Inverleith House

Upcoming:

Plant Scenery of the World

29 July – 29 October 2017

Oliver Osborne, Rubber Plant (2015), Oil on linen, 28 x 38 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Giò Marconi, Milan.

Press release:

Laura Aldridge | Charlie Billingham | Bobby Niven | Oliver Osborne | Ben Rivers
With botanical paintings by Işık Güner, Jacqui Pestell and Sharon Tingey and artworks by R. K. Greville from the collection of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is delighted to present a major new group exhibition at Inverleith House and the Front Range Glasshouses as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

Plant Scenery of the World brings together new, commissioned and existing work by six Scottish, UK and European artists alongside rare and unseen archival material from the Garden’s own collection and botanical drawings commissioned by RBGE.

Summer 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of RBGE’s modernist glasshouses, the ‘Front Range’, designed by city architects George Pearce and Allan Pendreigh and opened in 1967. A rare example of Scottish modernist architecture and lauded for its radical design, the Range was commissioned to house plants collected in tropical, temperate, and arid lands by British explorers . Together with RBGE’s Victorian Palm House, these innovative and pioneering glass structures are significant for botanists and aesthetes alike, representing an assimilation of 18th and 19th century Enlightenment values with the utopian ideologies of the mid-twentieth century in the heart of the Gardens.

Plant Scenery of the World reflects on these buildings for plants critically examining their past, current and future use from the 18th century to the present day. The exhibition also seeks to explore our enduring fascination with tropical plants and changing attitudes towards collection, exploration, study and display through archival material and new work by contemporary artists.

Through researching horticultural practices, plant species and archival material at RBGE, exhibiting artists have directly responded to the site and collections with new context-specific commissions. Laura Aldridge will exhibit a new nature printed floor using exotic plant material grown in the Edinburgh glasshouses continuing her longstanding engagement with sculpture as an immersive, sensory driven experience; Charlie Billingham will create an energetic and elegant room installation with new wall prints and painting installations stylistically borrowed from the work of Enlightenment and Regency era social satirists; and Bobby Niven will create a new series of hand carved anthropomorphic  sculptures that animate the gallery and glasshouses.

Oliver Osborne brings together a selection of emotive and ambivalent rubber plant paintings from 2012 to the present day in a new room installation and Ben Rivers presents his recent film Urth (2016) a faintly dystopian meditation on ambitious experiments, constructed environments, and visions of the future shot in the science research facility Biosphere 2, Arizona.

Items on display from the RBGE collection include architectural plans and drawings of the Victorian Palm House and Front Ranges from 1892 to 1964; photographs from the 19th Century to the present day, living plant displays with orchids, cycads and ferns, and plant material including historical palm trunks.

Central to the exhibition is a suite of previously unseen watercolour paintings by the artist-botanist R.K. Greville (1794-1866) from which the exhibition takes its name. Held in the RBGE archives and commissioned c. 1858 to accompany the eponymous but subsequently unpublished monthly periodical, these paintings represent anachronistic depictions of exotic plants in imagined ‘natural’ landscapes, centralising questions of perception, authenticity, and acts of looking still relevant to artists and botanists today.

A newly acquired series of large-scale watercolours by botanical artists Işık Güner, Jacqui Pestell and Sharon Tingey will also be displayed. These watercolours are based on studies of the Amorphophallus titanium, the world’s largest flower, which flowered in Edinburgh for the first time in 2015.

Considering the glasshouses as a nexus between culture and nature, dialogical displays of contemporary art and archival material will examine historical narratives dominated by Western exploration; narratives that have shaped (pre)conceptions of ‘the exotic’, (mis)understandings of other places and views on identity and otherness. By investigating plants through human culture, the exhibition demonstrates the way we use plants as symbols, impressing them with our own values and ideological beliefs. It will question human enquiry and the nature of perception, think about captivity, false habitats and inhospitable environments and begin to consider how plants might communicate as well as how artists might speak through plants.

Plant Scenery of the World offers integrated displays, revelatory pairings and a polyphony of voices, to illuminate new perspectives across the disciplines of art and science. The exhibition will evoke the theatrical, awe-inspiring, utopian and naturalistic display of plants under glass. The gallery presentation takes inspiration from the varied climatic zones of the glasshouses, creating different ‘temperatures’ and offering an interconnected series of ‘micro-climates’ from room to room.  Together the exhibition will create an uplifting and celebratory display context which is receptive to different accounts of the world and expanded thinking around historical and contemporary endeavour.

This exhibition is supported by Creative Scotland’s Open Projects Fund and is part of the 2017 Edinburgh Art Festival.

Information about the Working Group can be found here.

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The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)