Arts & Culture

“Ethnobotany” exhibit fuses plants, art and rich symbolism at Seymour Conservatory

Until now, art exhibits in the Wright Park Seymour Conservatory have mostly consisted of colorful glass art placed somewhat arbitrarily amid the tropical plants, one aesthetic step higher than garden decoration. Not so “Ethnobotany.”

Opening Friday, Sept. 5, with an artist reception, the 12-artist show is curated by the one person who could pull off something quite unique: Lisa Kinoshita. Her provocative mixed media installations have lately been matched by her funky terraria and plants at Moss+Mineral gallery.

“Ethnobotany” begins strikingly: glass duo Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman garland a palm with an enormous, golden glass fruit.

Also life-size is Doug Johnston’s “Rumpleskillskid,” a giant hood (or, as he puts it, a “small wearable hut”) made of coiled cotton rope as a kind of portable housing. The effect is more alien than comforting.

Beside the hood is a scene that continues a narrative Tacoma art lovers have been appreciating for a while. A handful of Jeremy Gregory’s gray-skinned puppets from the ‘hood lounge like disheveled Lilliputians in the shade of a giant agave.

Benjamin Cobb has erected two glass slides inspired by the kind used to study plants under microscopes. Abstract blue cell structures float past blood-red smears. In the conservatory wing, Barbara de Pirro hangs curly strips of translucent plastic like rice noodles from the ceiling, a sort of artificial Spanish moss.

Playing with the concept of perfection, Melissa Balch constructs fruit-like breasts and rings them like a halo of fertility around a palm. Further along, she dives deep into anthropological botany: a white man’s head dwarfed by giant leaves, bizarre pods and cups sprouting like invasive fungi. Nearby, Steve Jensen brings Scandinavia to Polynesia in a richly carved totem pole, the golden-red wood bearing both Northern curves and chiseled fishtails.

Finally, there’s the sly humor Kinoshita loves. Shannon Eakins and Marc Dombrosky construct a leaded glass landmine loaded with invasive wildflowers and shackled dangerously to a philodendron. Kinoshita herself mounts a shelf with a car tire, a rubber plant, a ticking clock and a noose, reminding us that our love affair with rubber (and where it gets us) has devastating consequences.

“Ethnobotany” coincides with the conservatory’s exhibit of “Tasty Tropicals” that includes a six-lecture series beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday with “Edible Garden Lifestyle” by Sue Goetz ($10).

Exhibit opening 6-8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, with music by Alex Tapia and Nate Dybevik; then open 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Oct. 12. Admission $3, and free for 11 and younger and third Thursdays. 316 S. G St., Tacoma. 253-591-5330, metroparkstacoma.org/conservatory, mossandmineral.com, mossandmineral.com/art-hot-humid-the-conservatory.

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