New exhibition developed with collaborators from the Latinx and Indigenous communities
SAN FRANCISCO (February 22, 2023) – This spring, the Exploratorium presents ¡Plantásticas! Our lives with plants, a new exhibition celebrating the history and science of plants and their integral role in connecting us to our cultures and our planet. ¡Plantásticas! opens on March 23 and runs through September 10 at Pier 15.
Developed with collaborators from the Latinx and Indigenous communities, ¡Plantásticas! is a multilingual experience that invites visitors to touch, smell, and zoom into the world of plants. Dig into Indigenous plant knowledge with exhibits designed by Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino of Berkeley’s Cafe Ohlone, and relax in immersive plant patios created by Los Angeles-based artist Andi Xoch.
“Plantásticas is a result of a collaboration with a council of Latinx and Indigenous community members who encouraged us to embrace the cultural and artistic traditions about plants in addition to our usual scientific focus,” said Kevin Boyd, co-director of the project and editorial manager at the Exploratorium.
“We are grateful to Andi, Vincent, Louis, and our community advisory board,” said Sarah Seiter, co-director of the project and a senior science writer at the Exploratorium. “Their expertise has informed everything from our design and content guidelines, to the stories we feature, down to the paint colors. We’re excited for visitors to come and immerse themselves in the exhibition and find new ways to connect to plants.”
¡Plantásticas! is rooted in sustained traditional knowledge. Medina and Trevino created exhibits that take visitors through the traditional Ohlone practice of making cordage, or twine rope, from the dogbane plant, and explore how the Ohlone people gather Bay Laurel, or sokóote, for ceremonial, culinary, and medicinal purposes. Along with their Aunt Dottie, the matriarch of their community, they are also featured in videos on plants in Ohlone cuisine.
“tiwwišikma — Plants — have life, spirit and purpose; they are teachers and healers,” Medina and Trevino said. “We are proud to see our beautiful Ohlone culture and our powerful Chochenyo language represented in this historic exhibit that speaks to an Ohlone understanding of the plants that are native to our gorgeous East Bay homeland — where we have always been, where we will always be.
“This exhibit is enriched by the inclusion of our beloved Auntie Dottie, the matriarch of our people, who has worked her whole life to sustain our Ohlone identity and whose knowledge of plants stretches back into a time from before. When Ohlones enter the Exploratorium, they will see themselves represented, and this is something to celebrate and recognize as an achievement in itself.”
Xoch, who founded Latinx with Plants, created installations inspired by community gardens throughout her Boyle Heights neighborhood. They reflect the design aesthetic known as rasquachismo, a movement started by Chicano artists in the 1960s that repurposes old objects to create new art in recognition of the resourcefulness of their community and ancestors.
“I want people to open their minds about what a well-curated garden can look like; to feel like they already live in a beautiful garden,” Xoch said. “These installations intersect with my culture, my organizing, my activism, and my love for plants. I really couldn't imagine a better place for the work — the Exploratorium is a little bit of everything too.”
Additional exhibits celebrate the rich diversity of corn in Latin America, where countless varieties have been cultivated over thousands of years, as well as the memories that plant scents can evoke. Visitors can also explore interactive satellite data to learn more about California’s native plants and crops, and where they grow in the state.
¡Plantásticas! was funded by a generous grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, with additional support from the Troy and Leslie Daniels Fund for Life Sciences and the National Science Foundation.
“We hope that ¡Plantásticas! helps visitors find new ways of connecting with plants,” said Kevin Boyd, co-director of the project and editorial manager at the Exploratorium. “Whether they’re grinding up bay laurel to appreciate its beautiful scent, or comparing 20 varieties of maize under the microscope and learning about Latin American foods, we hope people leave with a new appreciation for plants.”