Hedgerow Plantation, 2017, acrylic and lacquer on gesso on pallet, each 60 x 80 x 15cm, Ed Chell

Phytopia at Glynn Vivian Art Gallery curated by Edward Chell

Rasheed Araeen | Alois Auer | Karl Blossfeldt | Henry Bradbury| Edward Chell | Peter Fillingham | Ori Gersht | Joy Girvin | Fay Godwin | David Heinrich Hoppe | Derek Jarman | Paul de Monchaux | Rosa Nguyen| Pia Östlund | Alicia Paz | Siân Pile | Marc Quinn | Melanie Rose and Neeta Madahar| Hilary Rosen | Suzanne Treister | Yu-Chen Wang
with Flicker + Pulse a film by Brian McClave and Tom Wichelow

Glynn Vivian Museum and Art Gallery are delighted to invite you to the preview and launch of an exhibition exploring the diverse ways artists understand and interact with the environment of plants in contemporary art.

The visual idea of a Tree of Life is one that manifests itself in many cultures and traditions and is understood in a multitude of forms from the genealogical to evolutionary and from cultural and political hierarchies to growth forms. The exponential nature of branching structures and the diversity this represents is a metaphor for life itself. Phytopia harnesses the energies embedded in such structures and celebrates the influence plants and organic forms have on nearly every aspect of visual culture. Phytopia includes a range of artists not usually seen in the same context and a number of works exhibited for the first time, with sculptural pieces by Derek Jarman and Paul de Monchaux, drawings by Marc Quinn and Rasheed Araeen and some 19th century Nature Prints among these.

Yu-Chen Wang’s growth forms weave across wall or tables, emerging as part organic, part machine cyborg structures. Alicia Paz’ artificial flower mounds offer saccharine seduction laced with poison, while Derek Jarman’s films have layers of real and metaphoric seduction more sexual in nature. Jarman’s delicate garden drawings are a sensitive and private adjunct to these films. Peter Fillingham conversely examines the floral metaphor of death and memento in Poppy. Pia Östlund’s Nature Prints, inspired by the 19th century Austrian, Alois Auer, Counsellor and Director of the Imperial Printing Establishment in Vienna, add infinitely fine detail to botanical visuals.

This show is conceived as a Wunderkammer or cabinet of curiosities, and represents plant forms in a range of ways. Visceral but tight, the visual cues surrounding vegetable forms are multifarious, from growth progressions and mathematical curlicues to portrayals of gardens and botanical prints. Floral symbols abound as memento or reliquary and inform our aesthetic and ecological senses.

Karl Marx’ idea of ‘species being’ described the importance of meaningful work for people, emphasising the fundamental importance of proximity to nature:

Just as plants, animals, stones, air, light, etc., constitute theoretically a part of human consciousness, partly as objects of natural science, partly as objects of art – his spiritual inorganic nature, spiritual nourishment which he must first prepare to make palatable and digestible – so also in the realm of practice they constitute a part of human life and human activity. 1)

The notion of the tree with its different branches structures the idea for this exhibition. Phytopia explores the interconnectedness of diverse floral narratives and, like Marx’s ‘species being’, provides a platform for a range of individual approaches covering ideas from growth to gardens; memento to metabolism; commodity to collections.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated publication.

1. Economical and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Karl Marx. Manuscript XXIV Estranged Labour