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The Other Flower Show: Artists' garden sheds

29 May–11 July 2004

There is something quintessentially English about a garden shed. It implies far more than simple garden storage: shelter at a rainy garden party, an enthusiast's workshop, a place for retreat, or perhaps for something more untoward.

The Other Flower Show at the V&A brought together a group of contemporary artists and designers to explore the formal qualities of flowers, gardens and nature. Each was invited to transform a garden shed into a creative and conceptual alternative to the traditional flower show.

Displayed in the V&A garden each shed functions as a blank canvas. It was for the individual artist to decide how to respond to the structure and its inherent implications.

Rooted in Time and Motion, Heather Barnett

Rooted in Time and Motion, Heather Barnett

Rooted in Time and Motion, by Heather Barnett

'Rooted in Time and Motion' payed homage to great moments of scientific inspiration and in particular the work of Sir Isaac Newton. On a scientific level, it examined the notion of gravity, time and motion, from the growth of a single mustard seed to the planetary movement in our solar system. The walls were patterned with germinating seeds that worked through their entire life cycle during the exhibition; the roots pulled down by gravity (geotropism) and the shoots searching for light (phototropism).

As an experience, the 'living room' offered an environment for quiet contemplation. Visitors were invited to take off their shoes and walk on the fresh grass or lie down and gaze at a framed view of the sky. One might meditate upon the natural phenomena of time and motion, or the domestication of the botanical world, or simply kick back and think of nothing at all.

Heather Barnett is a visual artist whose work incorporates installation and photographic and digital imaging and she takes a scientific approach to making art. Collaborating with pathologists, geneticists and microbiologists, she has conducted extensive research into the worlds of human and plant biology to provide the hypothesis for her installations. Investigating these fields from an artist's perspective frees her from the necessity to discover a definitive, scientific result. Her work is as much about the visual and aesthetic qualities of the experiment, and its social implications, as it is about scientific fact.

The growth of the seeded walls in Heather's shed was captured by time lapse video for the first three weeks of the exhibition period, and each day a single frame was selected by Heather to appear in this gallery.

Summer Lovin', by Tord Boontje

Summer Lovin', by Tord Boontje

Summer Lovin', Tord Boontje

Tord Boontje's work hovers between design, craft and visual art. His current body of work 'Wednesday' is an evolving collection of chairs, tables, glass, lights and other objects; mixing the handmade and machine-made; the historical and digital. His work has evolved from an interest in decoration, homeliness and novelty.

Boontje's shed was transformed into a fairytale chill-out den. Raised two metres in the air, it was reminiscent of a tree house or a children's secret hideaway.

His design, the 'Forest' pattern, decorated the outdoor curtains that hung as a 'skirt' beneath the structure and was echoed as a stencilled motif on the interior and exterior of the shed. Inside, Boontje presented a short film of his daughter, Evelyn, playing in Greenwich Park, and from the ceiling fresh flowers hung and slowly dried.

Tord Boontje's limited edition designs are also adapted for mass production. As well as designing products for fashion designer Alexander McQueen, he has developed a collection of glassware for Dartington Crystal and an affordable version of the 'Wednesday' light for Habitat.

Town and Country, Illustrious Co. Ltd (Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware)

Town and Country, Illustrious Co. Ltd (Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware)

Town and Country, by Illustrious Co. Ltd (Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware)

Illustrious, AKA Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware, converted their shed into the superlative of sound systems. Using a custom-designed 'Heightened Reality' 3D surround-sound system, they created a 3D sound field that completely immersed the listener.

Sound as an art form is often marginalised. It is introduced to add ambience and drama to a film or installation, but is rarely given a solo platform.

'Town and Country' comprised a variety of low-level 3D immersive sound recordings of British countryside locations. Both real and imagined, they transported the visitor to forests, moorland, cliff tops and lakesides purely through the emotive and atmospheric intensity of sound. At intervals a cacophony of urban noise and lights jolted unsuspecting visitors from their reverie.

Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware formed Illustrious Company in 2001. Both have successful careers in the music world and now work in collaboration, often with other artists and organisations, to create 3D soundscapes. Clarke is best known for his work as a member of Erasure, Yazoo and Depeche Mode. Ware was a founding member of The Human League and Heaven 17 and has produced albums and hits for countless artists, including Terence Trent D'Arby, Marc Almond and Tina Turner.

Something for the Children, Tracey Emin

Something for the Children, Tracey Emin

Something for the Children, by Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin employs a wide range of media - prints, drawing, performance, installation, video, film, embroidery, appliqué, neon and written text - to create works that expose, with uncompromising detail, her own life and personal experiences.

