One million flowers

Site-specific installation brings nature into gallery setting.
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Still life from The Womb by artist Rebecca Louise Law
Still life from "The Womb," by artist Rebecca Louise Law. Courtesy Rebecca Louise Law

In September, British installation artist Rebecca Louise Law and a team of volunteers worked to transform one of the gallery spaces at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park with over 1 million flowers, cones, seeds and other flora and foliage. The natural materials are connected with copper wires and strung from the ceiling, creating a visually stunning and aromatic display.

Law focuses on site-specific installation art and has had commissions and exhibitions all over the world, including at Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, Greece; The Toledo Museum of Art; Royal Academy of Arts in London; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, also in London. This is her first time bringing her work to Meijer Gardens, which she said is a natural fit for her artistry.

For the past decade (and over nearly 40 exhibits), Law has been meticulously preserving and saving every piece of her installations that she can — down to the dust left behind by crumpling flora — growing her material to over 1 million individual pieces, all of which she reuses as her work progresses from one installation to the next. While at Meijer Gardens, she is adding more flowers, pods, seeds and other foliage to her collection.

“The aim is to bring in 10,000 flowers, pods and cones, seeds, foliage, lots of different materials from the grounds and bring that into the installation,” she said. “I’m sculpting with a small amount produced from here, and then hopefully, we’ll have an area where people can see what came from the grounds.”

Law used the materials to create “Rebecca Louise Law: The Womb.” She said for several years she had been ruminating on the idea of a cocoon-like natural space, which later evolved into a full study of the womb.

“I desperately wanted to explore how that feels as a human being, to have a place where you could be enveloped,” she said. “In my studies of that, I started thinking about the womb, then I actually got pregnant and thought about it more. … Do we as human beings have something that is within us wanting to feel comforted by nature in some way at some point?”

Law acknowledges the womb is not a safe place for everyone, and she found several galleries were apprehensive about hosting work that looked at what they felt was a “darker side of nature,” but she said she’s always felt her exploration has focused on the positive experiences of the womb. “I think going into a still place of nature and having someplace that you feel enveloped, for me, it didn’t take away beauty, the idea of observing nature in a controlled, still space.”

Her opportunity to progress with the installation came when Meijer Gardens approached her about mounting her work there. “That’s the first time I’ve been given complete and utter freedom,” she said, and you can feel the excitement emanating from Law at having this opportunity. She has created a number of ceramic and glass pieces and paintings that are part of the exhibit, as well.

“It’s been really special here to bring other mediums in to support my installation,” she said.

The completed work is meant to be a place of “stillness,” where “people can have a moment and appreciate what we are given on this earth, in terms of the natural flora. It brings it to mind, what comes out of the earth all of the time.”

“I think, with nature, it’s a personal experience and journey, and I don’t want to dictate too much to the viewer,” Law said. “Especially with flowers and the scent, it can evoke emotions beyond … it’s a personal experience. I try to create a space that allows the viewer to have the time to take it in and breathe. In a way, I’ll force the viewer to be present in nature.”

To help create that type of environment, cell phones are being discouraged in the gallery so people can focus on being present and cocooned in the natural world rather than trying to document themselves within the artwork. There will be a viewing area for selfies, however, because Law admits this is an exhibit that is very Insta-worthy.

The exhibition runs through March 1. GR

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