‘Cultural Palynology’ by Barbara Grothus Featured at the ‘Visualizing Albuquerque’ Exhibit [Updated]

barbara grothus (3)
ChéPasa recently sent me news of her brilliant work in the exhibit, and said that he was quite intrigued by it before he’d discovered that it was Mz. Grothus who had created it.  Knowing her lifelong passion for peace and anti-nuclear activism increased his appreciation even further, knowing that the concepts behind the art really mirror her life’s work in so many different directions, including her understanding of the interconnectedness of not only humans and all living beings on the planet to one another, but to the very earth itself.  In addition, he has his own history of using pollen as art.

Bless his heart, he shares so many of the cultural and artistic events that he and Miz ChéPasa attend that he becomes my de facto eyes and ears to the worlds of art, dance, and literature in New Mexico.  He quoted from the exhibit’s catalog about her display, which was apparently in a glass museum case, causing one to believe they weren’t so much objets d’art, but instead, a scientific display meant for study and consideration.  I’d submit that one might not be faulted for invoking Picasso’s belief in this case:

‘We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.’

You’ll see that Barbara even named her pollen ‘specimens’, adding a bit of whimsy to her creations.  Really, they’re her interpretation of the consequences of war, peace, and Empire by pollen.

Poster outside the door to the museum of a huge photo of the Trinity atomic bomb test just north of the Jornada del Muerto (how appropriate) and east of White Sands, Latitude 33° 40′ 31” N, NM, July 16, 1945.  The new photos are ones he took yesterday on hs second visit to the exhibit; it was the final day.

Speed Star 1.1513342  00From the catalog:

Japan, 1945 2009-10

Cultural Palynology: 33° latitude

Denudus imperium (pollen of empire), Babylon, 2400 BCE
Globus pacis (Buddha pollen), Silk road, China, 200 CE
Displodi telum (gunpowder pollen), Ji’an, China, 800 CE
Ignus omneconsumens (atomic pollen), Trinity Site, NM/Nagasaki

painted ceramic, 4 x 15 x 4in, 8 x 8 x 10in, 7 x 7 x 8in, 8 x 8 x 8in.

“Barbara Grothus assigned scientific names to ancient pollen collected from sites located at one latitude around the world, from different time periods. She compares them with more modern examples of Ignus omneconsumens* collected at Trinity Site in New Mexico.

Grothus grew up in Los Alamos and has been politically active all her life.”

Ché wasn’t able to find an online photo of the whole display, so he scanned the one in the catalog and sent it along.

barbara grothus (3)These show the ‘scientific specimens’ in their plexiglass case: exquisite.

Speed Star 1.1240793  00Speed Star 1.1253741  00Speed Star 1.1250766  00

I did find some photos of other pieces in the exhibit, most notably:

Margaret Randall, writing for the New Mexico Mercury, describes the exhibit:

Visualizing Albuquerque is the comprehensive and extremely interesting exhibition currently on display at a number of city venues: The Albuquerque Museum, UNM Art Gallery, 516, Sixty-Six, and others. In this piece I will only address what is being shown in two Albuquerque Museum galleries, presenting a history of art in a city not traditionally known as an art mecca (in contrast with others such as Santa Fe and Taos).”  

Miz Margaret is (ahem) quite opinionated, but the artwork is indeed worth perusing, and clearly shows how much talent exists in Albuquerque and environs.

When I reached Barbra by email and asked her to describe what led her to this concept, she wrote back almost immediately.  It seems all of this was off the top of her head, having been cleaarly so immersed in it all, and it’s a fascinating look at the journey that brought her to work to fruition.

