Enter a botanical labyrinth of nearly one thousand plants and set on a quest to find those renowned for their medicinal properties.
If you happened to travel to Prague this July 2017, you may have stumbled upon Victoria pragensis- a botanical labyrinth made out of nearly one thousand plants, located at Vaclav Havel Square in the very centre of Prague. The site-specific installation aimed to emphasize the precious yet fragile cultural heritage of medicinal plants as well as the role of greenery in public spaces. Designed with the intention to provide contrast to the adjacent buildings – the 19th century National Theatre and the iconic brutalist New Stage built in 1977– the project was a collaboration between Czech architect Juráš Lasovský, National Theatre in Prague, and Hænke, a platform that focuses on connecting science with arts through bespoke events and immersive installations focused on the use of medicinal plants in urban environment.
“Victoria Pragensis revealed the stark contrast between the fragility of individual plants and adjacent buildings of the National Theatre, forming together soft green contours. This contrast helped emphasise how plants may transform an urban space while encouraging each visitor to interact with the installation. The installation exposed each plant as an object - a green jewel whose unique, important role within our landscape needs to be always emphasised,”comments the Copenhagen based, Prague-raised architect.
The labyrinth’s main area is created by green contours placed on a metal structure made of white „trunks“ – a vertical construction carrying each plant. The entire topography then heads towards the very centre of the piece,wafting into a „meadow“ surrounded by the higher-placed plants. Thanks to this, visitors are transported away from the usual hustle and bustle of the city centre as the space provides them with a whole new perspective on the square itself and forces them to experience the piece through naturally formed impulses such as earthy scentsoreerie noises coming from all corners as the wind bends the plants – 936 of them to be precise.
Visitors were encouraged to roam around the installation, discovering the real hidden gems: plants used all around the world for their medicinal properties. For many, this was the first time they saw what a coffee plant, an artichoke, a pepper plant, or gingko biloba looked like. There are approximately 400,000 plant species worldwide, with nearly a tenth of them being used for its medicinal qualities. As the importance of sustainable living is on the rise, city dwellers tend to reach towards herbal remedies as an organic, natural alternative to synthetic medicine. Available information, however, is not always correct and reliable, and it is therefore vital to provide a trusted source based on scientific research, mainly ethnobotany, phytotherapy, and pharmacognosy.
While on display, the installation triggered a wide range of spontaneous reactions: picnics, yoga sessions, fashion shows, video shoots, or simply watering the nearly thousand plant species (sessions were organised regularly twice a day). Its name refers to Victoria amazonica –- the world's largest water lily – first discovered in 1801 by Czech botanist Thaddäus Haenke who was among the first ones to have scientifically described Latin America’s flora to European audience.
Despite the site-specific focus of the event, its authors are already discussing bespoke offshoots in different European cities such as Berlin, London or Copenhagen. Its relative success (Instagram user comment: There is probably no one in Prague who wouldn’t have a photo in here this summer”) is just another proof how crucial it is to include greenery into urban planning as well as artistic social intervention in the future.