Colossi, installation at Peel Art Gallery, Museum + Archives, Brampton, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

Botanica Colossi

Hi, I’m Sara Angelucci. I’m talking to you from my studio in Toronto. Thanks for tuning in to hear me talk more about my series “Nocturnal Botanical Ontario.”

The images on the murals at PAMA were created near my cottage in the Pretty River Valley in southern Ontario. The area is surrounded by the Niagara Escarpment and a large provincial park. Like lots of projects, this one started in a serendipitous way. In 2015, I lost my sister, and the grief of her death was debilitating for me. I wanted to respond as an artist, but I didn’t know how to process such enormous sadness. That spring, I thought I would just forget about trying to make art, which has always been a way for me to process my life experiences, and instead, I would just work in my garden, finding solace there and watching things emerge, and new life bursting out of the ground after the darkness of winter.

But that spring, in isolating myself, and in watching things grow, it felt like something was breaking through my own winter too. So one day, I decided to just simply scan and get to know every plant in my very small city garden. Weed or cultivated, every plant was treated with equal attention and curiosity. Then I had the idea to visit a friend who worked at Allan Gardens and began to scan in the greenhouse there. But, the light was so strong that it blasted the scanner and actually made the color saturated and very strange. So after that experience, I thought: What would it be like to scan with an absence of light, in the dark, outside at night, not taking the plants inside, but rather going to where they grow? And this shifted everything, not only because the plants emerge like beacons through the darkness in these scanned images, but because I went to them. I got to know them, where they grow, how they grow, and why they grow where they do. Why they grow together.

On the giant PAMA murals, you see native, introduced, and invasive species all growing intertwined. Queen Anne’s Lace, wild grapevine, daisy fleabane, burdock with wild strawberries, and spiderwort, campanula, and pea flowers. Suddenly, things that I had seen all my life, I looked at very differently, acutely, with deep attention. And now as I study them, I’m developing a deeper understanding of the importance of plants to the existence and survival of our ecology, of every living being.

Scanning outside is a magical experience. I encountered fireflies, bats, skunks, hawks, and an asundry of insects. Creatures emerge at night, and together they make a thunderous nocturnal chorus. The more I looked, the more my grief for my sister attached itself to grief for what our planet is suffering. My pictures on this large scale at PAMA are intended as a call to attention, but also as a celebration of life and its endurance.