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Transcript of Tiny Taxonomy
t iny taxonomy
t iny taxonomy
Landscape InstaLLatIon In the Jordan Garden
eXcLUsIVe MeMBers eVentSATURDAY, MAY 18, 3:30 PMCalderwood Hall and Jordan Garden
Learn about the Gardner Museums latest Landscape Installation Tiny Taxonomy with designer Rosetta Sarah Elkin and Charles Waldheim, Ruettgers Consulting Curator of Landscape.
Free and open to members and Patrons. Space is limited. Reserve online at gardnermuseum.org/calendar, or by phone: 617 278 5156.
Landscape LectUreTHURSDAY, JUNE 6, 7 PMCalderwood Hall
Rosetta Sarah Elkin in conversation with Charles Waldheim
Elkin will present her recent work, including Tiny Taxonomy, followed by a conversation with Charles Waldheim, Ruettgers Consulting Curator of Landscape.
Landscape Lectures include Museum admission and require a ticket; tickets can be reserved online, in person at the door, or by phone: 617 278 5156. Museum admission: $15; Seniors $12; Students $5; free for members.
Meet the GroWers WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19, 3:30 PMEducation Studio and Jordan Garden
Meet with Rosetta Sarah Elkin and the growers who raised the plants for Tiny Taxonomy.
Free with Museum admission.Space is limited. Reserve online atgardnermuseum.org/calendar, orby phone: 617 278 5156.
MAY 15 SEPTEMBER 2
Tiny Taxonomy highlights the delicate beauty of mountain wildflowers and alpine perennials, common to rocky, high-altitude environments, displayed in a field of 25 reflective cylinders.
Tiny Taxonomy classifies plants through shared and common traits, derived from micro-characteristics. The plants exhibit taxonomically useful features such as a cushion-like form to resist wind, large flowers to encourage pollination, and densely packed leaves to protect them from frost. Each plant on display is small and tough. Their beauty is best apprehended by intimate observation. Tiny Taxonomy unpacks and represents the garden for our consideration, offering 25 species at eye-level for viewing the small structures that unite them.
ROSETTA SARAH ELKIN, designer of Tiny Taxonomy, is principal of r.s.e. landscape, a design studio based in the Netherlands with a focus on vegetative strategies. Elkins current projects are international in scope and include residential, commercial, and installation-based design and consulting. Elkin is presently the 2012-13 Daniel Urban Kiley Fellow and Lecturer in Landscape Architecture at Harvard Universitys Graduate School of Design.
The Museum receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Tiny Taxonomy is a little garden with big ambitions, showcasing species that are in cultivation but rarely planted. I have selected a grouping of plants, and categorized them by common traits derived from an evolution towards feature miniaturization. Due to the diminutive size of their features, these plants are often overlooked and therefore tend to be under-specified. It seems that as the world around us gains complexity and intricacy, our biological world is tending towards monotony. As our experiences become more and more uniform, our capacity to apprehend transformation and beauty diminishes. Tiny Taxonomy considers micro-features a design opportunity suggesting subtlety as an attraction while inviting attention, respect, and even delight.
Each cylinder holds a single species. Each plant is selected for its foliage size, ranging from dwarf cushions and compact mounds to succulent rosettes or grassy fronds. Most of the species on display have a direct correlation with habitat, though it is by no means perfect. Habitat is reconstructed through substrate, as soil texture, lichen, or moss provide context. Taxonomically useful features include three main adaptations that can be understood through form, leaf, and flower. In terms of form, each species has a cushion-like shape, which is actually a collection of thousands of tiny individual plants. Single plants this small could never survive on their own, but by growing in closely packed clusters, they trap warm air and moisture, protecting themselves from wind and ice penetration. Hugging the ground becomes a survival strategy, which alters the soil conditions around each plant, further generating a microclimate that fosters more life. Second, the plants in full sun tend to have small leaves, while larger deeply lobed leaves are found mainly in sheltered habitats. The small leaves make them less susceptible to dehydration and damage. Hairs on the leaves prevent air movement over the leaf surface and protect the leaves from low temperatures. Finally, the plants often have disproportionately large flowers, or flowers that are held out on long stems. This adaptation is extremely attractive to insects and birds that would not regularly pursue small plants. Some flowers persist, but most have specific flowering periods. These combined traits generate a unique taxonomy offered here for consideration.
