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Art in the shade at the UC Botanical Garden

by on October 03, 2012

Long view of Lath House
Artist Todd Gilens created the images for this 100-foot-long mural by taking photos while lying under a pink flowering currant. Photo by Todd Gilens.

Over the summer, the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley installed a remarkable show, Natural Discourse, featuring installation art scattered throughout the garden’s 34 acres, tucked in Strawberry Canyon up the hill from UC Berkeley.

This Sunday, artist Todd Gilens, who also created the Endangered Species bus project with Bay Nature in 2011, will talk from 2:30 to 3:30 about the 100-foot-long mural he created on the side of a shade house where garden plants are propagated. (Details on the talk.)

The mural uses photos Gilens took looking up from the ground through the leaves of a pink flowering currant, from the perspective of a seedling growing in the shade of larger plants, just as the Lath House on which the mural is installed provides shade for plants propagated for the garden.

“The property of shade in the plant world is the protection of young sprouts,” says Gilens.

The project has since drawn Gilens to ponder other ways to relate to shade, and he recently spent time at the California Academy of Sciences closely studying their collection of cradle baskets used by California Indians to protect their infants from the sun and the elements.

Gilens isn’t sure yet what will come of his cradle investigations. “The projects that I do tend to generate more questions, like any good experiment,” he explains. “All of this came out of this question of what is this lath house about and what should I do with it.”

Here’s a slideshow of Gilens’s piece plus a few other highlights:

Long view of Lath House
Artist Todd Gilens created the images for this 100-foot-long mural by taking photos while lying under a pink flowering currant. Photo by Todd Gilens.
Shade mural, garden foreground
The mural is installed on the Lath House, a large shade structure where young plants grow before being put out in the garden. Photo by Todd Gilens.
Detail of Shade mural
Gilens used Photoshop to add colors to the images that represent what the different levels of light and heat might mean to a seed that needs light to grow into a sprout but not so much that it dries out. Photo by Todd Gilens.
SOL Grotto, by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello
Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello created the SOL Grotto by perforating one side of a small plywood structure with discarded tubes from the defunct Solyndra factory in Fremont. Photo by Tamara Schwarz.
Detail of SOL Grotto
The tubes in SOL Grotto create remarkable light and sound effect, drawing on the dappled light and quiet rush of Strawberry Creek. Photo by Tamara Schwarz.
O Music of Eyes, Deborah O’Grady, Shirley Alexandra Watts and Shane Myrbeck
O Music of Eyes, by Deborah O’Grady, Shirley Alexandra Watts and Shane Myrbeck, in the Old Rose Garden.
O Music of Eyes, detail
O Music of Eyes features silk scrims printed with fragments of old texts about roses.

Note: An earlier version of this post said garden admission is free on Sunday. That was an error. Normal admission fees apply, except that Registered Cal Homecoming guests are free that day and also those who are participating in Bring Back the Natives Fall Sale & Open Garden. Register for the sale, for free, at
http://www.bringingbackthenatives.net/fall-plant-sale. General visitors must pay garden admission ($10 for adults, with special rates for seniors, children, and students).

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