Art and gardening are both well known for their recuperative benefits in helping people to recover from mental health conditions. Imagine the power of using both in one project.
The idea for Grow An Exhibition, supported by Arts Council England (ACE), was sown at the end of 2013 when Adrian was house-sitting for a friend and was wondering what the next step in his life was going to be. He wanted to do more gardening but this was not physically possible. A visit to the Christmas Fair at Tuppenny Barn, West Sussex, was the catalyst to the project after seeing their amazing eco-build education centre – the perfect venue for an exhibition, even though it was still to be finished!
After some thought, the initial idea was for a small project to grow and harvest some plants and then to turn the plant fibres into paper. This would then be used as the basis for artworks including for printing on and making into decorative books. However, his plans slowly grew as he made contacts with various individuals and organisations.
A meeting at Tuppenny Barn with founder Maggie Haynes and Field Manager Becca Theed, went better than he hoped. Not only did they agree to host an exhibition, they also offered a bed to grow plants and to use other ‘weeds’ from around the site. Shortly after, a connection with the Aspex/Greenspace Garden in Portsmouth led to an offer of an exhibition at Aspex Gallery Portsmouth, which has a track record of supporting emerging artists. He had advice from Cathy Flower-Bond from the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum – who grows and processes flax using methods that have been used for hundreds of years – as to the best plants and varieties to grow for the best results. Finally, fellow artists Tanya Wood and Sarah Tunaley offered their help and advice and to host workshops. Tanya has made paper from plant fibres and Sarah taught Adrian bookmaking techniques.
The first ACE funding application in early 2014 was unsuccessful, and although it was disappointing at first it turned into good news as it gave time to trial different plants, their planting times, crop yield and trial paper-making sessions. He also discovered Glass Gem corn from North America, a naturally occurring multi-coloured corn which has amazed all who see it. Once grown, great fun was had peeling the husk off to reveal what colour was underneath. The extra time also gave Adrian time to reassess the artistic outcome of the project and in Spring 2015, after reapplying, the project was awarded the funding from ACE.
The extra year also gave another growing season to cultivate more plants, giving more fibre to play with to make the final pieces. However, the weather didn’t get the memo and although they grew strongly rain towards the end of the year meant drying and harvesting didn’t go to plan, something this perfectionist didn’t like. This was turned into the theme and title of the exhibitions – Natural Imperfections!
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