“So the story of the pollens is like the story of most of my work. It is conceptual, and I get an idea and then things happen. How it started was during the 2nd Iraq war when all the museums were destroyed, I was dismayed, as we all were. Somewhere along the line I saw a photo of our army at Babylon, where they were changing oil all over the ruins of the site. I was amazed at the disregard for the place. So I started digging around and found that the no fly zone imposed on Saddam was at 32.5 degrees l. or something like that. Babylon is at 33 degrees latitude. I started doing some reading about Babylon and came to the conclusion it was the locus of empire, from earliest times until now. Once the “jewel” of the region, it was beautiful, rich, all that. So all kinds of vanquishers came to grab it, it would be rebuilt, then destroyed. It turns out it had been sacked and burned so many times that the clay out of which it was built became fired, so in the destruction of it was the seed of its survival. It would have just melted into the desert and gone back to clay over centuries, if it had not been burned so many times.

It was accidental that I learned that Ji’an, China, where the clay army was buried, also was at 33 degrees l. There were 600,000 people living there in 200 BC. I found out that Wudi (spelled different ways, but he was the one who the clay army was for) had heard about a civilization to the west, and he sent explorers that direction. Caesar, in 43 BC was hot for silk, and there were monks who walked over the Silk Road (not at 33 degrees) with silkworms in their staffs as silk was a prize commodity and it was forbidden to export the worms. All of this is more or less factual, though I may have misremembered some details.

Of course the Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed around this time as well, and I was curious about why they were there, and this is when I learned that Buddha came from India where his ideas never took root, but the concept traveled east and dispersed from there. So somehow I began to think about cultural cross pollination, and this idea began. When I found that Dar es Salaam was also at 33 degrees, I began to research other places that were also at that latitude, and when I found that Nagasaki and the Trinity Site were at 33 degrees, I figured I could really do something with this.

It was during my reading about all of this that I found that palynology had become a branch of archeology/anthropology. For example, there is a cave where there were neolithic burials, and people lived in the cave at the same time. They found a lot of plant pollens there, and think the tradition of flowers and death are perhaps related because the odor of decay was (perhaps) muted by using flowers/plants with interment. They can now use microscopic testing of soils and such to analyze a season a particular layer of a dig may be connected to. You may know about this. It is a long story of research while the ideas were growing for me.

I made several iterations of this piece. This is the last one, and it is the pollens of war and peace at 33 degrees. The curator of this show has a good sense of humor, and all of my naming and the general concept were appealing to him. A lot of people were trying to figure out how to get into the show, and I had no idea I would be in it until a few weeks before the opening when they asked me to bring it in. It was very exciting to be in the show. And it was almost an accident that it happened as there was another show at the museum that I showed this piece, so it was a result of that that the curator even knew about it, a disc of the images was made and he saw it. I think. Anyway, I had run into him months before the exhibition, and he mentioned how much he liked the work, but that was the only contact I had with him about it.
I am so thrilled che pasa saw it. There is another piece in the show that has stuff from the Black Hole. It is “the Museum of De-accession” and it is also very clever. Maybe cp saw that too.”

These map cases contain that ‘Museum'”
Speed Star 1.1242787  00And the items from the Black Hole:

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Her mention of ‘The Black Hole’ is in reference to the Los Alamos store that her life-long peace activist father, Ed Grothus, operated.  The store sold primarily surplus equipment for the Los Alamos Laboratory.  The name was his jest that “everything goes in and nothing comes out”.  Upon his death in 2009, he was eulogized in this splendid tribute at democracyfornewmexico.com.  He tells some of his story in this video.

This is the trailer for ‘The Secret and the Sacred – Two worlds at Los Alamos’, which features Ed’s passionate philosophical reasoning against nuclear bombs and the hideous costs of radioactive waste.

* ignus omneconsumens  (discovered here)


Barbara Grothus, Albq., NM Pollens of Power & Destruction: denudes imperium (empire), ignus omneconsumens (nuclear), caecus imperitum (blind stupidity), 2005, mixed media, 6’x48″x12″

Thank you, Barbara Grothus, for all that you do toward creating a better world, and for all that you are as a human being.  You’re a treasure, indeed, as are your family. I hope you’ll be able to take a bit of time from your busy schedule and answer and questions or comments.

