Plant Scenery of the World
- Susan Mansfield
- 6 August 2017
Exhibitions return to Inverleith House with this botanical-themed group show
Nine months since its closure as an art gallery amid great furore, Inverleith House is open again, with an exhibition which combines contemporary art with archival material from the Royal Botanic Garden's collection. If the building has a future as a gallery, it seems that will mean building closer links between the art and the RBGE.
Despite its rather uninspiring title, Plant Scenery of the World, curated by Chloe Reith, contains a wealth of ideas, carefully and thoughtfully explored in its seven distinct rooms. The show has been triggered by the 50th anniversary of the garden's modernist glasshouses, but invites much wider discussion around glasshouses in general, utopianism and colonialism (glasshouses being invented to house the spoils of our botanical conquests) as well as allowing artists to work with some of the plants themselves.
Charlie Billingham turns a satirical eye on the era of empire with his colourful paintings and prints, juxtaposed with original plans for the Victorian palm houses. Laura Aldridge covers a floor with fabric, handprinted from leaves of exotic plants, and installed with a series of plans for the garden's 1960s glasshouses.
Bobby Niven has cast a selection of seed pods from the garden's collection in bronze and used them to make sculptural assemblies, resting on hand-shaped plinths, a fine companion piece to his Palm House commission for Edinburgh Art Festival. Ben Rivers' 2016 film Urth, filmed at Biosphere II in Arizona (itself a kind of failed utopian experiment), responds evocatively to some of the events which happened there.
Alongside the contemporary art, there are paintings from the 1850s by Robert Kaye Greville, illustrating exotic plant environments he never actually visited, and large botanical paintings of the 'Titan arum', the world's largest flowering plant (the name means 'giant misshapen penis') which gives off a foul odour akin to rotting flesh, and which, at the time of our visit, was flowering in its dubious splendour in one of those very same glasshouses.
Inverleith House, until 29 Oct, free.