Tracey Emin's shed followed the vein of her renowned 'Beach Hut' installation and the re-construction of Margate Pier for her solo show at Modern Art Oxford.

However, rather than rebuilding an existing structure or place from her past, she used the new shed to create an environment constructed from personal possessions that she had either made or constructed: drawings, pieces of furniture, patchwork curtains, a lamp, cat pictures, figurines, an appliqué Ouija board... The collection of objects were fresh from the stage of a theatre production of Jean Cocteau's 'Les Parents Terribles' for which Emin designed the set. Re-assembled, in her shed, they were carefully choreographed to symbolise desire, love, jealousy and hate, which have become trademark characteristics of Emin's work.

Honesty, humour and poetry underpin Emin's unnervingly confessional oeuvre. Although she focuses so obsessively on the details of her own life, she indirectly refers to the universal issues of sexuality, morality, the creation and meaning of life, and what it means to be an artist. Seminal projects include the 'Tracey Emin Museum', where for three years she was artist, curator and creator; the tent 'Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-95', which has become an icon of contemporary British art; and 'My Bed', which she exhibited in the 1999 Turner Prize exhibition. She lives and works in London.

Blood Shed, Graham Fagen

Blood Shed, Graham Fagen

Blood Shed, Graham Fagen

A pirate radio station. The shed, equipped with speakers, amplifier, transmitter and antenna, emited a playlist of reggae tunes interspersed by a song by Robert Burns. On the walls a Caribbean mural was juxtaposed with a political world map with the British Empire painted in blood red. Ceramic tiles echoed the plants described in the playlist. The DJ was absent from the set.

Much of Graham Fagen's work brings together disparate cultures. He often focuses on the means of communication within a culture, and how it is compromised or transformed when taken out of context. 'Blood Shed' links back to an earlier work of Fagen's, 'Radio Roselle'.

Again a mix of reggae and Burns, this was a film projection of a pirate DJ broadcasting the root sounds of Scotland and Jamaica. Fagen grew up in Ayrshire - Burn's country - and yet he found reggae more easy to identify with than with the unfamiliar language of Burns. It was only after listening to the language and rhythms of music from the West Indies that he was able to appreciate the native language and rhythms of the poet.

The language of flowers is another recurring theme in Fagen's work. Here he focused on the flowers portrayed in the playlist - hemp, red rose, black rose and thistle - which also point at the notion of cultural identity and meaning. The absence of the DJ allowed us to surmise his identity and character from the clues that are provided by the props and sound track. The narrative talks loosely of self-identity; identity in relation to birthplace, with its politics and culture; and last but not least, love.

  • 'Blood Shed (dub)' by Singers & Players
  • 'Weed Specialist' by Two Badcard
  • 'Water the Garden' by Prince Far I/Singers & Players
  • 'Red Red Rose' by Kenneth McKellar

Playlist with kind permission from On-U Sounds and Lismore records.

Drip Shack, Fat

Drip Shack, by Fat

Drip Shack, by Fat

Fat is a company that makes architecture, art and all kinds of things in between. Their shed recreated a particularly British experience of summer rain - an omnipresent threat to any British garden event. Deliberately designing the thing that architects normally try to prevent, a leaky roof, they surrounded their shed with a network of pipes and pumps. By carefully constructing what is normally thought of as a fault, they were able to explore sensations and experiences that are usually prohibited by professional practice.

Part fault, part fountain, it is a kind of mechanical picturesque, a suburban twist to the English tradition of ruined follies. Like a low-tech Lloyd's building, the apparatus on the outside of the building supported the performance of the interior.

The dripping ceiling prolonged a moment in time - the streams of drips were collected in various vessels that are connected to pumps taking the water back up to the roof. The cyclic movement of water around the shed recalled both plumbing and the natural system of the water cycle.

Camera Obscura, Nilu Izadi

Camera Obscura, by Nilu Izad

Camera Obscura, by Nilu Izadi

Camera n. = room (Italian)
Obscura a. = dark (Italian)

If you go into a very dark room on a bright day, cover the window and then make a small hole in the screen, you will see on the opposite wall a full colour, moving image of the outside world. But the image is upside down.

This phenomenon is explained by a simple law of physics. Light travels in a straight line. When its rays pass through a small hole they do not scatter but cross. When they hit a flat surface parallel to the hole they reform - upside down.

This law of optics lies behind the camera obscura and all photography. It was known to the ancient Chinese and Greek philosophers and has long been employed by both scientists and artists in their exploration of light and image. In the 16th century the image quality was sharpened by the addition of a convex lens and a mirror to reflect the image down onto a viewing surface. The apparatus then became widely used as a drawing tool and eventually evolved into the photographic camera. Since then the camera obscura has not become redundant but has continued to provide both entertainment and an education in the laws of physics and light.