21 responses to “‘Cultural Palynology’ by Barbara Grothus Featured at the ‘Visualizing Albuquerque’ Exhibit [Updated]

  1. Thanks for writing this up Mz Rock. It’s really quite an exhibit, and stumbling on Barbara Grothus’s contribution was an added treat. I love her description of how it came to be, and the curator’s sense of humor that helped so much to get it into the exhibit.

    Hopefully, when I go back to the Museum (well, if…) on May 3, the closing day, I can get a decent picture of her work as it is displayed in its glass case, as if it consisted of scientific specimens rather than sculpture.

    There’s also the “de-accessioned” pieces from the Black Hole, and that’s not even pictured in the catalog. I’ll see if I can get some pictures of that as well.

    While I was aware of Barbara’s art and her social justice work in and around Albuquerque, particularly her opposition to police violence and murder (which seems to have paid off some with the steep drop off in APD killings since last July) I knew nothing of her father and his intense opposition to nuclear weapons and war. Nor was I familiar with The Black Hole — which apparently is still open in Los Alamos.

    So thanks for that, too.

  2. Welcome, amigo, but the thanks go to you for enriching my life with this, and so much of the other art in NM, and er…to barbara, of course. My wee anthropological digging into her art and her papa (and my memory) were a rare treat, and just when I needed one.

    She was certainly a dogged activist against ABQ police brutality and killings, and is now repeating her (un)Occupy abq in aid of the homeless and other disenfranchised, given the city’s dismantling of the tent cities there.

    Thank you for mentioning the final day of the exhibit, and if you do get some photos of the installation and the “de-accession” piece, i’ll try to get them in.

    Only if you’d like to, of course, but you might mention your personal and artistic us of pollens, as well. The synchronicity and dare I say: interconnectedness, knocked me out.

    And because we need a little music for this thread, what came to mind was this julie gold tunecovered by nanci griffith, conveying the truth that from a distance, the world looks far more like what we’re trying to build.

    • Re: the pollen….

      Thirty years ago — or more — I was asked to design the set for a musical. I used projections as part of the set, and some of the projections were fascinating images of pollens that had been scanned by electron microscope and colorized. If I recall correctly, the images came from Smithsonian Magazine (one did not have online sources in those days. “Online? ¿Qué es?”) Each image was photographed from the magazine, the photographs were made into slides, and the slides were projected onto a screen that took up much of the back of the large stage — whether projected from the front or back I don’t recall. The images were a mite big and startling.

      The pollens were fascinating, almost abstract in their colorized and close up forms. They struck me as highly elaborate, artistic, and astonishing — which was the point of using the images in the production. They caused a few gasps; at the time, such images were not widely known. I suppose they still aren’t.

      When I came upon the display of “pollens” in their glass case at the Museum, I was quite taken with it, for I recognized immediately what they were; their shapes and colors were similar, very similar to those shapes and colors I’d used as part of a set long before, and when I read the tag stating who had done the work and what its meaning was, I was even more intrigued.

      Some time ago, there were billboards around Albuquerque — put up by an anti-nuke organization — reminding people that nuclear weapons were first developed and tested in New Mexico, and they were still being built. Now that I know something more about Barbara Grothus and her family (thanks for all the links) I have little doubt she had a hand in that project.

      The entrance to the exhibit “Visualizing Albuquerque” has a huge color photograph of the Trinity Test blast as sort of the “welcome” sign. For those of us of a certain age, it’s appalling and beautiful…

      Relating the pollens to a particular latitude around the world, and seeing historical forces of war and empire — and the Buddha-alternative — preserved in pollens is really a breathtaking artistic idea, one I have nothing but praise and admiration for.

      Colorization and scanning technology has become more sophisticated than it was when I used pollen images as projections many years ago.

      National Geographic ran a piece featuring pollens titled Love is in the Air a while back that shows some of the sophistication.

      By creating her own pollen forms in ceramic — including the Buddha-head pollen — Barbara has taken the idea several steps further.

      Here’s another video about The Black Hole in Los Alamos. Popular place, eh? [Runtime, 14 minutes and change.]

      The Black Hole from 4π Productions on Vimeo.

      A real sense of uplift from all of it, yes. Interconnectedness, yes. We are not powerless. We are not alone.

