SPaRK – Plant: Exploring the Botanical World

Seeds of thought – investigating the nature of art.

By Helen Yip – teacher at Asquith Girls High School.

SPaRK overview

A Shared Practice and Resource Kit (SPaRK) for Visual Arts Stages 4-6, Years 7-12.

Resource: ‘Plant: Exploring the Botanical World’, Phaidon Press Limited, UK, 2016.

Educational significance


Captivating imagery of the microscopic intricacies and magnificent anatomy of plants, ranging from seeds, pollen grains and familiar flowers to rare species, labyrinthine roots and a living Persian carpet, hallmarks this innovative survey of botanical art throughout history. Students can immediately engage with the work of historical and contemporary artists, designers, photographers and scientists. Botanical art includes drawings, prints, X-ray photographs, sculpture, installations and advanced digital scans by artist such as Charles Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, Anna Atkins, Macoto Murayama, Lisa Creagh, Marc Quinn and E.V. Day. The authoritative introduction and timeline map how botanical art has developed as a means of recording and celebrating intersections between the natural and human world, vivifying the dynamic relationship between art and science. Large image plates, juxtaposed in contrasting or complementary pairs with notes on each artist, set up scope for students to visually and critically compare works across diverse media, cultures and points in time. Rich artmaking opportunities arise for students to explore the concepts and material processes of abstraction, patterns, symmetry, composition, classification, growth and transformation and provide useful starting points for the design of units and case studies.

Plant: Exploring the Botanical World (53 seconds) by Phaidon Press

Outcomes and content

Stage 6 outcomes

A student:

  • explores the roles and relationships between the concepts of artist, artwork, world and audience (Conceptual Framework, P2)
  • explores the roles and relationships between the concepts of artist, artwork, world and audience through critical and historical investigations of art (Conceptual Framework, P8)
  • applies their understanding of the relationships among the artist, artwork, world and audience (Conceptual Framework, H8).

Visual Arts Stage 6 Syllabus

Photography, Video and Digital Imaging CEC Stage 6 Syllabus M2, CH2

Visual Design CEC Stage 6 Syllabus DM2, CH2

Stage 4 and 5 outcomes

Photographic and Digital Media Years 7-10 Syllabus 5.2, 5.8

Visual Arts Years 7-10 Syllabus 4.2, 4.8, 5.2, 5.8

Visual Design Years 7-10 Syllabus 5.2, 5.8


  • Exploring the function of the artist, artwork, world and audience across different contexts
  • Investigating dynamic interconnections between the artist, artwork, world and audience
  • Understanding the reciprocal dynamic between conceptual intentions and material actions in the practice of artists

Teaching activities

  • Visually explore the microscopic anatomy of plants, referring to the work of Louisa Howard, Macoto Murayama, Claudia Fährenkemper, Carl Julius Fritzsche, and Karl Blossfeldt, as well as physical samples such as seeds, dissected flowers, leaves, roots and seed pods. Interpret abstract forms, structures and nanotecture through magnifying lenses, macro photography or microscopes, and create a series of observational drawings or prints. Translate these into larger than life paper, wire or ceramic sculptures of seeds, pollen grains or other minutiae to experiment with scale, perception and abstraction, considering the botanical sculptures and installations of Bronwyn Oliver.
  • Experiment with transparency and organic silhouettes through photograms, sun prints or cyanotypes, inspired by Anna Atkins, William Henry Fox Talbot, Honour Hiers Stewart and the X-rays of Gary Yeoh. Scan plant specimens, including deconstructed flowers, and digitally re-construct abstract patterns, designs and optical illusions through reflection, rotation, scaling, cropping and colour editing.
  • Investigate the genre of still life, exploring how artists intentionally employ elements of nature to signify concepts of time, temporal beauty and memento mori. Examine how contemporary artists have reinterpreted the genre through postmodern appropriations, referring to Ori Gersht’s explosive bouquets, Marian Drew’s poetic use of Australian flora and fauna, Yoshihiro Suda’s delicate sculptures and the living still lifes of Diana Scherer.
  • Debate the parallels between art and science, and discuss the historical significance of the Wunderkammer as a form of display, microcosm of the world, and precursor to art museums. Construct a classroom cabinet of curiosities from found and altered botanical specimens, considering the process of observing, selecting, collecting, arranging, classifying, curating and re-presenting objects to an audience. Refer to the work and approaches of Ernst Haeckel, Fiona Hall and Janet Lawrence.
  • Analyse of the role of technology in art, focusing on how technological innovations have informed artists’ conceptual and material practice. Explore the use of electron micrographs, Kirlian photography, dye destruction prints and UV light in the work of Lauren Piedmont, Wataru Yamamoto, Garry Fabian Miller and Oleksandr Holovachov. Watch examples of time-lapse photography to discover the secret lives of plants and create drawings, prints, relief paintings or animations based on macro botanical imagery.
  • Invent a hybrid species that merges plant and human forms, questioning the issues and scenarios of genetic modification. Appropriate botanical illustrations and diagrams through drypoint printmaking or digital imaging, incorporating subtle human features to create anthropomorphic images that evoke a scientific reality. Construct large scale, soft sculptures of these imagined organic forms, utilising recycled packaging or textiles and the artmaking approaches of Tracy Luff and Eunjeong Lee. Bring these sculptures to life through a collaborative stop motion film that humorously reveals the human-like behaviours of plants and recreates the drama of John Wyndham’s ‘The Day of the Triffids’.
  • Interpret the inextricable relationship between humans and nature, researching examples of how natural cycles, networks and systems of growth and transformation underscore our environment, architecture, identity and survival. Consider the ways in which artists create or question this balance, as evident in the work of Carmen Almon, Zhou Jie and Jenny Lee Fowler, E.V. Day’s Waterlily Transporter - Six Stages (2014), and contemporary urban design such as One Central Park.
  • Create temporary site-specific installations within the school environment that metamorphose elements of nature using simple materials or methods, inspired by Chris de Rosa’s Artificial Kingdom (2013), Mathilde Roussel’s Lives of Grass series (2010-12), the work of Simon Heijdens and the 3D tree projections of Craig Walsh’s Humanature (1994-2008).
  • Examine the cultural and spiritual significance of plants as symbols of transcendence and transformation, referring to Shinji Tuner-Yamamoto’s Hanging Garden (2010) and Marc Quinn’s Garden (2002) and The Etymology of the Baroque (2014). Also refer to the metaphysical use of botanical motifs in Lisa Creagh’s Floricultures of living Persian carpets, Hossein Valamanesh’s Longing Belonging (1997) and Rosemary Laing’s Groundspeed series (2001).
  • Explore the potential of plants for generating expressive colour, texture and marks in artmaking. Experiment with natural dyeing, hammered leaf and flower prints and alternative drawing tools and processes such as extended arm drawing using tree branches, reflected in the approaches of Irit Dulman, Wendy Feldberg and John Wolseley.


