Five contemporary design firms propose, with their graphic and multimedia works, a renewed interpretation of the herbarium intended as a creative selection of the plant world. Where the relationship between man and nature fades into increasingly hybrid and unfocused territories

Creating collections of plants and cataloging them is an ancient practice. With the herbariums, the so-called horti sicci, the collections of botanical species have allowed for centuries the transmission of scientific knowledge, magical beliefs, healing properties, but also the creation of graphic imagery.

Furthermore, looking at the history of herbaria, it is possible to follow the thread of change of a more complex history: that of the relationship between man and nature. Establishing a taxonomic order in the plant world has always been a way of affirming a rational power over nature, of separating the sentient animal - man - from other species, including plants.

In some cases these botanical collections come out of the book dimension and take multiple forms; which is why it becomes more appropriate to use the term 'florilegi'.

The name comes from the Latin and means 'collection of flowers', indicating by extension the general concept of 'selection', also aimed at worlds that are not exclusively vegetable. Contemporary florilegias often take the form of graphic works and multimedia that tell of a hybrid nature, modified, in continuous metamorphosis in order to survive the brutality that the human has accomplished on the non-human of the planet, especially over the last few decades.

If before the action of man was limited to coexistence with other living beings, at the most exploiting their properties for his benefit, in recent centuries, with an acceleration of the anthropization of the environment never known first, it became prevaricating.

This is the underlying theme of many florilegians contemporary, works by designers and artists who wanted to give shape and understanding to this increasingly unbalanced relationship.

Caroline Rothwell, for example, has proposed a herbarium that is not physical, but digital, which goes beyond the limits of nature itself, creating connectivity with plants and their threatened ecosystems.

Infinite Herbarium exploits the infinite combinatorial capacity of computational calculation through interactive learning of artistic production.

Here, the public can encounter real-world plants filtered through data sets and historical archives present on the net, including that of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which use a combination of Machine Learning.

The connections between botany, data and art thus give life to fantastic encounters with curious species hybrids, creating a parallel plant world created by artificial intelligence.

The Austrian designers mischer'traxler have also created, for a well-known champagne company, Embodied Nature, an installation that aims to bridge the gap between mankind and the natural environment, resizing man as a component of a whole. In the work, which shows a physical and a digital part, more than one hundred global species are all represented on the same scale, to emphasize the equal importance of their roles within ecosystem, proposing an unrealistic, but symbolic and conceptual taxonomic order.

The installation is interactive and visitors see themselves as in a mirror, but instead of their reflection, what appears is a silhouette made of plants and flowers. This 'embodied nature' thus becomes an individual experience with a collective reality with a strong emotional impact.

Today, we cannot talk about the plant world without referring to insects and their decisive role in safeguarding the ecosystem.

The Japanese author Raku Inoue, in fact, uses the collage technique and artificially creates a middle ground between a herbarium and an entomological collection from natural raw materials. His work begins almost as a meditative exercise, in which the artist in the early morning randomly collects materials in the greenery that surrounds him and then gives life to a series of floral insects made by hand.

Every single piece of these 'puzzle' insect-shaped is organic and is destined to decay. The works, therefore, are ephemeral and live for a short time, but are immortalized in photography.

It is a humble reminder that nothing is forever, especially in nature, and that decay is something that life cannot ignore. Once decomposed, the works return to the earth through composting , thus completing the natural life / death cycle.

Of all insects, pollinators play a fundamental role in natural balance and the work of Matilde Boelhouwer is dedicated to them.

The designer starts from the consideration that today in urban jungles, made of concrete and stone, the presence of flowers has become rare and has led to a drastic decline in the insect population.

By making city environments bloom again with artificial design means, insects will increase and flowers will be stimulated to be reborn. But how can you make a concrete wall bloom or induce a bee to eat something she is no longer used to?

To answer these questions, Boelhouwer designs a series of artificial flowers that serve as an emergency food source for pollinating insects, thus reactivating a natural cycle in severe crisis, but of vital importance.

In the past it was said 'say it with flowers', alluding to a gallant code that associated types of flowers with messages. For example, giving a camellia , according to the language of flowers, brings with it a declaration of esteem and admiration; a yellow rose, on the other hand, indicates jealousy.

Thus Elena Salmistraro makes a flowery homage by creating a plant hybrid, a sort of assembly of existing plant components dedicated ad personam, unique pieces of botanical graphics. In this case, the message differs from the language of traditional flowers and reminds us that hybridization and metamorphosis are our only way of survival.

Cover photo: Raku Inoue, Natura Insects, 2020.