Europeans have been fond of trimming plants into sculptures since the Roman era—Pliny's Natural History tells us as much. Today, Amsterdam artist Diana Scherer is taking the art of topiary to subterranean levels. Scherer shapes plant root structures into ornate designs using specialized molds, then photographs the results. The series, titled Interwoven, takes as its starting point the relationship between humans and nature—our desire to both cherish nature and control it. "Living materials form the basis of my investigation. I work with biological processes and try to intervene in a sometimes intuitive, sometimes scientific way," explains Scherer.
Her project Nurture Studies, from 2012, was an earlier iteration of some of these ideas: Scherer grew a number of flowers inside vases until the plants reached maturity. She then removed the vase, or the plant's "corset," as she calls it, to expose the roots that had retained their shape "as an evocation of the now absent vase." With Interwoven, her molding techniques have gotten far more sophisticated—so much so that she is keeping them secret. But she does share this: "I look at the root system as though it were made of yarn. For example, the roots of grass look like silk to me, and the roots of a daisy remind me of wool. In this project, the natural network of the root system turns into an artificial textile."
She collaborated with biologists and now conducts her experiments in a greenhouse, which allows her to work year-round. For this series, she worked mostly with grass species, like oat and corn. Her underground templates—evoking cells, crystals, and honeycombs—are inspired by geometric patterns found in nature, and yet the results look distinctly man-made.
After harvesting the roots, she immediately takes a photograph with a technical camera, which captures details that aren't necessarily visible to the naked eye. "The root system has a hidden life. I wanted to make the subterranean processes visible," comments the artist-gardener, whose process celebrates transformation 'til the very end: "After the harvest, I put it on my compost heap."