Elke Hickisch: Metamorphoses – In Dialogue with Tree Bark

Talking to the trees is traditionally a sign of eccentricity (to put it kindly), but despite its title, this exhibition is far from crazy. Instead it represents an insightful new way of seeing what is all around us.

Born in 1939 in Mährisch Schönberg (now Šumperk of the Czech Republic), Elke Hickisch was a child of tempestuous times. “I learnt my first piece of botanical knowledge cleaning up the ruins of Munich after it was bombed”, says the artist. “And I’ll never forget that wonderful name: Tussilago Fanfara”. Funnily enough, she had misheard the name for coltsfoot – told to her by her mother – hearing Fanfara instead of Farfara. By the time she was corrected, however, it was too late, “I saw the golden yellow blossoms poking out from the melting snow and it reminded me of spring’s luminous fanfare”.

After deciding early on that the confines of an office would not suit her nature, Hickisch trained first as a gardener before going on to study landscape architecture at Berlin’s Technische Fachhochschule in Dahlem, home to the city’s Botanical Gardens and the place her artistic inspiration began to take root.

Though landscape architecture is essentially about sculpting nature to create art, Hickisch was struck by the inherent beauty of her raw materials. Working with trees up to 250 years old, she began photographing the intricate detail of their bark in 2004. The current exhibition, showing at Berlin’s Botanical Museum surrounded by many of the artist’s arboreal subjects, juxtaposes the original images with a digitally manipulated counterpart.

Employing creative cropping techniques alongside neon colours and plied pixels, Hickisch presents to the viewer immediately an intricacy and beauty that she has spent years observing and developing in her mind’s eye. Indeed, it is this artistic bent that has helped her to succeed in the scientific areas of her career. “I am unable to focus just on the functional or scientific aspects of nature”, she explains. “Surrealism, paradox, playing with perception, are perhaps in some ways attempts to explore and explain the complex relationship between science and art.”

The exhibition Metamorphosen – im Dialog mit Baumrinden is showing at Berlin’s Botanical Museum until 30 December 2012.  Prints of all featured photographs are available for sale.