friday clippings 7/22/16

What I wanted to do tonight was attend an event I’ve been hearing about on NPR as I drove the freeways this week, Summer Nights in the Garden, hosted by the Natural History Museum.
It’s free but RSVP is required, so I checked online this afternoon. No go, they’re already full up. There are a few spots set aside for walk-ins. Maybe another time. There’s a couple dates in August too.


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I was really hoping to get an early evening, soft light opportunity to photograph the NHM garden designed by landscape architect Mia Lehrer.
I stumbled into a Lehrer-led, mid-day tour of this garden at the last Natural Discourse symposium 10/17/15 and have been meaning to go back for another look.
That’s Mia Lehrer on the far left. (I only wish my hair was still this short. It’s 95 degrees as I type at 5 p.m. today. The whole house fan has been a big help with this heat wave.)
The Los Angeles Times recently announced her firm’s winning the design competition for the proposed 2-acre park downtown at 1st and Broadway.
Along with the new design approval for Pershing Square, LA seems to have gone uncharacteristically park mad lately.
It’s about time, I say. Christopher Hawthorne has done excellent reporting on the progress of both parks, see here.
(To complete the trifecta, the progress on one of LA’s biggest environmental/design challenges, our beleaguered, concrete-bottomed LA River, was recently covered by Hawthorne here.)

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Back to one of my favorite events of the year, Natural Discourse.
This year Shirley Watts has chosen Fire! as the theme for the upcoming Natural Discourse to be held at the Huntington September 30 and October 1, 2016.
Like much of the West, the foothills around LA burn regularly and fiercely, so we are no strangers to the immediate perils of uncontrolled fire.
As usual, Shirley finds the most interesting minds to weigh in on her chosen subject, so you’ll want to check your calendar early to save the date for this one.

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But that still leaves me without a plan for Friday night. Guess I’ll just hang out in the garden.
The heat has transformed the solanum into a drapery of purply bloom.

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Have a great weekend.

postscript to Natural Discourse; Flora & Fauna

It’s been such a pleasure to see what shape and expression each successive Natural Discourse has taken. Developed by Shirley Watts and Mary Anne Friel for the Berkeley Botanic Garden, a group of artists were invited to make site-specific work for the garden and then give talks about that work. (‘Natural Discourse: Artists, Architects, Scientists & Poets in the Garden.’) Shirley Watts has continued this series of talks and brought it to other venues and arboreta. I’ve loved them all.

Shirley’s household as a child blended both art and science, with parents working in music and medicine.
As a result, she effortlessly moves between the two worlds and finds the intricate linkages between both, the overlap where science and art inform and enrich each other.
Working in gardens, we know how much science is involved in making that perfect moment on a warm June day.
Boundless romantic longing moderated by keen observation are what makes our gardens cause visitors to shrug, “Oh, you can grow anything. You have such a green thumb.”
Artists and scientists are both filled with longing for their subjects, and both rely on thumbs and brains in their work.
Shirley doesn’t feel the need to segregate them into separate symposia, recognizing the contributions each make to the other.

The physical collections of herbaria and natural history museums were a theme of this year’s Natural Discourse.
To talk about these collections, you need to bring in explorers, adventurers, disaster, hubris, lack of funding, lost collections, redemption. All the really juicy stuff.
And the specimen of Liatris punctata collected by Custer two years before Little Big Horn with his handwritten tag that was nearly thrown in the trash.
As always, it was a great time.


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Shirley Watts on opening night at the La Brea Tar Pits

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Natural Discourse: Flora & Fauna; A Day at the Natural History Museum 10/17/15

From the Natural Discourse event registration page:

Natural Discourse has been invited to explore the Natural History Museum! The Museum opens its doors for a day-long conversation about gardens, art, science, and collections.

Natural Discourse is an ongoing series of symposia, publications, and site-specific art installations that explores the connections between art, architecture, and science within the framework of botanical gardens and natural history museums.”

