Thames-Side Studios Gallery

Phytopia curated by Edward Chell

Rasheed Araeen, Alois Auer, Karl Blossfeldt, Henry Bradbury, Edward Chell, Peter Fillingham, Ori Gersht, Joy Girvin, Fay Goodwin, Derek Jarman, Paul de Monchaux, Rosa Nguyen, Pia Östlund, Alicia Paz, Sian Pile, Hilary Rosen, Suzanne Treister, Yu-Chen Wang. With Flicker+Pulse, a film by Brian McClave and Tom Wichelow.

Exhibition Dates: 3 February-4 March 2018

Preview: Friday 2 February 2018, 6.30-8.30pm

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 the 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 seeks to harness the energies embodied in such structures and to celebrate 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 includes a number of works exhibited for the first time, with sculptural pieces by Derek Jarman and Paul de Monchaux, drawings by Rasheed Araeen and some 19th century Nature Prints among these.

Yu-Chen Wang's growth forms weave across walls or tables, emerging as part organic, part machine cyborg structures. Alicia Paz' artificial flower mounds offer saccharin seduction laced with poison, while Derek Jarman's films and associated texts have layers of real and metaphoric seduction more sexual in nature. Jarman's delicate garden drawings are a sensitive and private adjunct to his 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, Herr Alois Auer, Counsellor and Director of the Imperial Printing Establishment in Vienna, add infinitely fine detail to botanical visuals.

The show is conceived as a Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities, and will represent 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 or 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 in the 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. This exhibition explores the interconnectedness of diverse floral narratives and, like Marx' species being, provides a platform for a range of individual approaches covering ideas from growth to gardens; memento to metabolism; commodity to collections.

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

Phytopia curated by Edward Chell, is an exhibition touring from St Paul's School, London. Supported by University for the Creative Arts and St Paul’s School, London.


Images: Alicia Paz, Guardians of the Secret, detail, oil and mixed media on canvas, 200 x 160cm, 2011; Edward Chell, Untitled Floor Painting, acrylic and lacquer on gesso on palette support, 60 x 80cm, 2016, courtesy the artists.


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