Two artists meet across time through their work: Enrico Coleman, the prominent landscape painter of 19th-century Rome, and Silvia Cini, one of the winners of the 11th edition of the Italian Council. Cini, inspired by Coleman’s illustrations, explores the increasingly adapted urban environment in search of the wild orchids depicted by Coleman, aiming to protect them.

From the 14th of July to the 14th of August 2023, ELTE Botanical Gardens in Budapest will host the first stage of Silvia Cini’s project, “Avant que nature meure” (Before Nature Dies) in their historic venue. The project is a profound reflection on nature’s resilience in the face of progressive adaptation of the landscape. An itinerary through Europe featuring exhibitions, events, open calls, and meetings. The project is presented by the Botanical Garden Museum of “La Sapienza” University in Rome and supported by the Italian Council (XI edition, 2022) – an international promotion program for contemporary Italian art by the Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity of the Ministry of Culture.

Since the early 1990s, Silvia Cini has engaged in participatory art practices and focused on the landscape as a social metaphor, by incorporating art and botany. “Avant que nature meure” is the result of her research, started in 2015, on today’s flowering of wild orchids in the urban context, as bioindicators of the health of cities. The title quotes the 1965 text by French scientist Jean Dorst, one of the pioneers of environmental protection, which warns about the extinction of biodiversity and calls for human reconciliation with nature. Based on these principles, the artist is mapping Rome’s wild orchids, by relying on Enrico Coleman’s depictions in authentic watercolors. Each of the watercolors, which were created between 1893 and 1910, detail the flowering locations. These watercolors, along with Coleman’s valuable herbarium, are preserved at the Central Institute for Graphics, where the two artworks will come together at the end of the project. With this precious testimony of a bygone Rome’s biodiversity, Silvia Cini rediscovers the wild orchids depicted by Coleman in an increasingly adapted modern day Rome. Her ultimate goal is to interact with institutions and experts to modify green area maintenance schedules and contribute to the preservation of the remaining varieties.

The project unfolds in different phases, online, in real life, and offline. The ongoing development of the digital platform will provide an indicative map of the locations in Rome where the wild orchids bloom, accompanied by texts, images, videos, and podcasts created in collaboration with botanists, urban planners, artists, and sociologists. An open call will invite residents and city goers to upload photos of orchids seen in the city to the platform, exponentially enhancing field observations and contributing to a collective awareness. Drawing on Guy Debord’s psychogeographic survey techniques, “Dérive nel verde” will involve small groups of participants on urban walks, exploring the metropolitan super-organism in search of wild orchids. Exhibitions, events, and meetings organized in collaboration with institutions focusing on art and nature, such as Careof, Fondazione Lac o Le Mon, Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, Hungarian Garden Heritage Foundation, MAMbo, Museu da Amazônia, PAV Parco Arte Vivente, will be featured in a catalogue curated by Alessandra Pioselli. “Avant que nature meure” will conclude in Rome in the spring of 2024, with an exhibition in the Botanical Garden Museum at “La Sapienza” University.

For ELTE Botanical Gardens in Budapest, one of Europe’s most interesting botanical gardens, “Avant que nature meure” takes the form of a site-specific project, an itinerary featuring environmental audio installations, sculptures, embroideries of orchids on lab coats that connect to the Matyó tradition, photos, data, and performances.

In researching Coleman’s techniques for the stabilization of botanical species, Silvia Cini has created small, wild orchid sculptures, reviving the electroplating process, a technique inherited from fascinating Central European natural history museums. Each one marks a flowering place in the city, the prototype of a green area maintenance indicator that details where nature should be allowed to flourish.

Hungarian women have been embroidering the “Matyó rose” for centuries, creating variations based on a basic design. This method of restoring the Matyó people’s landscape, which like many others has been gradually absorbed by the process of creating national identities, both protects and standardizes the culture for tourism and economic purposes. Through the artist’s eyes it is a meadow that, from the condition of being free to sprout its own varieties, becomes something akin to a green, mowed, homogenous lawn.

Legend has it that Matyó embroidery was born to reunite a couple who were engaged to be married. A negative force kidnapped the boy, demanding a apron full of flowers in the middle of winter as a ransom. The girl managed to fill the apron with flowers by embroidering them. The legend sugarcoats the long and solely female work of the trousseau, symbolizing women tied to an elite and patriarchal daily household. Silvia Cini transforms the traditional embroidery of roses into orchids, the ones that bloom today in uncultivated nooks and crannies, on the lab coats that the biologists wear in Budapest’s Botanical Gardens. It is a place where a “in vitro embroidery” is created daily to protect and safeguard inter-species.

The environmental audio installation, the leitmotif of the exhibition, tells the story of the encounter after more than a century between the work of the two artists, both fascinated by a microscopic and hidden world. Silvia Cini transcends the exotic idea of the orchid and exalts the social metaphor of these extraordinary plants, which can only complete their life cycle by being in symbiosis with other living beings.

“There are those that search for wild orchids, I live them, and in living them, the charm of these tiny plants capable of reproducing the form, color, and scent of an animal they are linked to for pollination, mimicking the female just a few days before it comes on heat, distracts me from the noise of the world,” explains the artist. “Because in them, the silent message of nature, I would say the silent scream of nature, crystallizes in form, and this form, which is to me sometimes animalistic and at other times humanlike, leaves me feeling helpless in looking for answers to the broken dialogue between our kingdoms.”

ELTE Botanical Garden – 1083 Budapest, Illés u. 25 –

Opening – Friday July 14th, from 17:00 to 19:00 – From July 15th to August 14th 2023 open from Monday to Friday – 9:00 to 17:00


Silvia Cini (born in 1972 in Pisa) is an artist and curator whose work thrives on the often personal dialogue, she creates with the public. She frequently focuses on the landscape as a social metaphor, by incorporating environmental audio installations and botanical research. Whilst still very young, she collaborated with Keith Haring in the realisation of an event that led to the “Tuttomondo” mural in Pisa. In 1994, she co-founded the AAVV group in Milan with Salvatore Falci. She collaborated with Cesare Pietroiusti on projects such as “DisorsordinAzioni,” “Il Gioco del Senso e Non senso” (XII Quadriennale di Roma), and the Oreste Group, with whom she participated in the 48th Venice Biennale. In 1997, she curated the “Frame” series of exhibitions at Ferro di Cavallo in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, promoting the beginnings of relational art and public art in Italy. She collaborated with Carolyn Christov Bakargiev and Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Académie de France à Rome for the realization of the exhibition “La Ville, Le Jardin, La Mémoire.” Over the years, she continued her curatorial work, (Invideo for the Triennale di Milano, Icityperiferiche, Palazzo Re Enzo Bologna, Loggia della Mercanzia Genova, Cartabianca, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce Genova, Cantieri Culturali della Zisa, Palermo), alongside her exhibition work. Since the late 1990s, she has collaborated with the Neon Gallery, alternating between solo and group exhibitions (Galleria Continua, Zero, GoldanKauf, MamBO) in Italy and abroad. She has also worked with the Faculty of Landscape Architecture in Genoa, conducting workshops on art and landscape. In 2000, she received the Atelier Award from Fabio Mauri. In 2004, when Genoa was the European Capital of Culture, she won the Duchessa Galliera Award. She also teaches Ornamental Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Palermo.


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