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Image above from Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium at Houghton Library at Harvard University
Maura C. Flannery, Professor of Biology at St John’s University, will reveal the secret lives of herbarium specimens

Living (and suffering) as we do in a mostly plant-blind world, there are precious few opportunities to further our appreciation of plants as the real engine that drives our world. The Natural Discourse series of lectures has evolved into an invigorating and must-see event for plant lovers since its inception in 2012. Whether the theme is Form & Function, Culture & Cultivation, Light & Image, or 2015’s Flora & Fauna, garden designer and symposium curator Shirley Watts unfailingly assembles a deep bench of artists, designers, writers, and scientists whose work, in surprising and brilliantly idiosyncratic ways, celebrates the primacy of plants. My geek love for plants not only finds a natural echo but is amplified and expanded in undreamt of ways. As well as being located in Southern California again, I appreciate the timing in the month of October as a kind of requiem to Los Angeles’ long summer.

If you haven’t attended a Natural Discourse before, there’s so many reasons to make the event this year your first.
The setting in Exposition Park means not only are there a number of other museums to visit and gardens to explore, but the strategic Metro stop at Exposition Park means you can leave the car home.
In Los Angeles, that counts as an arms-raised-in-a-V triumph.
The vast complex of museums means if a pal would rather ogle dinosaur bones or visit the California Science Center to view the majestic space shuttle Endeavour, you can easily part ways and reunite off and on throughout the day.

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James Griffith, From the Infinite to the Particular 4, tar on panel
Image courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery

Personally, I’m wildly excited to hear the official “tar story.” I’ve blogged several times on James Griffith’s use of local tar as a medium for his current work.
Due to Shirley’s formidable persuasive powers, now we can all hear his remarkable account in person.
(James’ tar painting theme dovetails nicely with the Keynote Lecture given by Rosamond Purcell at La Brea Tar Pits and Museum on Friday, October 16, at 6:30 p.m.)

Long-standing champion of restoration of the cement-bottomed Los Angeles River, landscape architect Mia Lehrer is another speaker I won’t want to miss.
Ms. Lehrer recently converted a four-acre parking lot at Exposition Park into garden:

We created a four-acre garden on what was once the parking lot for both staff and visitors on the side of the museum that faces Exposition Boulevard. There was an ambition to open up the museum to the community, and to the Metro that traverses Exposition Boulevard to become not just a museum of natural history but also become more relevant through its exploration into urban ecology by creating gardens that allow a better way to live in the city.” – L.A. Designer: Mia Lehrer, Shaping The City Through Public Space

Jim Folsom, Director of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, will speak on plant exploration and collections. Another example of Shirley’s curatorial genius, photographer Rosamond Purcell’s resume includes work with comedian/magician/actor Ricky Jay as well as naturalist Stephen Jay Gould. These are not solemn, fidget-in-your-seat lectures but bracing, wide-ranging, wholly engrossing explorations of culture intersecting with plants from myriad vantage points. I promise you, for the price of a dinner for two, your plant-loving soul will be fed and nurtured enough to see you through winter and into spring. I’m going to try to remember to wear a name tag, so please grab my elbow and say hello.


The complete list of speakers:

JoAnne Northrup, Director of Contemporary Art Initiatives at the Nevada Museum of Art, on taxidermy, contemporary art, and 19th century wildlife painting
Maura C. Flannery, Professor of Biology at St John’s University, on the secret lives of herbarium specimens
Jim Folsom, Director of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, on plant exploration and collections
James Griffith, Painter, on using tar from the LaBrea Tar Pits as an artistic medium
Mia Lehrer, Landscape Architect, on the creation of the Nature Gardens at the Natural History Museum
Rosamond Purcell, Photographer, on her images of Natural History collections around the world
Natania Meeker & Antonia Szabari, Associate Professors of French, Italian and Comparative Literature at USC, on animated plants and vegetal cinema


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