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Puertográfico Events

Plants Arriving by Sea: Island Environments in a Changing World

Event Type: Pop-Up Exhibitions

It seems that no matter where you are in Puerto Rico, if you look out into the distance, you are likely to see a tree that looks like a red fountain. If you examine the flowers you will see brilliant orange-red petals much like the shape and color of tulips. Its origin is west central equatorial Africa, thus the name “African tulip tree.”

Indeed, the dispersal of species around the world is a natural event, however often, as in the case with the African tulip tree which was brought to Puerto Rico because of its beauty, a non-native species may be transported by humans and become invasive.

By virtue of their geographic remoteness, islands have some of the world’s most unique plants. Such an impressive superlative is at the same time a liability. Because of their isolation, there is nowhere for endemic species to go when threatened by invaders brought to the islands by humans.

This exhibition will seek to highlight how humans have greatly accelerated the process of invasion, particularly on islands that are more vulnerable to invasive species.

I will first make paper from invasive plants from areas in the United States including Tree of Heaven and Oriental Bittersweet from Louisville, Kentucky. I then plan to print on this paper copper etchings endemic plants from Puerto Rico, as well as endemics from other islands such as Hawaii and New Zealand.

I will illustrate plants such as Banara vanderbiltii (Flacourtiaceae), Puerto Rico’s rarest tree. Puerto Rico’s mountain province, with variable growth conditions and deep valleys, can foster the evolution of such unique new species.

The exhibition will also include prints of distinctive New Zealand flora known as divaricating plants. These plants feature high branching angles and small leaves. The divaricate growth form may be an adaptation to deter browsing by extinct avian herbivores (moa); alternatively aspects of the insular climate may be responsible.

In addition, I will have etchings of plants from the Hawaiian Islands, a place known for its environmental diversity and often referred to as “The Endangered Species Capital Of The World.” The newly discovered Melicope oppenheimeri ranks among the rarest species on the planet.

To make the work I would use less-toxic methods including water-based inks, acrylic resist hard ground, and ferric chloride etching. Conceptually, the union of process and subject will embody an important metaphor for my views. Although the non-toxic process does not leave particular visual clues as to its sustainable provenance, this fact will figure prominently in the Artist Statement which will accompany the prints.

My primary goal as an artist is to create work while consuming as little as possible and then find ways of using my art to bring awareness to nature’s immense complexity and promote environmental consciousness. Invasive plants are negatively affecting the ecosystems of islands such as Puerto Rico and threaten of extinction of native species. Ultimately, I hope the exhibition will bring attention to the beauty, force, and fragility of our environment.

Rachel Singel -