The history of classification is as old as our collective desire to organize the processes of life. Our capacity to appreciate and catalogue the natural world has been well documented but it is rarely questioned for its cultural value. Creating an altered taxonomy is not a science; it is a design investigation that relates traits that are rarely amalgamated. At the same time, showing and isolating specimens is critical to establishing a link between taxa and their functional record, which is a systematic endeavor. In taxonomic terms, the functional record is a method of storing data, contributing to the refinement of nomenclature while establishing a reservoir of information. A herbaria sample is also a live dataset that can be understood as a mapping between different conditions and classifications. In fact, taxonomy is no longer the science of nomenclature that Linnaeus  developed, nor is it the provocative observations expressed by Goethe.  It is quickly becoming a system less reliant on rank-based nomenclature (such as genus, family etc.) and more dependent on phylocode.  These new forms of delineation are contingent upon statistical and historical databases, which propose complex branching diagrams built through computational methods. If the future of taxonomy lies in a complex arrangement of code, it may only further the loss of common knowledge in favor of a highly specific and inaccessible logic. But no computer can replace tactility, just as a constructed history does not reveal experience. Tiny Taxonomy questions strict classification and reveals the necessity for physical engagement. By isolating each plant, features come into focus and exceptions are appreciated through observation. We are forced to appreciate through engagement. Each species is underscored by its singular location, inviting the visitor to take a moment to consider the beauty of individual specimens.
Tiny Taxonomy displays a field of cylinders, designed to reveal each species, creating an extrusion from the ground to eye-level. The ground is critical as a framing device. The first inches of soil, the O-horizon, host the highest concentration of organic matter and microorganisms. It also forms the critical connection between the roots and the vegetation of each species, stabilizing and gripping the plant from below. The O-horizon has a critical role in ecological sequencing, but remains overlooked, as it exists underfoot. The extrusion from floor to eye-level exaggerates the register of each species as a fragment of the ecosystem. The cylinders are delineated within a small field of grass registering the dimensions of the interior courtyard at Fenway Court. This field is arrayed with a grid of reflective cylinders, rotated 35 degrees, in order to support a dynamic view from the street and the living room.
An index of each planter highlights select characteristic and captures the beauty of each species. The name of each genus is immediately followed by its natural order (Italics) and its common name. This basic binomial naming is derived from the Linnaean system, as it is used in cultivated plant taxonomy. Some plants are also maintained through active propagation, in which case the name of a cultivar or variety is added. In classifying the plants, I refer to the growers when possible. Additionally, I use the associations that are defined by the renowned nurseryman Will Ingwersen in his Manual of Alpine Plants (1978).  This index also provides a brief engaging description, image, or drawing of an attribute, which conveys its place in Tiny Taxonomy.
(1) Carl von Linn (1707-1778). Widely regarded as the father of modern botanical and zoological taxonomy, and the author of Species Plantarum (1753) and Systema Naturae (1758). Linnaeus created the binomial system of naming we use today.
(2) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). The poet and Author of Metamorphosis of Plants (1790) who was responsible for an essential contribution: the discovery of unity through the great variation of nature, especially in reference to the study of leaves.
(3) The International Code of Phylogenetic Nomenclature, a new set of rules developed in response to earlier rank based systems. Instead, it proposes to define taxonomy through phylogeny or the indication through ancestry or descent.
(4) Will Ingwersen, Manual of Alpine Plants (1978).
Images courtesy: r.s.e landscape, unless otherwise credited.
t iny taxonomy
1 Erodium petraeum ssp. Crispum Alpine Geranium2 Primula auricula Silverway Marginate Primula3 Epimedium x Sunshowers Bishops