Courtney Egan's video projection, Extinct in the Wild, lights up the hillside on the south bank of Barton Springs Road every evening from 6 - 10pm.
From the UMLAUF
At the close of 2020, a year that was like no other in history, the UMLAUF is pleased to present a symbol of hope and perseverance for the entire Austin community. Extinct in the Wild, a video projection by New Orleans-based artist Courtney Egan, features an Angel’s Trumpet, or Brugmansia, suspended by a human hand. This seemingly simple gesture is layered with complexity, serving as a potent symbol of nature, humanity, colonialism, scientific history, and sheer survival. Collaborating with Egan on this site specific projection, the curatorial team deliberately installed it behind iron bars on the uninviting woody hillside overlooking Barton Springs Road, where it can be viewed in the evening by passersby. During this period marked by isolation and physical distancing, the UMLAUF hopes visitors may find solace and enjoyment in the mesmerizing simplicity of Extinct in the Wild.
Katie Robinson Edwards, Curator and Interim Executive Director
Lauren Hill, Assistant Curator
Courtney Egan: Extinct in the Wild
DECEMBER 22, 2020 - FEBRUARY 16, 2021
I find it hard to write about artwork, with so much 2020 distraction, but I keep coming back to this: an urgent feeling that humans must radically adjust our relationship with the non-human and vegetal world.
I first turned to plants to heal from grief. Plants exist in a light- and temperature-based loop, calibrating their physical processes and reproducing themselves on a circular, seasonal timeline. Figuring this information out and using it to our benefit has been a major preoccupation of humans for thousands of years. Now I wonder if humans have disrupted this ancient relationship with our cohort, the earth.
I started still photography of flowers in the late 1990s when my father was ill. It was calming to focus on living things that don’t deviate from their own focus. Plants’ needs are apparent and well documented - they aren’t the subject of disinformation campaigns; however, the way that knowledge about them is structured and taught is the story of colonization, taxonomically codified.
I explored this when researching the Angel’s Trumpet for my most recent piece, “Extinct in the Wild.” The story of this plant demonstrates the different paths humans have taken in the search for plant-based knowledge. Angel’s Trumpet is an ornamental tree that my husband or I acquired - neither of us recall how we ended up with it, a “pass-along” plant. It fills our tiny yard year after year with giant blooms, sweet smells, and hummingbird moths. We love its dramatic lushness and were surprised to learn of its high toxicity.
Taxonomically, the Angel’s Trumpet confused European explorers/botanists, who placed it in the genus of Datura. In 1805, a German mycologist decided that the Angel’s Trumpet is its own genus, and named the flower after a Dutch naturalist of the previous century, Brugmans. So, “Brugmansia” became the European scientific name for a plant that is native to South America, where it has been cultivated by indigenous peoples, not merely for ornamental use, but medicinally and shamanically, for at least 3,000 years. In South American, they have myriad names for it:
...Almizclillo, baumdatura, baumstechapfel, borrachera, (Spanish,“inebriator”), campachu, campanilla, chamico, cimora... floripondio...guarguar, hierba de los compañones, huántac (Zaparo-Quechua), huanto, huánto (Quijo), huántuc (Quechua), huarhuar, isshiona (Zaporo).... maícoma, mai ko, mai ko’ mo, mataperro (Spanish, “dog killer”), misha huarhuar, misha rastrera blanca, qotu (Quechua), saharo, tecomaxochitl (Nahuatl), toé, tree stramonium, trombeteiro (Brazil) -from The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the organization that tells us when species go extinct, gives Brugmansia a designation of EW, meaning “Extinct in the Wild.” This means that almost all species of Brugmansia no longer fruit or reseed in the wild. The genus propagates only through human cultivation. Humans supplanted the need for this plant to reproduce on its own. I’m intrigued by this evolutionary level of cooperation between humans and plants. Its centuries-long timeline stands in contrast to today’s speedy genetic modification of plants.