A Rare Glimpse Inside the Labyrinthine Archive of London’s Royal Botanical Gardens
The Herbarium at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew is a vast, Victorian maze filled with arcane books, learned scientists, and cabinet after cabinet of cataloged plants. Taking visual cues from the alluring intricacies of a Wes Anderson movie, this elegant short, “The Plant Family Tree,” is the fifth in the series Beyond the Gardens, created by the London-based studio, Lonelyleap. Coinciding with this summer’s IncrEdibles festival that runs through September, the series was designed to expose Kew’s rarely seen research aspect, and uncovers a haven from the hubbub of tourists outside. It tells the story of an institution that has played an integral role in the discovery of new species since it opened in 1853, with seven million specimens held in its many wings. “It’s a fantastic place because of all the history associated with the discovery of immensely diverse plants in the tropics,” enthuses Mark Chase, the film’s narrator and one of most prominent scientists to have worked at the gardens, currently serving as Director of Kew’s Jodrell Laboratory. “It helps us understand both the diversity of things we’ve got out there and what we have to do to preserve it.”
In the World's Northernmost Town, Crops Get Eternal Life
The Model-Turned-Polymath Takes Us Deep Into the Brazilian Amazon
A region in peril is distilled on 8mm film in Wild Rubber, directed by the multi-talented Lily Cole. The flame-haired model made the short while on assignment in Acre, northwest Brazil as an ambassador for Sky Rainforest Rescue, a partnership between Sky and WWF that raises awareness of the jungle’s plight, and aims to help protect one billion trees in the area. Cole, who has successfully melted the divide between the worlds of fashion, art, film and literature, shot the film across a day-lit Amazon vista after spending time with a rubber-tapping community in Feijó, where she learned more about the practice she believes is key to curbing deforestation. The hazy sepia and cyan-toned video depicts bird flocks, rainbow-hued spiders and nymph-like forms diving into the river’s purple wash. It is relatable, youthful, and eerie—particularly when overlaid with Cole’s soft British-accented singing. “Early one morning, I took a few hours out to go into the forest alone to film, and make a sound recording on my iPhone,” she says. “I only had two rolls left, so every shot felt incredibly precious.”
Aesthetically, the film has an old-school look. How did you select this format?
Lily Cole: I had been meaning to buy a non-digital camera last year in Paris, when I happened to run into Tacita Dean—a friend and one of my favourite artists who campaigns for film to be valued and protected as a medium. She took me shopping for a camera and we found this 8mm in one of the last camera shops in Paris to still sell it. I took it with me to Brazil and, without time to construct a set narrative, I simply captured moments as we explored the area, shooting whatever drew my eye.
What are your hopes for the future of rainforest conversation?
LC: I hope a growing market can be created for forest products, such as wild rubber, as it essentially could protect the rainforest by making it worth more standing than cut down. Knowing she is passionate about the rainforest, I asked Vivienne Westwood if she would be able to make a dress using rubber for this year’s Met Ball to show its potential versatility, and she and her partner Andreas made something very special for me to wear. This isn’t for a consumer audience but who knows what we can do in time.
What is the most memorable thing to have occurred during your time in Brazil?
LC: The rubber tapping itself was very impactful. Cutting thick lines into bark to watch a latex material bubble up was very surreal and filled my mind with possibilities. Rubber seems like such a synthetic material so it is really surprising to see that it is produced by a tree.
Has deforestation been curbed at all?
LC: Yes! Last year it was reported that deforestation rates were declining. Paraguay reduced the rate in their country by 85% following the enactment of its 2004 Zero Deforestation Law. It doesn’t mean the issues are fully resolved but I feel very optimistic that we are heading in that direction.
Why is this cause important to you?
LC: About 20% of the planet’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest so it's definitely something to value. Well, if you appreciate air.