Expedición Machu Picchu: Orquídea parásita verde

Artist name

Artist year born


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Artwork title translation

Machu Picchu Expedition: Green Parasitic Orchid

Artwork material

found objects
photographic print

Artwork dimensions

height: 60cm
width: 40cm
depth: 5cm

Artwork type (categories)

Mixed Media

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Mimicking in a way the expeditions of the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries intended to establish a scientific knowledge of the nature and people of the New World, Alberto Baraya defined himself as a “pseudo botanico viajero” (pseudo-traveller botanist), pursuing his own “expeditions” throughout the world creating an herbarium and realising anthropometric surveys. In countries such as New Zealand, China (Shangai), Colombia (Tenuya), Australia, and Peru (Machu Picchu), Baraya collected and catalogued artificial plants for his Herbario de plantas artificiales. The Orquídea parásita verde is a plastic and fabric flower “made in China” that Baraya collected during his expedition to Machu Picchu. Fastened to this plank of the Herbario, it is accompanied by detailed drawings of the specimen and information about its collector and finding place. During his expedition Baraya also continued his project Antropometrías aproximadas constituting a photographic survey of people he encountered. In a parody of colonial anthropometry that aimed at classifying different races, he switched the role of the observer, making portraits of himself (the traveller, “discoverer”, tourist) being measured and studied by the people he met. To the right of the orchid , Baraya is shown in Machu Picchu holding the flower, his head being measured by a police officer, and a town crier . The drawing in the middle of the work shows complex calculations and measurements of a head and of the orchid in an absurd seemingly scientific study.

By creating a botanical knowledge of fake plants, Baraya ironically comments on the scientific paradigm, and the subjectivity implied by those who create knowledge. The presence of pictures from Antropometrías aproximadas in the work links the herbarium to the role of natural history in anthropological attempts to define cultures and frame identities, meanwhile highlighting the implication of the Other’s gaze in the construction of these identities.

Carine Harmand, 2018

In his long-term project Herbario de plantas artificiales (Herbarium of Artificial Plants), Alberto Bayara explores the relationship between humans and nature in relation to the colonial histories of the New World. The Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada in 1783, which surveyed and classified species of plants in what would later become Colombia, resulted in the production of a huge archive of specimens and representations of taxonomies of flora. Along with Western categorisations of nature, came the notion that such taxonomies could be transformed into an enterprise, providing knowledge about plants that would lead to their cultivation as crops and trade as commodities. Baraya, an artist based in Colombia, describes the starting point for his Herbario as a bid for independence from colonial history through his own experience of retracing botanical expeditionary routes to gain his own scientific knowledge. He appropriates the format of the illustrations produced in the 1780s and updates them by compiling images and specimens of artificial plants.

Expedición Machu Picchu: Orquídea parásita verde is a one of the 300 sheets in the Herbario de plantas artificiales that the artist began compiling in 2002. The composition includes an artificial Green Parasitic Orchid which Baraya collected during his expedition to Peru, alongside a stamp and written information that identifies him as its collector and details of the place where it was gifted to him. The work also includes a pseudo-scientific drawing of the specimen with a self-portrait of the artist’s head. Other information, such as the materials of the “specimen,” indicate that the flower was “Made in China.”

In Baraya’s work the medium of botany is used ironically. He explains: “The rescued and published work of the Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada appeared at the end of the 1940s and little by little became a symbolically transcendent event in Colombia. Colonial enterprise became an opportunity to reaffirm a national identity. When I lived in Madrid I began the Herbario de plantas artificiales project, a parody of this nationalism, which focused on the scientific research tools used and analysis, which still today claim to be utopic beacons of progress and wellbeing.” (1) Fake plants give us a new reality of nature, and although they do not replace it, they do offer a direct relation to the original plant, creating anecological bond between the plant and its owner. Many owners of the plants which were gifted to Bayara shared with the artist their spiritual experience and emotional connection to the object. These relations then allow enterprises in places such as China to create industries that target human attachments to plants, whether real or artificial.

The final element in Expedición Machu Picchu are three photographs of Baraya undergoing anthropometrical studies. These make further reference to colonial activity and power, whereby measurements such as these were taken of individuals to categorise different races. (2) However, Baraya here modifies this practice by switching the role of the traveller and the observer, thus turning the traveller into the object of study instead of the observer. Baraya makes ironic use of such scientific classifications to demonstrate how the traveller applies “scientific” methods to produce sometimes dubious knowledge about cultures and their inhabitants, whilst providing insight into wider issues regarding colonialism, and human relations with ecology.

(1) Skype interview with Alberto Baraya, 8 November 2018.
(2) Alberto Baraya and Jonathon Hernández, Desastre Natural. (Mexico City: Editorial RM, 2014), 77.

(Text taken from the exhibition catalogue for Gone to Ground, 2019)

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