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Micro-graft. Images from Gregory Vershbow's The Alchemist's Tree (Vermont: The author, 2010).
Micro-graft. Images from Gregory Vershbow’s The Alchemist’s Tree (Vermont: The author, 2010).

The Kohler Art Library is pleased to announce the opening of “PRIMORDIA Selected Works from Gregory Vershbow’s The Alchemist’s Tree.” Featured in this exhibit are prints, production sketches, and selected research materials that served as resources and points of inspiration for the book The Alchemist’s Tree.

“The exhibit itself is set so the wall images are allusive,” says Vershbow, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The materials in the cases help illustrate the story.”

The Alchemist’s Tree, set in New England from 1891-1903, tells the story of three scientists determined to recreate the ancestor of earth’s first plants by grafting together the pieces, pollen, and cells of modern botanical species. The fictional characters in The Alchemist’s Tree are guided by a literal interpretation of the “The Tree of Life.” Utilizing this metaphor as a schematic for the evolutionary process, they draw their experiments to extreme conclusions.

Self-portrait of Hannah Moraine in the laboratory. Images from Gregory Vershbow's The Alchemist's Tree (Vermont: The author, 2010).
Self-portrait of Hannah Moraine in the laboratory. Images from Gregory Vershbow’s The Alchemist’s Tree (Vermont: The author, 2010).

The Alchemist’s Tree is a historical science fiction story,” Vershbow says. “In this story, I push the idea of whether or not the metaphors often used are really good ideas.”

Whereas art is ordinarily a celebration of man’s creative hand and nature reveals the beauty of the world untouched, the results are plant-forms of the botanists’ interventional tinkering in the development of nature.

“The images become very interesting,” Vershbow notes. “Especially when you realize the majority of biomass on this planet is actually domesticated.”

PRIMORDIA is the inaugural exhibition of (Circulation), and Vershbow says working with the Kohler to develop this exhibit seemed like a natural fit.

“The library is a natural place for art. Growing up I always looked for art first in books,” Vershbow explains. “The library, as a space in general, puts you physically in the midst of a place of contemplation and inspiration.”

While Vershbow has exhibited his work around the world, from Boston to Germany, he notes every show evolves. The Kohler exhibit provides the most revealing look yet into the story behind The Alchemist’s Tree.

The amalgamate spore of the Alchemists' Tree (micrograph). Images from Gregory Vershbow's The Alchemist's Tree (Vermont: The author, 2010).
The amalgamate spore of the Alchemists’ Tree (micrograph). Images from Gregory Vershbow’s The Alchemist’s Tree (Vermont: The author, 2010).

The (Circulation) program, a collaborative and ongoing effort to display art on the walls of the Kohler Art Library, was initiated and designed by Kohler Art librarian Lyn Korenic, Assistant Professor Matthew Bakkom, Professor Derrick Buisch, and Vershbow.

“This exhibit was perfect because it is unique in that it’s in a library. We must work within the parameters that we have space wise,” Bakkom explains. “It provides an interesting approach to how you present your work.”

With the intention of creating a space within the library for the public presentation of new work by Art Department faculty and students, Bakkom, Vershbow and Buisch hope (Circulation) provides the opportunity for greater contact between artists and students, possibly by developing interactive blogs in the future. Bakkom explains that he hopes this program encourages classes on campus to further investigate the unique resources available through the libraries.

Luster & Co. microscope with specimens mounted in slides. Images from Gregory Vershbow's The Alchemist's Tree (Vermont: The author, 2010).
Luster & Co. microscope with specimens mounted in slides. Images from Gregory Vershbow’s The Alchemist’s Tree (Vermont: The author, 2010).

“In a time of transition, we felt working with the Libraries helped us harness the power of the libraries as an aesthetic space, in addition to recognizing that they are already a critical part of our campus community” said Bakkom.

For more information, contact Matthew Bakkom (bakkom@wisc.edu).

The exhibition runs October 6 – December 30, 2015

A reception celebrating (Circulation), and the current exhibition, will be held at the Kohler Art Library on Friday, November 13 from 5 – 7 pm. It is open to the public.

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The Kohler Art Library regularly exhibits materials from its collections, such as artist books and illuminated manuscript facsimiles. Occasionally the library exhibits materials from other sources.

Gregoryfern: Pseudo-fern grafted to fern. Images from Gregory Vershbow's The Alchemist's Tree (Vermont: The author, 2010).
Gregoryfern: Pseudo-fern grafted to fern. Images from Gregory Vershbow’s The Alchemist’s Tree (Vermont: The author, 2010).