Professional resources

Cabinets of Curiosity contemporary art education kit, Art Gallery of New South Wales

‘Fiona Hall: Force Field’ Education Kit, Museum of Contemporary Art

‘HEARTLAND’ Education Resource, Art Gallery of South Australia


Art Forms in Nature: The Prints of Ernst Haeckel by Ernst Haeckel, 2008

Botanica Magnifica: Portraits of the World’s Most Extraordinary Flowers & Plants by Jonathan M. Singer, W. John Kress and Marc Hachadourian, 2009

A Botanical Life: Robert David Fitzgerald by Penny Olsen, 2013

HEARTLAND: Contemporary Art from South Australia by Nici Cumpston and Lisa Slade, 2013

Hossein Valamanesh: Out of Nothingness by Mary Knights and Ian North, 2011

The Kew Gardens Exotic Plants Colouring Book by Arcturus Publishing in association with RBG Kew, 2016

Nature Morte: Contemporary Artists Reinvigorate the Still-Life Tradition by Michael Petry, 2013

Seba: Cabinet of Natural Curiosities by Albertus Seba, 2011

The Tulip Anthology: Photographs by Ron van Dongen by Ron van Dongen, Billie Lythberg and Anna Pavord, 2010


Global Tree Project: ‘Hanging Garden’ – Shinji Turner-Yamamoto by Global Tree Project, 2010

‘Humannature’ – Adelaide by Craig Walsh, 2009

Kingdom of Plants with David Attenborough by Atlantic Productions, 2012.


Chris de Rosa ‘Artificial Kingdom’ by Radio Adelaide, 2013


Bronwyn Oliver, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Carmen Almon, artist’s website

Chris de Rosa, Art Images Gallery

Claudia Fährenkemper, artist’s website

Craig Walsh, artist’s website

Diana Scherer, artist’s website

Fiona Hall, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Garry Fabian Miller, artist’s website

Hossein Valamanesh, Greenaway Art Gallery

Janet Lawrence, artist’s website

John Wolseley, artist’s website

Lisa Creagh, artist’s website

Macoto Murayama, Frantic Gallery

Marc Quinn, artist’s website

Marian Drew, artist’s website

Oleksandr Holovachov, artist’s website

Ori Gersht, Mummery + Schnelle

Shinji Tuner-Yamamoto, artist’s website

Simon Heijdens, artist’s website

Wataru Yamamoto, artist’s website

Wendy Feldberg, artist’s website

Yoshihiro Suda, LOOCK Galerie

Zhou Jie, White Rabbit Gallery

How to cite this article – Yip, H. 2017, 'SPaRK – Seeds of thought – investigating the nature of art. Plant: Exploring the Botanical World by Phaidon Press Limited', Scan 36(2).

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