the grey house * installation and research on extinct plants * work in progress by roberta faust  

the concept : a greenhouse turned grey

in a botanical garden, visitors mainly see the park and the greenhouses with living plants. the herbaria are usually not accessible to the public, yet they are of great scientific importance and contain the last remnants of extinct plant species - their pressed specimens.
with this project i want to make these extinct plants accessible to a wider public, visualising their disappearance and raising awareness of the extinction of plant species through design installations.
reaching out to several herbaria around the world, i started to collect scans from pressed specimens of extinct plant species.

printing these scans double-sided, cutting, wetting and shaping them, I am creating spatial collages. these collages give the plants a three-dimensional shape again, which had been lost in the pressing process and now lingers between reality and speculation, between past and future.
installed in space with thin threads, they form a grey landscape. a landscape consisting merely of memories.
this immersive walk-through installation visualises the impossible attempt to make a photographic archive live again - to preserve something that has already disappeared.

credits photo: Thomas Cerato

working with the specimens of extinct plants

While the extinction of animal species is known to most people, only very few would know what Acanea exigua, Hopea Shingkeng or Galipea ossana were. 126 plant species have officially been declared extinct worldwide, 44 are extinct in the wild, 375 more are possibly extinct and 5370 critically endangered. main cause for this loss of biodiversity is the human and yet most of us have never heard the names of these extinct species, let alone seen an image of them, while their number rises exponentially. 
With the help of the VBG (Verband Botanischer Gärten), i reached out to several european herbaria who provided me with scans of specimens of extinct species from their collections or gave me further contacts to continue my search. 

following botanic institutions have supported the project so far:

Botanical Collection and Herbarium
of the National Museum Prague

Botanischer Garten der Universität Bern

Botanischer Garten der Universität Wien

The Harvard University Herbaria

Herbario Nacional de Costa Rica

Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de Genève

KEW Royal Gardens

Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris

National Herbarium of Rwanda

New York Botanical Garden

credits specimens shown here: 
Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de Genève

point of departure

for my diploma project at HEAD (MA design for spaces and communication) I developed an installation showcasing switzerland’s extinct landscape. I focused on regionally extinct plant species, especially those that have disappeared from mountain peaks due to climate change. 
now I am opening the project to worldwide extinct plant species that can’t be found anywhere anymore. 

designing the installations

black and white

being printed in black and white, the plants distance themselves from the living plants. instead of a lively green, which is connected to the process of photosynthese – an eptitome of life – the plants of the installation take on non-colours. thus, the landscape they form immediately becomes dystopic, existing without being alive, as if the plants were ghosts that don’t belong to this world anymore.

from two to three dmensions

using the printed texture of the specimens as a guideline, i give the paper an according texture by shaping it by hand, wetting it and deforming it. the twodimensional printed and the actual threedimensional shape become indistinguishable from each other. flat photographs become a spatial landscape.

further conceptual choices

the paper plants do not aim at scientifically representing the extinct plants and their lost shapes. they rather use this gap of the unknown as a possibility to visualize forgetting and remembering. the paper plants that i created embrace their acopalyptic aspect by being black and white, scaled up and absolutely impossible in the way fragments are combined with each other.

publication to accompany the installtion

a photo series is portraying each collage of an extinct plant species singularly. on the first glance these photos seem like those of real plants, until you notice that they are actually out of paper: three-dimensional collages from prints of the remaining pieces of pressed specimens.

© Roberta Faust, all rights reserved, 2024  *  contact me