Each month one of our Directors chooses an member to become ‘Artist of the Month’. What follows is a conversation with that artist, together with some examples of his or her work.

Carol Sharp

This month’s selected artist is Carol Sharp ( selected by Minou Tsambika Polleros (February 2019).

Carol Sharp: Unintentionally inextricable
inspired by science proving sibling seedlings from the same plant do not compete as they do with non siblings

1)What are you currently working on? 

I’m creating a book using imagery, poetry and text, whichaims to inspire an emotional affinity with plants by unfolding an intimate study of their life stages and their inner world.

I have long believed that plants are intelligent, communicating beings. The spiritual and indigenous communities have always known this. At last the scientific community is recognising it and this is inevitably causing philosophical debate.

The book will draw parallels and show differences to the human condition and question human’s relationships with plants, bringing scientific, philosophical and spiritual information together. Connectivity is key, as all separation is illusory.

Carol Sharp: Systems V – Transition zones
rom my Systems series, showing the area at the tip of each root has high electrical activity, as noted by Darwin

2)What would you say are the primary motivations for your work?

I believe we need a paradigm shift to enable us to reconnect with plants and cure our ‘plant blindness’ – an inability to see plants as entities in their own right.

Plants inhabit 99% of our planet, they are the dominant species, not us. We are entirely dependent on them for our survival.  The place of human beings in the natural order must be re-evaluated and plants should not be seen as commodities subservient to human needs. Plants are living, breathing, communicating creatures and my work strives to present them and their world, as well as their relationships in a thought provoking way.

Our epistemology has come from science that has become estranged from nature, extracting plants (and animals) from their environment and dissecting them for analysis, rather than exploring their lives and their relationships in context, among the forces and vibrancy of the web of the living world. We have lost the ability to see relationships and just see ‘things’, not what’s between them.

Philosophy has reflected this attitude – Aristotle’s definition of ‘insensitivity’ in plants to differentiate them from animals has pervaded and transformed plants into objects. Over millennia this story has accrued such power that we accept it as truth. This has meant we have no respect or responsibility towards them as living beings.

Our language has also distanced us from nature, as we are taught objective study is the only way to understand the world and feelings and relationships are deemed irrelevant.

The recent scientific research revealing intelligent behaviour, and the philosophical debate about how these new findings affect our relationship with plants, is often presented as dense text. My aim is to re-present this, using imagery as windows into the plant’s world and invite connection, to inspire a sense of wonder and intrigue about their lives.

Plants are always connected to their environment and I have been exploring how to visually suggest connectivity through my work.

My aim is for biophilia – an innate love for the natural world – to be reached, where we can know, from the centre of our being, that we are part of a vital, interconnected web of life in which everything and everyone is connected. Then we would protect what we presently see as ‘the other’, as to destroy it is to destroy ourselves.

Carol Sharp: Lightly touched down
this is from a series of 3 wind dispersed seeds at their point of touching the earth

3) How does your work express itself in different genres of art and design?

My commercial working life for over 25 years has been creating images with flowers and plants using photography. I receive commissions for Design agencies, mainly for packaging – anything from garden to food and beauty products. I enjoy the process and it supports my art practice.

Most of this work means I have to take the plants out of their environment and arrange them for human visual enjoyment. I’m aware that just like a scientist I cut, bend and twist them to suit the needs of the set up. Ironically ‘natural’ is something most brands aspire to and so I try to make it all appear as naturalistic as possible. I’m often given brand personality words to guide me as to the feel of the image. This was how I started thinking about universal concept words and how the attributes or ‘gesture’ of the plant could convey these.

I use light and composition to elevate the plant to the best it can be in the circumstances. I justify my manipulative actions to the plant as their ‘exposure’ may help to make their species attractive to humans, which means they will be grown more. In The Botany of Desire,philosopher Micheal Pollen puts forward the ideas that plants have evolved attributes, such as beauty, to satisfy human desires and thus have enticed us to help them multiply. From this perspective I am a coevolutionary partner.

In my personal work I have been exploring universal concepts expressed through the ‘gestures’ of plants. For example when illustrating ‘connection’ I may use signifiers such as the umbellifer, a shape which reaches out in all directions from a central point; or for ‘systems’ I may use roots, which could be reminiscent of neural networks. I delight in ambiguity, encouraging the viewer to make their own interpretations. As quantum science tells us, the observer is always the co-creator, bringing all of their cultural and personal filters to the image.

I am increasingly using digital collage, as by bringing together and layering different elements I can illustrate these more complex concepts and provoke the viewer to explore this narrative. So much of what I want to illustrate is invisible to the human eye, occurring through chemical signals or vibrational frequencies, a force Goethe calls ‘vital nature’. I use light to indicate this energy,and suggest the divine in nature.

Although this may seem a less immediate way of working than direct photography, I enjoy this considered approach, it’s more like painting, revisiting and refining the idea. I prefer working in black & white or with a limited colour palette so ideas don’t get over complicated

I also may create an installation to present an idea, often using live plants. Last year I presented a device that can read the changes in the electromagnetic vibrations of a plant and translate them into music. The different responses to environmental change produced different notes. Encountering this encourages people to challenge their traditional ways of thinking and expand their awareness of how they relate to plants, trees and nature in general.

I often start playing with words to explore these issues and will be writing much of the book I’m formulating. As well as text I’m choosing to write poetry because its an abstract medium that can be ‘transcendent’ and deeply emotive.

Carol Sharp: Billboard for installation at Phytology
this was part of the installation where the plant’s electrical signalling was interpreted through music.

4) Any particular artists / others who have had a profound effect on you?
Goethe. My practice is a phenomenological or Goethean study of plants. I use different types of perception to not only see the form, but to have insight into the meaning of the form and to reveal what he called its ‘gesture’.His ‘way of seeing’ enabled understanding of the whole and the part, the universal and the particular. He was a polymath who was able to express his ideas through many forms, including poetry.

Susan Derges direct images from nature have inspired me as well as James Turrell’s light works.

I’m mainly influenced by the books that I have read about plants. The very first of these was Tompkins & Bird – ‘The Secret Life of Plants’, which made a deep impression on me when I was only 18, and have read it a couple of times since. The experiments presented are only now slowly being revisited by the scientific community, who widely dismissed it at the time.

Also the following:
Michael Marder (philosopher) : ‘Plant Thinking’
Stephen Buhner : ‘The Lost language of Plants’, ‘The Secret teachings of Plants’
Stefano Mancuso (scientist) : ‘Brilliant Green’ – his latest book on plant neurobiology
Lynne McTaggart : ‘The Field’ – a book about how everything is connected through the Zero point field. Human beings and all living things are a coalescence of energy in a fieldof energy.

Fritjopf Capra, a physicist, systems theorist and deep ecologist wrote a famous book ‘The Tao of Physics’ way back in the 70s, which explored how modern physics was changing our worldview from a mechanistic to a holistic and ecological one. He continues to inspire me right up to today with his latest book ‘The Systems View of Life’. I recently completed a course with him where he presented his ideas with online discussion to help participants develop their systems thinking.

Carol Sharp: Systems IV – Linear breaking point
from my Systems series, depicting the end of linear thinking and the birth of more holistic system thinking