Foreword by Dr Susan Ballard, essay by Tessa Laird
LA Botanical is a series of ambrotype photographs of plant specimens found in the greater Los Angeles area. It was conceived by the multidisciplinary artist Joyce Campbell in the wake of Hurricane Katrina which devastated the Gulf Coast of Louisiana in 2005. The aftermath, particularly the inability and unwillingness of the Federal Government to respond to the crisis in flooded New Orleans, highlighted the vulnerability of a populace stranded in the face of natural, and human induced calamity in the world’s most powerful nation. As a mother raising her young child in a sprawling American city Campbell was compelled to ask: when the supply chain is disrupted and the supermarkets are empty, and there is no sign of aid reaching you, how can ‘art’ be useful?
Campbell was raised on pastureland dotted with remnants of native bush inland from Wairoa township, on Aotearoa New Zealand’s rural East Coast. Her family were farmers, botanists and gardeners. Upon migrating to Los Angeles in 1999, she observed a fundamentally alien relationship between the city and its vegetation. Plants that had been introduced by waves of immigrants for food, fuel or medicine had gradually run wild across the city scape, the knowledge of their utility lost to time and neglect induced by a form of industrialized capitalism that was both aggressive and immersive. This book sets out to reveal the breadth of attributes ascribed to the weeds of Los Angeles via the enchantment of its seductive contents: plants rendered ethereal by the wet-plate photographic process that emerged simultaneous with the city itself.
Tessa Laird, in her essay within this volume, calls this book “. . . a poisoner’s handbook, a herbalist’s cure-all, a shaman’s bundle, a gardener’s guide, a botanist’s field manual, an artist’s scrapbook.” It can be all these things. This book is multidisciplinary in its scope, but it exists primarily as an artwork.
The first-edition was published in 2007, to accompany the exhibition LA Botanical at G727 – a Los Angeles gallery dedicated to generating dialogue via artistic representations and interpretations of the urban landscape.
This 2022 second-edition reissue by Rim Books, published on the occasion of the exhibition at Two Rooms gallery in Aotearoa New Zealand and featuring two extra plates, is now reproduced in duotone with a new foreword by Dr. Susan Ballard reflecting on the intervening years of changing climate, and new covers, hand-printed on a vintage Asbern letter-press by the artist in twenty distinct botanical iterations, with edition ranging from 14 – 30 copies each, all individually numbered and autographed by the artist.
“A lot has happened in the intervening years. From 2007-2009 California was in drought, with the first ever state-wide proclamation of emergency. Not long after, 2011-2017 presented one of the longest recorded droughts in the United States: water restrictions were mandated, lawns were left unwatered and many millions of plants and trees died. The drought was accompanied by the very worst wildfires imaginable. Fanned by Diablo winds, the deadliest to human life and the most destructive was the November 2018 Camp fire in Butte County that destroyed the town of Paradise, killing 85 people, and scorching 153,336 acres of land. Unimaginable, and yet true. The hazards have not gone away. On the 22 September 2022 the Los Angeles Times reported that “California is so hot and dry that not even soaking rain can ease fall fire peril.”
In this context, Campbell’s LA Botanical remains a document of survival. LA Botanical is a contemporary herbal: a record of plants and their uses — edible, medicinal, weapon, stimulant, building material — sourced from the urban environment of a sprawling and luminous city. As such LA Botanical is a tool of awareness: eat this, drink this, sniff here, stroke there, listen, don’t touch. The series offers sensory and visible evidence of the Anthropocene: the new geological age where elemental planetary relationships are rendered unpredictable and deadly.”
From the foreword by Dr Susan Ballard.
Hand printed card-cover, perfect bound | 90 pages (duotone offset)
Publication: 15 December 2022
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