“Among the manifestations of living nature, trees occupy an important place, both because of their long life cycle, which reaches several thousand years, and because of the remarkable development they can achieve”.
Diorami_Meraviglie botaniche in otto atti [i.e., Botanical wonders in eight acts], is an invitation to immerse oneself in colours and shapes, sounds and images featuring
eight plant species distinguishing the natural, social and cultural landscape of Sicily, identified with the scientific collaboration of the Botanical Garden of the University of Palermo.
A multimedia exhibition spread across the showcases of the Tineo Pavilion and the outdoor spaces of the Botanical Garden, in a synthesis of images, podcasts, immersive sounds and environmental installations. The objective of each podcast, visual chapter and installation is to overcome the indifference with which we too often relate to the plant universe, creating an opportunity to change our gaze, reverse direction, and favour a relationship of knowledge, respect and care towards trees.
Leading this botanical expedition is an exceptional ‘genius loci’, imagined as the tutelary deity of the Botanical Garden of Palermo in the form of the great Ficus macrophylla f. columnaris , witness in its 173 years of age, to many events in the city and beyond. She materialises in the voice of Francesca Berardi, we can hear her as she twirls among the foliage of the Ficus macrophylla , moving on the wings of parrots, on the shoulders of gardeners and of three persons who, like her, have for years defended and cared for the Botanic Garden’s living heritage, such as director Rosario Schicchi who with firm gentleness explains to a visitor how a ‘weed’ is essential for swallows to cure their little one’s conjunctivitis; the curator of living species Manlio Speciale as he converses with the Cycas Revoluta – the only plant that is not a palm, even though it has the shape of one – one of the oldest trees on our planet; as he rides briskly on his bike, he tries to catch up with Paolo Inglese, who often stops in the avenues during his reconnaissance to pick up every fragment of non-organic material that the wind or a distracted visitor has dropped on the ground.
After a long period of isolation, the genius loci that had long been guarding the Botanical Garden, threatened by an ill-conceived town-planning scheme in the 1950s that planned to disrupt the integrity of this institution, felt that the time had come to go on a botanical tour to visit plants that bear witness to the island’s rich biodiversity, immersed in an ever-changing landscape, intercepting environmental sounds and the voices of the people who live with these plants in a relationship of mutual care, listening to their stories of natural and human resilience.
Just as plant seeds move, carried by the sea, the wind, migratory birds, insects, animals and imagination, we will be projected on our first stop outside the Botanical Garden in the presence of a truly resilient species known as the dwarf palm (Chamaerops humilis), the only spontaneous palm in the Mediterranean capable of surviving fires and returning to sprout and populate the territory of the Zingaro Nature Reserve; we will cross the sea to reach the ancient varieties of the Portuguese citrus (Citrus sinensis) cultivated and protected within the Pantelleria gardens; we will continue with a visit to the almond tree (Prunus dulcis) growing in the Giardino della Kolymbetra, which, with its spring blossom ‘snows’ the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento; finding time for a break under the cool and silent shade of the centuries-old carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua) whose presence punctuates the rural landscape of the Hyblaean Mountains; to stroll among the fragrant and healing wild herbs such as sage (Salvia officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) that delight the air of the Val di Noto with their aromas. We will return to the waters along the banks of the river Ciane, to marvel at the tall vegetation with the soaring stems of Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), which, just 4 km from Syracuse, grows wild in conditions that are unique on the European continent. Before returning, we will remain in silence, absorbed in a secular prayer before an illustrious species known as the Holm or Elk (Quercus ilex), a magnificent and elegant evergreen oak considered the main protagonist of the spontaneous vegetal landscape of the Mediterranean basin, to which the Carrinu Ilice belongs, a monumental specimen located at a height of 937 metres in the Etna Park, so many times brushed by lava flows.
Each display case on the ground floor becomes a sound theatre that makes it possible via QRcode to listen to podcasts created by Francesca Berardi in a dialogue with Alessandro Sala’s photographic compositions.
With his lens, the photographer overturns the usual point of view to narrate each plant subject as a performative creature: he chooses to capture each tree at dusk in the moment of transition between day and night against the backdrop of landscapes designed by culture. By placing each species on an imaginary stage, he makes the stylistic choice to portray it with the help of artificial lighting. The tree becomes the protagonist of a world immune to plant blindness, the punctum of images made with long exposure times to enhance the lines, foliage, details and movements of each species, shown in the moments before the ‘somnus plantarum’.
Studies in the field of plant neurobiology, from the naturalist Linnaeus to the present day, show that plants are sleeping organisms like an immense variety of living species, from bacteria to insects to mammals. In fact, each plant has evolved a system of internal biological oscillators, the ‘circadian rhythm’ that regulates photosynthesis in the leaves and the opening of flowers during the course of the day, and much more.
Surrounding the Tineo Pavilion is an immersive sound created ad hoc by the composer Gianni Gebbia, a saxophonist who has always been engaged in musical research aimed at exploring through various genres the points of connection between the human and plant universe, expressed through his own personal music style.
On the ground floor, episode after episode, you can listen to the stories of specimens of resilient strength, able to cope with extreme situations such as fire, drought, soil aridity, agricultural transformation, uncontrolled cementing and man-made environmental disasters. Mirroring the strength of each tree are the men and women who have chosen to protect, care for and fight alongside these threatened species. In a succession of different voices and accents, we will hear the testimonies of passionate and courageous people such as botanists, agronomists, activists, volunteers and writers who have chosen to dedicate themselves with daily commitment to the defence of these precious plant existences.
The tour continues up the stairs to the upper floor where notes, maps, books, iconographic elements from catalogues, extracts from books and botanical journals are on display, together with literary references that will broaden the understanding of each plant and its appreciation in the culture of the Mediterranean landscape. The materials displayed on the Papyrus plant are the result of loans and direct collaboration with the ‘Corrado Basile Papyrus Museum’ in Syracuse.
Once outdoors, walking along the avenues of the Botanical Garden, near the Serra Carolina, we will be captivated by an ambient sound, the background sound of one of the ephemeral installations built with reused plant materials, to welcome and invite the public to listen to nature and its stories even at night.
A second station is installed in the vicinity of the large Ficus macrophylla, an ideal vantage point for the patron deity of the entire project, and it suggests that one can stop and read this as every tree as a ‘living body’.
Diorami presents perspectives that highlight the active role of each plant species in the ecosystem, the relationship between plants and the context in which they live, emphasising the plant capacity to combine differences and generate life. An opportunity to reflect together on the migratory movements, climate and social changes taking place, pointing out examples and possible activities to change the destructive direction given by the Anthropocene, returning to the cultivation of respect, cultural memory and interdependence between existing species.