The magical kingdoms of plants and fungi are too often overlooked, yet the mysteries that reside in their forms and behaviours reveal a significance to human consciousness and spirituality that reaches deep into our evolutionary past, to the beginning of life itself. The symbolic forms of the tree, plant or mushroom appear in global mythologies around the world and in the languages of religious and occult mysticism, from Kabala, Gnosticism, Alchemy and Hermeticism to Tantra, Rosicrucianism and Theosophy. Plants perform a kind of alchemy by transmuting celestial energy from our nearest star into a habitable, terrestrial – material – world and the archetypes of the Cosmic Tree and the Mandala are symbolic motifs that connect the transcendent and terrestrial realms through a world axis – the Axis Mundi. These forms also direct us to the inner realm of the mind, of consciousness, of spirituality – a world that opens-up through the fractal and sacred geometries so resplendent in the vegetal and fungal kingdoms and in encounters with psychoactive plant medicines like ayahuasca, psilocybin and mescalin.

Departing from a recent exhibition at Camden Art Centre – The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and The Cosmic Tree – this talk will explore the ways in which plants have informed artists, mystics and scientists throughout history and around the world. Drawing on the wisdom traditions of indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest, where plants reside at the centre of their cosmologies, this talk will speculate on the function of pattern and music as ways to connect and communicate with the life-field we humans are entangled with – a realm that includes microbial, vegetal, and animal life.

Gina Buenfeld-Murley is Exhibitions Curator at Camden Art Centre, London where she has co-curated The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and The Cosmic Tree (2020-21); A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism (2019); Athanasios Argianas, Hollowed Water (2020); Wong Ping, Heart Digger (2019); Yuko Mohri, Voluta, (2018); Joachim Koester, In the Face of Overwhelming Forces (2017); João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva, Papagaio (2015); Bonnie Camplin (2016) and Rose English (2016). Recent independent curatorial projects include Gäa: Holistic Science and Wisdom Tradition, at Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange, Cornwall, and Origin Story, at The Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art, Turku, Finland (both 2019). In 2017 she was curatorial resident at Helsinki International Curatorial Programme, Finland and has been researching the place of plants within indigenous cultures in Europe and South America, including in Finnish Lapland (Samí shamanism) and in the Colombian, Peruvian and Brazilian areas of the Amazon Rainforest where she researched the sacred geometries and music of the Yawanawa, Huni Kuin and Shipibo-Conibo peoples. In 2014-15 she was curator-in-residence with Arts Initiative Tokyo (AIT) and established Tokyo Correspondence, a series of exhibitions, residencies and research visits, facilitating cultural dialogue between artists in the UK and Japan and curated At the Still Point of the Turning World at Shibaura House Tokyo, featuring work by Manon de Boer; Joachim Koester; Simon Martin; Ursula Mayer; Jeremy Millar; Sriwhana Spong; Jesse Wine; and Caroline Achaintre. She was previously Director at Alison Jacques Gallery, London.

Image Sunset Birth by Ithell Colquhoun