Secret Garden: A study and appreciation of plants

My Secret Garden

Elizabeth Barnett, ‘My Secret Garden’, 2015, acrylic on linen, 51 x 51cm

This brief curatorial statement was written for ‘Secret Garden’, a group exhibition curated by myself and Caitlin Shearer. For further details about the exhibition please go here.

My Secret Garden

I have a secret. As the co-curator of Secret Garden, a group exhibition based on a study and appreciation of plants, I don’t have a single plant in my home. In fact, the IKEA glasshouse that I bought with the intention of keeping plants is currently filled with an assortment of plush toys from Japan. I blame this not necessarily on a lack of want, but rather on my own understanding about what it means have a plant, the responsibility to nurture and sustain life, knowing full well that my past attempts at plant-ownership have led to near-death occurrences more than once.

While my personal history with plants should not be taken as a guide, it is this cohabiting with nature that forms the groundwork for Secret Garden. The artists in the show, who work across diverse mediums including painting, drawing, photography, print-making, textiles, glass and ceramics, are not only united in their common interest in plant as subject-matter, but also in the way that their works explore the connection that is formed between humans and plants.

This connection is one that is highly personal to each artist – whether that is one based in commemoration and memory-making, mourning and loss, awe and beauty, or simply companionship. The artist’s individual experience with and interpretation of plants fuel the distinctive imagery for their works, which in turn reveals something of their own stories and narratives. The focus on plants brings up connotations of intimacy, vulnerability, preservation, resilience, and ultimately, growth.

It is telling that in our current digital/social-media infused/technologically-minded age, the romance of plants remains a vivid source of artistic inspiration. Secret Garden is not the first art exhibition on this topic, and it will not be the last. After all, it is said that looking at greenery relaxes our eyes, so is it any wonder that we return again and again to the natural world for answers? In a world of noise and clamour, the silence of plants offers a powerful remedy of respite and calm.

It has been a true joy and privilege working on this exhibition with my co-curator Caitlin Shearer, and learning through each of the 22 artist’s individual contributions something of their individual ‘secret gardens.’ Special thanks to Elizabeth Dziedzic at the Handsome Bloom for the beautiful floral arrangement, and to the effortless work of Ashley Ronning and Sarah McNeil at Caldera Press for printing this!

And perhaps it is finally time now, after nurturing this exhibition project for the last 9 months, to have another go at this plant-keeping business. That will be the beginning of my own secret garden.


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