The Art of Science: Pollination as Inspiration

Pollen Grains, Jo Golesworthy

Pollen Grains, Jo Golesworthy

To many people, pollen is a nuisance, coating cars and irritating nasal passages. For artists Jo Golesworthy and Wolfgang Laib, pollen is an inspiration.

Pollen grains are the tiny cases holding the male reproductive cells (gametophytes) of flowering plants. The grains come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have a wide range of surface markings and textures, making them useful for plant identification in fields such as paleoecology, paleontology, archeology, and forensics.

This variety marks the sculptures of Jo Golesworthy, a UK-based artist who creates massively scaled-up versions of many types of pollen from alder and birch to pussy willow and poppy. Her pieces, made by hand from a limestone compound, can be displayed outdoors, where the artist says they will “slowly grow a botanic patina of their own.”

Wofgang Laib, Pollen from Hazelnut, 2013

Wofgang Laib, Pollen from Hazelnut, 2013

German artist Wolfgang Laib creates his works out of real pollen, meticulously arranging it in lines, grids, mounds, or – for his largest work – a glowing golden carpet.  Laib’s spectacular 2013 installation, Pollen from Hazelnut, an 18 x 21 foot rectangle of pollen sifted onto the floor of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, required more than a decade’s worth of pollen that the artist himself collected from around his hometown. Laib says that his work, although almost entirely based on nature, refers to many other things, including devotional practices and ancient art.

But essentially, it’s all about the pollen.  As Laib told MoMA, “pollen is the potential beginning of the life of the plant. It is as simple, as beautiful, and as complex as this. And of course it has so many meanings. I think everybody who lives knows that pollen is important.”

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