The inaugural exhibition, The Lore of the Land, is co-curated by artist Serena Korda as part of a Collective of eight local community members and a number of Horniman staff, and features an immersive, multi-sensory installation by Korda.
The scale and depth of the Collective’s involvement in the show is an exciting and innovative new addition to the Horniman’s ongoing work to open up the creation and curation of exhibitions and events to artists, scientists, researchers, community partners and visitors.
The Lore of the Land responds to the Horniman’s world-class anthropology collection and explores our deep-rooted relationship with the natural world, centred around Korda’s five large-scale ceramic works entitled ‘Sensitive Chaos’. Each ceramic piece incorporates bulbous organic forms and plant matter and is accompanied by an individual scent, inspired by essential oils distilled from plants in the Horniman’s 16-acre Gardens, and a site-specific soundscape based on recordings of the chemical processes occurring in plants and trees. The title is taken from Theodor Schwenk’s book on water and flow research.
The exhibition is completed with a display of 100 objects from the Horniman’s anthropology collection, curated by the Collective. The objects have been selected for the messages they carry about people’s spiritual and cultural relationship with plants and water. They include a dowsing stick from England, a statue of Mami Wata – an African deity accompanied by her divining snake, zoomorphic figurines from India, natural water containers, and an array of pipes, scent and incense holders from across the world.
Also among the highlights is a rare volume of Anna Atkins’ mid-19th-century Photographs of British Algae, the first ever photographically-illustrated book.
The Lore of the Land aims to challenge an anthropocentric viewpoint and instead encourage greater respect for the natural world. Like much of her practice, Korda’s new work for this exhibition is informed by animism, the attribution of a living soul to inanimate objects, plants and natural phenomena, and by examples of these beliefs and practices in cultures throughout the world.
The exhibition also addresses the artist’s understanding of the purported dichotomy between science and spirituality since the Enlightenment, and explores how the two can inform one another.
Korda’s work ‘Sensitive Chaos’ draws on spiritual belief and scientific studies that imply that plants can be sentient. Research in the field of biophysics suggests that plants, trees and fungi have sophisticated means of sensing what is around them, have intricate ways of communicating with their environment using electrical signalling, and can show alturism to one another.
Korda drew inspiration from the work of scientists including the physiologist Dr Rupert Sheldrake who developed the theory of ‘morphic resonance’, which suggests that nature has inherent memory and telepathy-type connections, and the 19th-century Indian polymath Jagadish Chandra Bose who pioneered devices to measure electrical activity in plants over 100 years ago.
Through The Lore of the Land, I have been privileged to explore the vast array of objects in the Horniman’s collection that show how different cultures have all come to the same conclusion; plants are powerful. In thinking about their abilities to communicate with one another, feel and think we can begin to see how we fit into their world and in doing so understand they are inseparable from us.
- Anna-Maria Amato – an artist and curator of the SHARP Gallery in Brixton, which exhibits work by emerging artists, many of whom are mental health service users.
- Joe Francis – a songwriter from a musical background, whose involvement with patients at St Christopher’s Hospice has revitalised his interest in all kinds of arts, especially pottery.
- Judith Fernandes – a service user of Three Cs which supports people with learning disabilities and/or mental health challenges, who also volunteers with the Horniman and Three Cs’ allotment.
- Julia Austin – an active member of organisations campaigning for and working with disabled people, and a member of the Horniman’s Access Advisory Group for a number of years.
- Lu Firth – a community worker with a particular interest in textiles, who runs arts and heritage projects with diverse audiences.
- Michael Cox – a keen photographer who regularly attends workshops at the Horniman as part of the Community Connections group for older people.
- Nigel Looker – a lifelong Forest Hill resident, who is a peer support volunteer with MIND and attends the Community Connections group at the Horniman.
- Philip Baird – an artist, musician and mental health service user, who is an Arts Ambassador for both Arts Network, a mental health arts organisation based in Lewisham, and the Dragon Café.
For The Studio’s inaugural exhibition, Serena Korda was selected by the Collective from a shortlist compiled by the Horniman Museum’s Critical Arts Group, consisting of: Rebecca Heald, an independent curator; Dr Christopher Wright, a visual anthropologist; Manick Govinda, Programme Director for SPACE; Sarah Cole, Senior Lecturer on the BA Fine Art at Central St Martins College of Art and Design; Dr Alison Rooke, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths; Tara Cranswick, Director V22 and Gina Buenfeld, Programme Curator at Camden Arts Centre.