Everything I Know is a real and imaginary journey connecting two women, two eras, two journeys, but a shared interest and perspective on art and science.
In 2012 Mariagrazia Pontorno learned the amazing story of Leopoldina of Absburg's nuptial and scientific journey, and of her crew of artists and scientists. This young woman immediately attracted Mariagrazia for her freedom and originality, so she thought to retrace Leopldina's route to Rio in a contemporary view but at the same time preserving the original inner meaning of respect for knowledge and culture. The Botanical Garden of Pisa contains Giuseppe Raddi’s herbarium, he was one of the naturalist boarded Leopoldina’s ship (and my link with Leopoldina of course). Once in Brazil, Raddi discovered over two hundred new verities of ferns. Thus the fern became the icon of the project, energy of an idea that is still alive after two centuries.
A collage made in 2014 sums up this question visually wise: a huge fern positioned on a cargo ship as if it were the mast of the old sailing ship, and Leopoldina’s effigy on the bow.
Mariagrazia Pontorno, Layer #1, 2014, digital collage, mixed media, private collection
Everything I Know is an homage to Knowledge, and above all to the importance of synchronic and diachronic connection of different cultures and disciplinary areas. It is possible to establish a dialogue with the past by opening a book, or hearing about a story, like Leopoldina of Habsburg’s and her journey with the company of artists and scientists. In Mnemosyne, Aby Warburg, an author I consider an ongoing source of inspiration, describes the cultural stratification given by time as a huge visual atlas of memory influenced by highbrow criteria as well as popular culture.
In each and every moment, we are what we know as individuals as well as social body.
In a work she made on board, the artist retraced Leopoldina’s route and her own thanks to Giuseppe Raddi’s logbook and with the help of the third officer of the cargo ship Great America. They are two lines, blue and red, that follow two different directions, but sometimes they overlap. This is a work but mainly a metaphor:
two women, two eras, two journeys, but a shared interest and perspective on art and science.
The fern is the connection element of the whole project. Giuseppe Raddi brought from Brazil hundreds of new varieties that are now in the herbarium of Pisa named after him. Visually-wise, the fern takes on an important role, as a matter of fact, its reticular and fractal structure is a symbol of connection.
Thus, the shape and the content of this plant, as well as its scientific aspect and its artistic one join up.
Leopoldina brought with her a crew composed of artists and scientists. Mariagrazia wanted to preserve this idea of connection and sharing of cultures and points of view, and she re-interpreted it in a contemporary way.