South Dade News Leader

Art and Science in the Field

Article April 22, 2019

Upon entering the Airie Nest Gallery in the Everglades National Park, one is greeted by strangely seductive, other-worldly looking objects. Custom built tables with leaves and flowers, topographical diagrams and a video of a sugar cane train all represent aspects of the Saw Palmetto, a plant which is one of the oldest living clonal species. This innovative collection of artworks are the result of sculptor Robert Chambers, who participated in the Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) program last year. Chambers, a Miami-based sculptor, is best known for his large-scale sculptures and installations, which bring together whimsy and humor with scientific, mechanical and industrial acumen. Focused on lands north of Lake Okeechobee in the headwaters of the Everglades, he created a new body of work combining elements such as biomimicry, 3D printing and principles of evolutionary biology to express the urgency of conserving the delicate relationships of natural phenomena and indigenous species that make up the Florida Everglades. Chambers’ work is inspired by the Serenoa repens, the tenacious plant commonly known as the saw palmetto, a symbol of the Everglades’ complex interplay of water flow, plant life, fire and weather.

During his month long residency, AIRIE organized a trip for Chambers to visit Archbold Biological Station where its director and senior biologist, Hilary Swain, captivated him with descriptions of the remarkable tenacity of the Serenoa repens, which can live upwards of 5,000-10,000 years, thanks to its expansive root system that Chambers sees as both a power source and liminal subterranean presence that verges on the alien. Chambers’ sculpture, a stylized model of this root system called Clonal Phoenix, created with cellulose fibers and 3D printing, is the exhibition centerpiece, surrounded by smaller sculptures, and scientific graphs, which refer to other parts of the plant and its ecology. Reference sources for gallery visitors are available as scientific essays linked to scannable QR codes, and in a binder on the Base Camp Installation desk. Information is largely sourced from Dr. Warren Abrahamson’s thorough and eloquent writings about his decades-long research of the Saw Palmettos…

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