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Since the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh started as a physical garden in the 17th century, and in the era between the demise of the former Inverleith House contemporary art gallery in 2016 and the reinvented Inverleith (now Climate) House as it is, a series of exhibitions have been planned to celebrate 350 flower-filled years of growth, study and discovery.
Florilegium is a combination of a pre-planned show at the former Inverleith House and a reaction to the closure. “There was a plan for something called RBGE Florilegium to create an ongoing physical record of the plants gathered and studied in the garden when I arrived at the Botanics 18 months ago,” says imaginative program manager Emma Nicolson, formerly of the acclaimed Atlas Arts on Skye. Other botanical gardens, including Eden and Kew, had something like that, but we didn’t.
Amazing archives of botanical art and scientific sketches are what we have, so this was an impetus to establish our own collection of botanical illustrations relating to the gardens. And, great, I said! But how are we going to extend it?
“How can we make it unique, because of the history of contemporary art in the garden? That was the conversation we had at the beginning of the year. And then, of course, we got swept up in this pandemic and everything got put on hold.”
“Fortunately, the call had already gone out to botanical illustrators around the globe, “and while the pandemic meant that they could not respond to botany itself, it meant that, among other places, people in Brazil, Taiwan, and India could draw from on-site plants that had a connection to our collections. That led to an incredible body of work.” Nicolson and a volunteer spent weeks selecting about 40 The fresh green walls are full of botanical drawings downstairs; the rooms devoted to four contemporary artists were repainted in pink and blue shades upstairs.
For Nicolson, the crux was to figure out how to intersperse the botanical illustrations with contemporary artworks, not least given the enclosure’s new labor difficulties.
Nicolson began with Lyndsay Mann, a Scottish-based artist. “I was already familiar with her extended film work on the herbarium, an edited version of which we had used for the Climate House launch in June,” says Nicolson. “And so we’re using the full film here because it’s such a wonderful document.”
For the Covid times, Lee Mingwei’s work Sonic Blossom, in which a singer wanders through the gallery and gives a song to a random guest, will be reimagined as Invitation for Dawn, a Zoom meeting in your own home where you will be sung by an opera singer. The information for visitors are in the gallery, as are the dates.
In June, when a singer called her and sang a Grieg song, Nicolson says she observed the action. “Nicolson says she experienced the play in June when a singer called her and sang a Grieg song. ” It was really touching, the whole feeling of being sung to, of being given the gift.
“There is a photograph of the Scottish artist Wendy McMurdo, who was in conversation with Nicolson for the Biomes project to photograph greenhouse plants. Nicolson tells me that at the beginning of the pandemic, McMurdo’s mother was sick with coronavirus and was placed in a nursing home, where, like so many others, she sadly died. “Wendy wrote a very touching piece describing that episode. “She said, ‘I have this incredible plant, a Cardiocrinum giganteum lily,’ when we were talking at the lock-in. During the lockdown, it began to grow outside her window, around the same time her mother got sick.” The lily’s period marked the time frame of her mother’s disease. “This species came from the Himalayas to Edinburgh about 170 years ago and was propagated here in nurseries,” Nicolson’s disease,
There are also family references in the work of Barbados-based artist Annalee Davis. Davis will present a series titled “As if the Entanglement of our Lives Did Not Matter,” which includes portraits of her ancestors, her “mixed heritage, a family portrait of family members who are not allowed to live together.”
Davis, who has her studio on a dairy farm on the land of a sugar plantation from the 17th century, practically mines the land where the plantation stood, as well as her