May 17, 2022 8:08 am

The curious story behind an illustrated manual of imaginary botany

In a delicate interlocking game, in which poetry merges with painting and botany, the illustrated album Vademécum de la Flora natural imaginary erases the borders between fiction and reality to present an exquisite work. As if it were one of those Chinese boxes that contain another smaller one and others, the book published by Calibroscope announces on the cover: “A work by Irene Singer and Dr. Brenda Twiler.” Behind those names there is a visual artist (Singer) and a fictional character who gave rise to the story.

Illustration from the cover of Irene Singer’s vademecum of flowers

“Lovers of exact sciences and refutors of legends will only see coincidences here. Some of the many stories that can be crossed between the highest heights of Asia and the valleys near the great lakes of North America. We, faithful devotees of literature and clues, cannot avoid the persistent searches, the stubborn projects, the unlimited passions that coincide, connect and question us throughout this book”, says the epilogue.

It all started with a coffee. Not with just any coffee but with the search for a good and rich one. It was 2017, Singer was on a trip to the Himalayas and couldn’t believe that no one there served non-instant coffee. When the artist finally found a bar offering “Brazilian coffee” in Turtuk, a small town at an altitude of four thousand meters, she couldn’t help but savor it in an extra-large glass. Intense and strong, it produced a creative insomnia that he had not experienced before: he spent the night painting flowers.

"Ank-An-Zeled": a flower also known as The Purple Rose of Cairo
“Ank-An-Zeled”: a flower also known as The Purple Rose of Cairo

But before that night, some fifteen years ago, a northern legend had inspired Singer and the publisher and author Walter Binder to do a joint work that remained unpublished and is only now about to be published: Travelogue of Dr. Brenda Twiler and the Legend of the Lirolay. It is a book with texts and illustrations, a kind of fictional log with the observations of Twiler, a fictional character, during an expedition to Lake Ontario in 1919. About a hundred years later, Singer establishes a pictorial dialogue with Dr. Twiler’s imaginary flowers .

“The diary is the book that gave rise to Vademécum de la Flora natural imaginary. It arose from a version that Walter wrote of the legend of the Lirolay flower that I illustrated. At the time, we coincided with Walter in a conference in Tucumán in 2009, and we took a quantum leap: we saw that a botanist could be created that makes a fictional journey in search of the Lirolay flower based on the legend, ”Singer tells LA NACION .

“I’m not a big fan of legends, but the one from Lirolay always cracked my head because speaks of a flower that does not exist. In general, all legends are intended for a culture to explain a natural fact. I know of no other legend that tells the story of a fictional flower,” explains Binder. “We decided, then, that this flower exists, but that no one has yet found it and it becomes the obsession of the Twiler botanist”, she adds.

"Shy girl's night" The "shy girl of the shadows"
“Kautriga meitennakti” or “Shy Girl of the Shadows”

To get real data, the artist and the editor went to the Darwinion Botany Institute. They presented the project to Fernando Zuloaga, then director of the institution, who was so fascinated that he agreed to sign the prologue. There were researchers who lent them their field notebooks and other materials with which they put together the travel diary.

That book did not get, until now, a publisher because it seemed “saleable” to none of them. That is why, at the moment, there is only one copy that contains a small-format book with the legend. A Chilean publisher told them: “They are presenting a book of two crazy people to a crazy woman,” Singer recalls with a laugh. “I think it was a very advanced book for the market of that time”, he risks.

"Hazhmadia": they bloom alone among the dunes of the Negev
“Hazhmadia”: they bloom alone among the dunes of the Negev

Time passed. There was another “quantum” and temporary leap. Singer is near the Himalayas looking for a decent coffee, drinks the only one he can get, and can’t sleep that night. And in that peculiar vigil he draws imaginary flowers without stopping. Upon his return to Buenos Aires, he continues with that work that it has as a canvas some brownish leaves of an old manual of bacteriology that had belonged to his father. He paints flowers that don’t exist with powerful stamens, petals that look like wings, stems with strange shapes.

One day, Binder and Judith Wilhelm, founders of the Calibroscope label, visit her at her studio in Belgrano. Walter sees the flowers and is mesmerized. “We have to make a book,” he thinks. thus was born Vademécum de la Flora natural imaginary, whose interior images illustrate this article. Each flower, with a fictitious name, is accompanied by a poetic description. About one of them, Jabibna, he says: “It blooms in the springs of the Nile / The locals say that the most / closed nights of the new moon / are vain attempts of the sky / to imitate the silky blackness / of its petals”.

In the fictional story, the vademecum predates the travelogue because, after the expedition to Lake Ontario, Twiler disappears without a trace. Nobody heard from her again.

Reference-www.lanacion.com.ar

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