Grow an Exhibition

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. Portsmouth based artist Adrian Mundy is doing just that with his Grow An Exhibition project, which has recently been awarded Arts Council England (ACE) funding. Adrian is well on the way to full recovery after 17 years of agoraphobia that at first left him virtually housebound. He has also had M.E. for over 27 years which physically limits what he can do. In this post, Adrian shares the beginning part of the project’s story with us.
Sowing the flax

Sowing the flax

The idea for Grow An Exhibition was sown at the end of 2013 when I was house-sitting for a friend and was wondering what the next step in my life was going to be. I 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 I saw their amazing eco-build education centre – the perfect venue for an exhibition, even though it was still to be finished!

Flax growing

Flax growing

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 – for printing on and making into decorative books. However, my plans slowly grew as I started to make contact with various individuals and organisations.

Weeding

Weeding

A meeting at Tuppenny Barn with founder Maggie Haynes and Field Manager Becca Theed, went better than I’d hoped. Not only did they agree to host an exhibition, they also offered a bed to grow plants and the opportunity 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. I 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 gave their help and advice and offered to host workshops. Tanya has made paper from plant fibres and Sarah taught me bookmaking techniques.

Flax flowers

Flax flowers

The first Arts Council England (ACE) funding application in early 2014 was unsuccessful, and although it was disappointing at first it turned into good news as it gave me time to trial different plants, their planting times, crop yield and to trial paper-making sessions. I also discovered Glass Gem corn from North America, a naturally occurring multi-coloured corn which is amazing. Once grown, great fun was had peeling the husk off to reveal what colour was underneath. The extra time also gave me the opportunity to reassess the artistic outcome of the project and in Spring 2015, after reapplying, the project was awarded the funding from ACE.

Flax drying

Flax drying

The project is now going full steam ahead. Regular trips to Tuppenny Barn and a couple of private gardens have resulted in lovely straight lines of flax seedlings sown in batches to spread the workload. It takes quite a while to sow them so close. The rain has helped them to grow nice and strong although it also helps the weeds to grow, which spoils the rows, something I, a perfectionist, dislike strongly! The Glass Gem corn – or as it has been nicknamed: ‘funky corn’ – seedlings are coming on well and will soon be planted out and then it will allow time to start experimenting with the artworks.

Flax fibre

Flax fibre

Although I don’t know exactly what the artistic outcome will be until I work with the plant fibres, I have been getting inspiration from the growing sites and the plants themselves.

Working predominantly with the flax, and following the cultivation of the plants, which will be constantly sketched and photographed, I will explore how the resulting fibres can be harvested, manipulated by physical and chemical means, and processed to form different grades and textures of paper. The resulting 2D, sculptural work and artist books, embellished with drawings and prints inside, will take their influence from the strong linear forms of the flax. Using discarded fragments found during cultivation, they will contain delicate layers and traces woven into the fibre and structure, connecting them to the locations in which they flourished. The growing process contains many transformations, in shape, form, colour and texture, which will I will capture in the experimental works. All parts of the plant, from the flowers and seeds, to the roots and stems will be used to produce intricate sculptural pieces.

Trials of flax paper

Trials of flax paper

The culmination of the project will be three exhibitions in 2016. The first, documenting the growing and paper-making trials will be at Art Space Portsmouth, where my studio is situated. Next comes the first artistic exhibition at Tuppenny Barn which will include the launch of a publication documenting the project. The final exhibition, which marks the end of the project, will be at Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth.

Glass gem corn

Glass Gem corn

To keep up-to-date with the project you can sign up to the mailing list and follow Grow An Exhibition on the following links:

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