Plant Scenery of the World @ Inverleith House, Edinburgh
Taking its name from a suite of paintings by 19th Century artist-botanist RK Grenville, Plant Scenery of the World in the long-languishing Inverleith House ushers in new energy (and audiences) with an ambitious series of works which could, finally, unite the space's twin interests of contemporary art and botanical science. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Gardens' iconic modernist Front Range Glasshouses, the galleries are designed to mimic the climatic variances of the hot houses, each representing a psychic micro climate and showcasing the work of a single artist.
Charlie Billingham has taken inspiration from both the architecture of the space and the surrounding gardens, filling the first room with boldly painted pots, a dividing screen, wallpaper based on coy and lily pads. Past a triptych of vast contemporary watercolours of the Gardens' giant stinking 'corpse flower', we come to Laura Aldridge’s immersive, beautiful, multi-sensory installation. Shoes must be removed to avoid damaging the delicate cotton prints on the floor made from samples in the glasshouses using natural means – rust, soy and vinegar reacting with plant material to extract natural dyes. On top of these ghostly plant forms lie a series of multi-coloured glass eyes based on nazars, the anti-evil eye charms so ubiquitous in the eastern Mediterranean. The colours correspond to different emotions – pink for love, green for happiness – and the forms allude to protection, superstition, the gaze.
Upstairs, Bobby Niven has created bronze casts of plant samples from the Botanics’ Herbarium. Combined and transformed into Paolozzi-esque constructions, each is displayed upon a carved wooden hand jutting into the room, proffering the work to the viewer. Ben Rivers’ video work Urth fills the final room, presenting a dystopic narrative of a research scientist documenting her last days in a hermetically sealed biodome post-environmental catastrophe. Poetic work exploring a climatic apocalypse melding science and art – surely what this space was made for.
The accompanying literature describes the glasshouses as the meeting point of culture and nature, a sly nod to the sustainable future of Inverleith House as evidenced by this exhibition. With this style of energised, labour-intensive curation and artistic-scientific collaboration the building offers a platform for cutting edge contemporary art which also engages the broader audiences of the surrounding gardens.