Overflowing with Flora and Fauna, Collaged Paper Installations Comment on Earth's Dwindling Biodiversity
Sprawling across paint-chipped walls and tiny alcoves, the collaged installations of artist Clare Börsch mimic overgrown jungles and whimsical forest scenes. Layers of flora, fauna, and the occasional gemstone or human figure comprise the amorphous paper artworks as they transform spaces into fantastical ecosystems.
In a note to Colossal, Börsch shares that she began her artistic practice as a way to translate her dreams, which are often lucid and informed by memories and a strong tie to nature, into physical objects that others could immerse themselves in. “Growing up in Brazil, I had the ocean, rivers, and jungles that always existed in stark contrast to the industrial cities (I lived in Sao Paulo). So my earliest and most formative memories are of lush, humming tropical ecosystems —and the encroaching industrial landscapes of Brazil’s cities,” she says.
The Berlin-based American artist sources her many of the vintage photographs from open source archives, including the Biodiversity Heritage Library (previously), Pixabay, and Unsplash. Some of the botanical elements she draws or photographs herself before cutting around the organic elements and assembling them in new, sometimes bizarre, compositions.
Despite the vibrancy and lively qualities of the three-dimensional collages, Börsch uses her artworks to reflect on the ongoing climate crisis and destruction of biodiversity, commentary that’s laced with themes of decay and death. She explains:
This came into focus for me when I made a series of collages and then later realized that many of the species in the vintage illustrations had already gone extinct. Humanity has wiped out 68% of all our planet’s biodiversity since 1970, so working with vintage illustrations can be very heartbreaking as much of the diversity in these gorgeous old naturalist prints has been wiped out by human activity.
Since then, Börsch has been collaborating with scientist Louisa Durkin, of the Nordic Academy of Biodiversity and Systematics Studies, to identify ways the artworks can spark awareness and dialogue about environmental issues. “I often say that I do not want my art to be a funerary dirge for everything we could have saved,” she says.
In recent months, Börsch has been working on a commissioned series that will culminate in a forthcoming book, titled Why Do Tigers Have Whiskers? And Other Cool Things About Animals, which is scheduled for release by Thames & Hudson in May 2021. Follow the artist on Instagram to see her latest projects, including an immersive installation commenting on regenerative approaches to tackling problems of biodiversity, which she plans to unveil in early November. (thnx, Elsie!)
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The anonymous pair behind Frank Moth (previously) characterize their layered digital collages as “nostalgic postcards from the future.” Using vintage photographs, the artistic duo merges retro visuals with natural elements like botanics and outer space to create playful composites that range from futuristic to romantic. “Our work almost always revolves around introspection, soul searching, and universal themes like eternity and human vices,” they share with Colossal.
Based in Veria, Greece, the pair sources images of tropical plants and starry expanses from a variety of sources, including library and museum databases and other photograph-centered websites that offer copyright-free works. “We still have our own huge inventory of images that we have been growing and expanding for many years, after endless digging and searching in databases of very old photos and scanned clippings of old magazines from the 60s and 70s,” they say.
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Hong Kong-based illustrator Ceci Lam envisions a whimsical dream world of mushroom-headed figures, adventures through tropical landscapes, and cozy nights in. Her drawings feature anonymous characters who are full of personality, whether daring and bold as they peer up at towering cacti or more subdued in their plant-filled homes.
Lam shares with Colossal that her Miss Mushy series was inspired after she spotted white-capped mushrooms on the roadside one day during her commute, a surprise considering the pollution in the area. The next day, the spores disappeared, spurring the illustrator to imagine a fantasy world for the small fungi to occupy. Full of quirky characters, the series is comprised of individuals defined by the color and textures of their caps, details that match the interiors of their homes and their outfits.
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Neural Networks Create a Disturbing Record of Natural History in AI-Generated Illustrations by Sofia Crespo
Sofia Crespo describes her work as the “natural history book that never was.” The Berlin-based artist uses artificial neural networks to generate illustrations that at first glance, resemble Louis Renard’s 18th Century renderings or the exotic specimens of Albertus Seba’s compendium. Upon closer inspection, though, the colorful renderings reveal unsettling combinations: two fish are conjoined with a shared fin, flower petals appear feather-like, and a study of butterflies features insects with missing wings and bizarrely formed bodies.
Titled Artificial Natural History, the ongoing project merges the desire to categorize organisms with “the very renaissance project of humanism,” Crespo says, forming a distorted series of creatures with imagined features that require a new set of biological classifications. “The specimens of the artificial natural history both celebrate and play with the seemingly endless diversity of the natural world, one that we still have very limited comprehension and awareness of,” she writes.
Crespo manufactured a similar project, Neural Zoo, that combines disparate elements of nature into composite organisms. “Our visual cortex recognizes the textures, but the brain is simultaneously aware that those elements don’t belong to any arrangement of reality that it has access to,” she says. More generally, Crespo explains her motivation behind merging artificial neural networks and natural history:
Computer vision and machine learning could offer a bridge between us and a speculative “natures” that can only be accessed through high levels of parallel computation. Starting from the level of our known reality, we could ultimately be digitizing cognitive processes and utilizing them to feed new inputs into the biological world, which feeds back into a cycle. Routines in artificial neural networks become a tool for creation, one that allows for new experiences of the familiar. Can art be reduced to the remapping of data absorbed through sensory processes?
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Behind Jo Brown’s home in Devon is a rich countryside complete with a wooded area and thick vegetation. For years, the United Kingdom-based illustrator documented the wildlife and plant species she encountered in her Nature Journal, a black Moleskine that now has been reproduced exactly in a forthcoming book, Secrets of a Devon Wood.
Each page of Brown’s notebook contains a pen and colored pencil drawing that begins at the pages’ edges, appearing to grow from the corner or across the paper. Sometimes captured through close-ups that mimic scientific illustrations, the delicate renderings depict the detail of a buff-tailed bumblebee’s fuzzy torso and the red tendrils of a round-leaved sundew. Brown notes the common and Latin names for each species and common characteristics, in addition to where and when she spotted it.
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Spanish artist Àngela Maria Sierra, who works as Riso Chan, explores the human psyche through subtly layered foliage. “I always imagine that they are someone’s soul, what we don’t see, our nature,” Sierra says of the delicate botanical assemblages that she overlays onto her subjects’ faces and torsos. Each portrait begins with a focus on texture and pattern as the artist paints clusters of twigs and leaves with watercolor. She then scans those botanical elements and uses Procreate to superimpose the figure onto the original piece.
Alongside their simple beauty, the pastel paintings, some of which are self-portraits, reflect the narratives and worries that consume the artist’s daily life. She describes her work as “a journal where I express moments or feelings that are important for me during those days. It’s a way to give those feelings space and then let them go.” Tied to both struggles and joys, topics include finding freedom through creativity during lockdown, growing up in an drug-filled home, and the bravery required to move forward.
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