Nomadic contemporary artist Juan Zamora employs both art and science to reveal the poetry that exists within ecological connections that humans share with plant life. His piece Transplant (2021) does so by pumping a culture of its blood through a decellularized leaf that has been preserved in eco-resin, showing how a heart and a leaf can be the same, and inevitably promoting a sense of closeness with plant life instilling within his viewers a consciousness that can help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Life on Land.
Transplant is a mixed medium installation in which Zamora transplanted his own cardiovascular (heart cells), into leaves like spinach, with the help of a team of biologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
This work is based on a scientific investigation that succeeded in turning a spinach leaf into a prototype of cardiac human tissue by introducing human cardiac muscle cells into the inside of the leaf’s structure, allowing it to function for nearly five days, as a little circulatory system.
The leaves in Zamora’s pieces have first been treated, de-cellularized, and preserved in eco-resin, some have even had bioluminescence added to them. Allegorically, they were chosen since leaves have natural veins within them that help pump photosynthesized materials to the rest of a plant’s body, sharing a task that a human heart takes on when it pumps blood throughout our body. This is especially highlighted as the cardiovascular cells introduced to the plant leaves in Zamora’s piece can continue to live (and beat) within the plant’s body part for an approximate period of 21 days, showing just how similar a heart and a leaf can be.
The poetry of this art piece comes from a place of lifelong practice that is inferred in how Zamora defines himself as an ecoartist– an artist who uses a lens of care and respect towards nature, positioned at the center of his work and research.
With a degree in Fine Arts from the CES Felipe II of Aranjuez (Complutense University of Madrid) and a Master of Contemporary Art from the European University of Madrid, Zamora has led a nomadic life between many cities, participating in residencies at ISCP (New York, 2011-2012), NIROX Foundation (Johannesburg, 2014-2016), Lugar a Dudas (Cali, 2015) or La Real Academia de España (Rome, 2015-2016), where he has consistently worked with the natural world’s aesthetics, fascinated by biology and ecology.
In 2017 he was recognized with the Princess of Girona Arts and Letters Foundation Award, for linking art, aesthetics and formal quality in his work. He has also received the ABC Art Award (2006) and the Montemadrid Foundation's Generations Award (2016).
In his 2023 solo show at the Fundació Sorigué, Spain, Zamora affirms that the overarching philosophy in his practice is the concept of “emergency,” bringing together two meanings of the term. First, it is based on the theory of emergence, developed within the framework of the philosophy of science, which explains the emergence of life from a collective interaction between the parts, where individual beings create what we now see as life on planet Earth– each an invaluable component of a planetary ecosystem.
The second concept relates to a scientific concept called “emergency behaviour," in which an individual behaves in a way that could result in serious harm or death to self or others. Within the context of Zamora’s work, these individuals are human beings, whose problematic actions towards the ecosystem have plunged into the climate crisis, yet another emergency, an imminent threat on which firm action is desperately needed.
Through his piece, Zamora shows how primarily, nature is collaborative, and in turn can be used to understand and reflect on human reality and life itself, while also experimenting, studying, and improving quality of life. All necessary reflections are needed to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of plant life within terrestrial ecosystems.