      As they say, Namaste.

  3. oooh, thank you for this black hole video, as well as the stunning pollen photos! “I escaped the Black Hole!” on barbara’s t-shirt. high-larious. and look at all those gizmos and machines presented as art, too.

    interesting that the trinity blast photo was by way of a welcome sign at the entrance. was it margaret randall at the link who’d railed a bit at the notion that that was the defining characteristic of abq and/or art? well, it sure spawned some amazing poetry, literature, and art work.

    did the audience members at the play know what forms and shapes were being projected on the back wall? anyway, what connectivity you and barbara share, and i’m glad to have been able to experience it, even second hand.

    ah, bugger; i always forget what namaste signifies. ;-P

    zounds, it’s been almost two years ago that the LANL 6 were sentenced. whooosh.


    • Re: The Bomb and pollens and everything.

      The “Welcome Photo,” the huge color blow up (so to speak) of the Trinity Test, was very meaningful, for I don’t think Albuquerque — or much of New Mexico for that matter — would be what it is without the Bomb and all the associated industry that’s gone with it. Margaret Randall may take issue, sure, but it is what it is, and the Bomb is much more than a historic memory, let alone a footnote.

      As for those pollen images I used so long ago, no, I doubt many in the audience knew what they were, as such images were as yet very rarely seen. I used them as backdrop to the “love scenes” — well, it’s a musical, and “love scenes” can be pretty chaste in the American light opera/musical comedy. To me, the images were pretty damned erotic, but abstract, you know? The gasps may have come from the people who subliminally — or actually — got it. Then again…

      “Namaste” — “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you” is one of a plethora of meanings in my (very limited) understanding. All part of that connectedness, oh yes…

      The LANL 6, eh? Jarred my memory loose, you did. The number of actions at the Labs, out at Trinity Site, at various locations associated with the Bomb around the state seem to rise and fall like the wind, but like the wind, there’s a consistency to them as well. Thanks to Barbara and so many others who constantly remind us:

      There is a way to build a better future without the menace of nuclear weapons and the war – and – terror fantasies that go with them. What a wonderful world it would be…

      • the pollen images imply fecundity, indeed, and well, ‘the birds and the bees and the georgia o’keeffes‘ and all. yes, i did finally remember the meaning of ‘namaste’, but thanks for showing its relevance to the themes of interconnectedness here. in a way, i often imagine the same thing at play in the noosphere, and the belief that our attempts (and sometimes successes) at being of higher thought and intention…can influence all beings on the planet.

        miz randall came off pretty cranky to me. maybe he wished she’d been asked to curate the exhibit, eh? but at least she’d implied that taos and santa fe aren’t the only meccas of art in the state. ;-)

        i have a different word doc opened now, but the link toward the end:
        * ignus omneconsumens (discovered here) has some wonderful anti-nuclear art as well.

        yes, thanks to all of them, and to you , amigo, without whom this celebration of mz. grothus wouldn’t have been birthed.

        aded: i’d tried to find my post on the lanl 6, forgetting that my.fdl ain’t there no mo.

        added: i forgot to bring my favorite cover of the song….

  4. The four of you made my day. Barbara, wendye and the ChéPasa partnership. Thank you all. Sincerely.

  5. how good to hear, nonquixote. ‘spirits aloft’ is just what we needed, yes? and just in time for ‘earth day’, in honor of which, i reckon i’ll head down to the garden and plant some dahlia bulbs, and listen to the birds sing. cassein finches came in this week, and oh, do i adore them and their fuscia hats.

    best to you.

  6. Our benign and benevolent “governor” celebrated Earth Day by ordering the delivery of 57 lovely pink slips to the entire scientific and environmental education staff dept employees of the DNR so that we could start getting only the best industry EIS statements and the real scientific facts about our environmental oversights and impacts. We will not forget how much he cares about us.

    Peace and Resolve

  7. i hope all 57 pink slip recipients plant them, and water them so they will bear enormous fruit of remembrance.

