Dr. Edward Bach was a 19th century medical doctor turned homeopathic practitioner who developed flower remedies for a series of emotional and psychological conditions which he felt, if left untreated, led to serious physical aliments and diseases. Dr. Bach’s method of attributing healing powers to specific plants was based on intuition and subjectivity. When he felt a negative emotion, he held his hand over different plants until one of the plants removed these negative feelings. Dr. Bach characterizes seven emotional groups from this research: Fear, Uncertainty, Insufficient in Present Circumstances, Loneliness, Over-sensitivity to Influences and Ideas, Despondency or Despair, and Over-care for the Welfare of Others. And within each group, there are three to seven plants that are said to cure a variety of emotional problems. For example, Dr. Bach claims that Rock Rose in the “Fear” group will help a terror-stricken patient feel less frozen. In the “Over-care for the Welfare of Others” group, Chicory is said to help you be less critical, opinionated and argumentative.
Hoang Pham’s Botanical Print Project is a suite of seven multi-colored etchings based on Dr. Bach’s Seven Bach Nosodes (homeopathic vaccine).
In Pham’s series, each print corresponds to one of the seven emotional groups identified by Dr. Bach, and the image depicted in each print consists of a “grafting” of each of the three to eight plants associated with that particular group. For example, “Uncertainty,” consists of a grafting of the plants—Cerato, Scleranthus, Gentian, Gorse, Hornbeam, and Wild Oat—which in turn, create, in pictorial form, a new single plant cure—a physical impossibility.
Q- How did you hear about Dr. Bach and what gave you the idea for this series?
A- I first heard about Dr. Bach from a friend of mine who was taking one of his more popular flower essence combinations called ‘Rescue Remedy.’ She was going through periods of anxiety, and I suppose was looking for some nonpresciptive solutions. I was intrigued, not sure if it was my friend’s rave reviews of the product, the idea of plants helping to control our emotions (outside of more obvious plants like poppy or marijuana), or the name itself. ‘Rescue Remedy’ seemed to me a term both dramatic and practical at the same time. So this initial intrigue led me to my local organic health food store where I was amazed not only to find a lot of ‘Rescue Remedy’ on the shelf, but also rows and rows of brown glass eyedropper bottles, handmade wooden chests which housed these bottles, and a myriad of literature to rifle through. The more I read, the more confused I became. There were no limits on how ‘well’ you could become. This series I feel is my way of making some sense out of it…at least visually.
Q- There is something very scientific or textbook-ish about the look and presentation of your flowers which seem to be referencing 19th century botanical prints. Is there an intentional contradiction between the formal image of each flower you depict and the concept of the series as it relates to Dr. Bach basing his plant theories on his own empirical responses to the plants rather than on scientific evidence?
A- I think the work referencing 19th botanical prints was never a way of intentionally contradicting the manner in which Dr. Bach did his research. His theories, while derived from empirical or spiritual responses to plants, were also based on a science of the plants. I think these images walk the line between theory and science, meaning there is just enough theory, or “what ifs” if you will, to contradict any sort of science available to the viewer.
Q- The language that Dr. Bach uses to describe various emotional problems is psychological in nature while the channeling of the plants for their healing power is mystical or spiritual. Both realms—the psychological and the mystical—were very popular in Dr. Bach’s time which could account for his ideas being taken seriously. Were they? And in your depiction of his seven plant cures are you critiquing his claims or are you embracing the mystical aspect of Dr. Bach’s research?
A- In his time, Dr. Bach was not accepted in the medical world with his plant remedies. I think at the time the circle that took these ideas seriously was quite small. The work is in some ways a metaphor to his acceptance and non-acceptance. It is simultaneously illustrating a possibility and impossibility.
Q- You have chosen to graft the plants of each emotional group into a single image. Do you see yourself imitating through drawing what Bach did in his research—arbitrarily making connections to things that were previously unconnected?
A- Yes, definitely. Grafting (drawing) these plants are a process of trial and error, of chance in placement and composition that bear many similarities to the way Bach conducted his research. But of course I am working from his work, which is already conveniently categorized for me. I am sure he had much more of a go at it than I.
Q- It is as if one must believe in Dr. Bach’s divining abilities in order to accept the powers that the plants hold. In this sense, Dr. Bach’s remedies become a matter of faith. What role does mysticism or spirituality have in this series of work?
A- The fact that his flower essences are so popular today is fascinating. It seems fair to say that in our time, the general populace is so eager to put faith in anything to do with the natural that signs of ‘nature’ as co-opted phenomena surround us. The work might serve to critique or harbor this faith. For me it could go either way.
Q- Right now your work exists as drawings and prints. Are there any plans to actually graft, mutate, and try and grow these plants?
A- It’s probably safe to say I’m no scientist and at best an armchair researcher. I’m still mourning the recent death of my rubber tree plant. Besides, the project might in some way be negated if such plants actually existed in the world.
Art Editor’s Note: This concludes our second installment of the artists-interviewing-artists series. Please join us next issue in which Hoang Pham will conduct the next round of inquiry.
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