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EXHIBITIONS

“Plant Scenery of the World” at Inverleith House and the Front Range Glasshouses Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) 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 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 Garden.

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 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 cast and carved sculptures investigating the Garden’s Carpological collection.

Oliver Osborne brings together a selection of emotive and ambivalent rubber plant paintings from 2012 to the present day in a newly commissioned room installation and Ben Rivers presents the first UK screening of his recent film Urth (2016) a 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 Garden’s collection include architectural plans and drawings of the Victorian Palm House and Front Ranges from 1892 to 1965 and living plant displays presented in newly commissioned plant pots by Charlie Billingham.

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.

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 part of the 2017 Edinburgh Art Festival and has received funding from the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.

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.

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at Inverleith House and the Front Range Glasshouses  Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh
until 29 October 2017

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