Nilu Izadi is a photographer who delights in this ancient technique and continues to celebrate the wonder of the live photographic image found inside the darkened room. She combines architecture, physics and art to create camera obscura installations in different forms and locations around the world. At the V&A she transformed her shed into a walk-in camera, with a pinhole and moving lens, that blurs and focuses the constantly changing images of the sky and trees.

Untitled, Andreas Oehlert

Untitled, Andreas Oehlert

Untitled, by Andreas Oehlert

There is something impossibly light about Andreas Oehlert's installations, sculpture and photographs. Many of them quite literally appear to defy gravity, while weightless objects - balloons and bubbles - often feature in his work. Flowers and plants are also a regular subject. An earlier installation, 'May Day', presented a collection of vases of flowers in which each arrangement had been inverted. They appeared to float, magically resting on the blooms with the vases hovering above.

Oehlert's work always incorporates an element of performance. In a legacy carried over from his former career in stage and set design, the objects in his spatial installations are prescribed specific locations and functions, with the objects, the viewer and light all having a definite role in the scenario.

'Untitled' converted the shed into a Museum of Flowers. The walls were lined with photographic images depicting flowers that were manipulated to become strange, unnatural hybrids, where the artist, in an act of forced promiscuity, has placed flowers from one plant onto the wrong stem. Grouped in pairs, they appeared to adopt sexual positions presenting a 'top-shelf' botanical personification. The images were innocently sexual, creating an environment that was beautiful and peculiar, poetic and disconcerting.

Oehlert presents an ironic reflection of our everyday world. He uses familiar items - found objects (always new), flowers, balloons, tablecloths and household frippery - and re-invents them to make them perform in an unfamiliar way. His subjects seamlessly adapt to their new characteristics and yet there is an underlying awareness of the artist's endeavour to make sense of the world, and of the process of making art, through his poetic manipulation of objects and the sweet lightness of his inventions.

Sarah Staton's Swiss Cheese Shed

Sarah Staton's Swiss Cheese Shed

Swiss Cheese Shed, by Sarah Staton

Modernism had a great impact on both art and lifestyle in America and Europe, but in the UK it was, to some extent, diluted due to a general concern that it might have a damaging effect on national culture and tradition.

It is this notion of Englishness that interests Sarah Staton, particularly in reference to style, where the dilution of modernist ideals produced a 'populist pastiche modernist style solution'. This has since been championed through lifestyle magazines, TV decorating shows and lifestyle superstores such as IKEA.

Rather than creating an environment in her shed and focusing on its architectural function, Staton played with its structural form, allowing it to become a sculptural object in its own right. The formal aspect hinted at a modernist aesthetic but the interior floral decoration, the colour palette and the wooden structure seemed more Better Homes than Bauhaus.

The play between high and low culture recurs throughout Staton's work. In 1993 she began a series of informal group shows called 'SupaStore'. These were site specific installations that presented artists' multiples and low-cost art works. Each project offered a miniature art experience which often re-presented previous works in different contexts. This enabled Staton to experiment with arrangements of work and the use of objects to make narratives.

Our Shed (In an English Country Garden), Chris Taylor and Craig Wood

Our Shed (In an English Country Garden), Chris Taylor and Craig Wood

Our Shed (In an English Country Garden), by Chris Taylor and Craig Wood

Describing art as 'wallpaper' can be dismissive, implying that the artwork is simply decorative and lacks aesthetic or intellectual strength. Taylor and Wood defy this preconception.

Working collaboratively on a project called 'Down on Paper - Wallpaper to Complete', they have put together a collection of 18 hand-printed wallpaper designs that straddle the worlds of art and commerce. Functioning both as artwork and product design, they hang as comfortably in a contemporary art gallery as they do in a domestic hallway.

Their wallpapers focus on interaction. Using 'dot-to-dot', 'notation' and 'colouring-in' as their formats, they offer the viewer an opportunity to participate in the process and complete the design. A pattern of 'dot-to-dot' configurations produces an infinite variety of completed patterns; a series of blank notepad or diary pages provides a range of literary spaces in which to make daily observations, comments and jottings; and the 'colouring-in' series provides endless opportunities for the interaction of colour and form.

The reductive nature of the designs have the familiar simplicity of a child's colouring book and hark back to the American Minimalist aesthetic. But the designs are just a starting point and the project is essentially about collaboration. The artists prescribe the strategy but the conclusion of the work relies on the creativity and involvement of the visitors.

Taylor and Wood have been working in collaboration since 2000. Chris Taylor is an artist, curator and publisher. Craig Wood is an artist and lecturer making site-specific installation works.

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