An in many heavenly gardens, especially those inspired by Islamic culture, a fountain can be found at the heart of the quadrilateral garden created inside the gallery of the Aga Khan Center in King’s Cross, London. However, this fountain does not throw water, but beautiful intricate paper strips with laser-cut flowers made by Berlin-based American artist Clare Celeste Börsch.
The fountain is at the center of Making Paradise, an exhibition exploring the concept of Eden through Islamic garden art and design. Many works of art depicting trees, flowers and fruit are on display, including botanical illustrations from the Lindley Library collection of the Royal Horticultural Society, as well as contemporary works.
Designed by Emma Clark, an Islamic garden designer, and featuring Börsch’s paper water jets, the fountain sits in the middle of the gallery, surrounded by four walls reflecting the classic Persian style. chahar bagh (four gardens) design.
Börsch’s work is inspired by the rapidly disappearing biodiversity of the planet. Artist and environmentalist, she creates works on paper, collages and immersive installations using hand-cut images of flora and fauna, mainly taken from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. She prints the images on recycled paper, choosing illustrations from 1900 and before, which means that many of the species featured in her works have disappeared or are in danger.
“Biodiversity is my endless muse,” she says. “We have forgotten that we breathe air which is the breath of trees, we forget that we are part of a larger carbon cycle and ecosystem. And we forgot that we are made of minerals, that we come back to carbon. We have forgotten that our food is grown from the earth. We have this illusion of separation which, unless we heal it, will literally kill us. “
The roots of Börsch’s connection to nature come from his childhood in Brazil. She says she is “very skeptical” about solutions to the planetary crisis that rely solely on technology or innovation, and thinks it is rather essential that we listen to the voices of indigenous peoples, learning the way. which they coexist with nature. “They represent less than 5% of the world’s population, but they protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity,” she says.
Reflecting on the extent of biodiversity loss over the past 50 years, Börsch destroyed 68% – the average decline in global populations of vertebrate species between 1970 and 2016 – from one of his installations currently on display in a gallery in Malmö, Sweden, and then stitched up those parts.
“I also wanted to fix, because I think as bad as things are right now and as much as we lose, no matter what we do now, there is still so much we can change and save. Nature is so resilient and creative, and you can really feed nature. You can grow a garden, green urban spaces – there is so much potential for regeneration, ”she says.
Börsch believes that focusing on statistics, as many environmental activists do, may scare people off, but won’t necessarily lead them to act. Instead, she thinks art and storytelling can have more of an impact.
In her studio in Berlin, she created the Healing Garden, a multicolored forest bathed in light, in the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Börsch has searched the soil of local forests to find branches for the installation, which is decorated with translucent leaves made from homemade bioplastic of red algae, vegetable gelatin, water and organic food coloring. The aim is for the work to be accompanied by events and workshops, as a place of interaction with the public, although the constraints of Covid mean that it has not yet fully borne fruit.
“I think most people are still in the early stages of grief about what’s happening to our planet, and that’s denial,” Börsch says. “I’m not saying people are denying the science, they’re denying the magnitude of the loss and how it’s going to affect them personally.
“We are not separate from nature. We are nature. When we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves.
Börsch uses his art as a form of activism, including hosting weekly online conversations with prominent environmental figures such as Katharine K Wilkinson and Heather McTeer Toney.
Börsch’s connection to nature is echoed in Making Paradise. Curator Esen Kaya said a key message from the exhibit was “how important the natural world is to us”.
The exhibit includes a bespoke fragrance to evoke the scent of a garden and a soundscape of water and recorded bird songs. The works on display show different interpretations of paradise through the mediums of Islamic geometry, hand-sewn textiles, ceramic work, embroidered panels using dried flowers and calligraphy.
“We live in a very disposable society, a society that neglects [the] the natural environment and abuses it in many different ways, and Covid-19 has been a wake-up call to humanity around the world, ”Kaya said. “If we don’t stop and think about our consumption of the natural world, we are heading to a very bad place that we cannot return from.”