For several years, Toronto artist Sara Angelucci has undertaken a close study of nature in an area surrounded by Crown Land in rural Ontario. Cloaked by the darkness of night, she captures detailed ecologies of native plants entwined with cultivated and invasive species. Presented on the exterior of the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA)—formerly the Peel County Land Registry Office, Courthouse, and Jail—Angelucci’s luminous compositions speak to the complicated histories inscribed in this evolving landscape.
Drawing from her recent series Nocturnal Botanical Ontario (2020), which came about as a way to contend with deep personal loss and grief, Angelucci’s three massive images shift the perspective on nature. Here, the artist elaborates on her project:
I made these detailed images of wild plants during sojourns in the Pretty River Valley, while fumbling through tall grasses in the late evening. Limited sight put my senses on heightened alert as I worked with a scanner to uncover specimens growing entangled at my feet.
Working at night, luminescent images emerged through the darkness. Attracted by my presence and the light, insects appeared and interacted in creating compositions.
Shown at a colossal scale, these images of ordinary wild plants become something extraordinary. But why is this enlargement needed in order to really see them? Biologists J.H. Wandersee and E.E. Schussler coined the term “plant blindness” to explain the human tendency to ignore plants. They believe we don’t pay attention because plants are stationery and similarly coloured, and also because many cultures (especially urban ones) don’t recognize the importance of plant life. Paradoxically, their existence is paramount to all living beings, forming the basis of most animal habitats and all life on earth.
The power and value of plants, and our need for what they offer, are deeply embedded in Indigenous knowledge. Reading Indigenous botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, I have come to value what grows around me, to understand the unique qualities of the plants I encounter, and to embrace my responsibility in their stewardship. In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Wall Kimmerer writes, “Plants know how to make food and medicine from light and water, and then they give it away.” If we take time to look, these plants reveal themselves as unique, strange, and beautiful.
The detailed ecologies in these photographs also point to invisible and layered histories. Native plants grow entwined with foreign, cultivated, and invasive species. Considering these compositions closely, my passion and attachment to this place is entangled with an awareness of the deep colonial histories and ongoing commercial interests in the land. This process has raised difficult questions: How did these plants come to intermingle? To whom does the land really belong? Whose interests direct its management?
Ultimately, these images reflect the idea of memento mori—remember death. They are intended as a reminder of life’s brevity, and the need to see and protect the incredible life forms that grow at our very feet.