    “they tried to bury us, but they forgot we were seeds.” Mexican proverb

    poor wisconsin.

    • wendyedavis,
      my sincerest apology for heading off topic with the WI tragedy. Bright spot is that the push back is creating formerly unimagined alliances to resist the destruction of “human/earth rights,” on so many levels.

      On arts and making statements we are entering the visitor season and plans are underway, undermining the fascists. We are not sad nor wallowing in any kind of defeatist meme. Recognizing the ebb and flow of things matters. Recognizing opportunities to resist effectively is part of the art.

      So glad you are here. Thanks once more.

      • my apologies for intimating that the movement in WI was finished, nonq, or at rest; and how good to hear that alliances unimagined heretofore have been created to fight the power.

        yes, art in the time of oppression has often been the best art, and has helped turned corners toward a better world in so many ways. i’d thought i even had a category to that effect, but it’s really ‘resistance under oppression’, which encompasses almost too much. but this, from2013, may lift your spirits, and speak to you of solidarity. bless you.


  8. wendydavis

    Word Press tells me that I don’t exist, and in addition, won’t accept either my name or password.

    Regardless, I will post this comment as an admin function, and should this post be posted, I return, and thusly, commence to “engage.” BTW, I like you subjects as well as the persons who have been posting for former FDL members. And that’s good news!

    • thank you, jaango. but i’m concerned that you seem to say you’ve registered, and yet the site doesn’t recognize you. i’ve emailed you twice, but your address was confusing, though mine were never returned. part of it was ‘chicano vets’, iirc.


      are you sure you followed the instructions here? i’m pretty sure they’re correct, although you’ll have to tinker with your login at fdl (also wordpress). but it’s good that you persevered, and that registration isn’t required to comment here..

      but how interesting the term ‘chiste’ is; thank you for that. and it’s good to hear that joe arpaio (ptui) is finally getting a wee bit of legal trouble coming his way after…what…eight or nine years of his war on brown people?

      anyhoo, again: my email address is on the link, and i’ll try to sort you out if i can, okay?


  9. One of the many “Circles of Life” as practiced by the Great Mother Earth, is found within the subject of this Thread. An additional Circle of Life is found in the “chiste” that is: “Spiritual…Practical…Radical.”


  10. What a stunning artistic comment.
    I got curious what sorts of stuff was in my area for the magical 33rd parallel. The best I came up with was the Ocmulgee Mounds (32 degrees 49 minute) near Macon, GA. And the 33rd hits the Atlantic Coast at a little burg named Awendaw, South Carolina (32 degrees 59 minutes) and the mouth of the Santee River (the worst harbor on the East Coast at 33 degrees 11 minutes).

    Thanks for posting this and thanks to bgrothus for the palynology of war and peace.

  11. welcome, and what a thought to hunt up your local 33 latitude sites! i swear, i never thought of it. once i read your comment, a-Binging i went, and found this fun piece on the mysticism of the number: ‘Along the 33rd Parallel: a Global Mystery Circle’

    a bit hard to read given the colors, etc., but it does look interesting and trippy.

    and eeep; a map (north 33rd, that is) how do they do that on a flat map, anyhoo?

  12. How to do that on a flat map? It’s the Mercator projection. Great for squaring latitude and longitude so that sailors get more-or-less accurate direction. By distorting distances (and land areas), lousy at figuring out how long it will take in higher latitudes; the extreme north and south depart from the scale set by the equator.

  13. aha; now i remember seeing that map on a long-ago ‘west wing’ episode. the same mappists showed the actual sizes of the continents and nations, quite surprising. then they turned the map upside down, south became north; their contention was ‘up’ is better than ‘down’ to europeans and their map-makers. ;-)

  14. i just updated this post with new photos of barbara’s work at the museum…and on closing day, to boot. (thank you, señor pasa).

  15. Thanks to all for this wonderful presentation, the insightful artistic presentation as well as comments, photography. As nonquixote says, and I can say it no better:

    “Recognizing the ebb and flow of things matters. Recognizing opportunities to resist effectively is part of the art.”

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