Isa Genzken: Botanical Garden

Nestled in a corner of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens is an emotive exhibition of contrasts and charm. Berlin-based artist Isa Genzken, who was recently the subject of a retrospective at MoMA, brings her highly charged work to the capital in an exhibition celebrating her work completed in the last ten years. The exhibition is shown inside Inverleith House, introducing the surreal into the quaint surroundings.

Genzken’s work is born from both 20th century pop culture and her own originality. She can, in a single piece, merge the kitsch and the grave as shown in ‘untitled’, a sculpture that depicts a child mannequin in a bright raincoat, bound by tape and wearing a crash helmet. Her message is not vague; she is addressing consumerism and conflict and demanding a reaction. She further builds upon the theme of conflict and youth, one sculpture is composed of Disney toys and a gas mask, highlighting that conflict affects the young.  The exhibition is bold; part of Genzken’s appeal is her directness. Her work however is not isolated from its garden surroundings, with Genzken introducing flowers into raw, energetic collages. This is another example of Genzken skilfully juxtaposing beauty with brutality.

Sculptures are presented as architectural collages in a deeply personal manner in a way that engages the viewer. Her pieces are her own consciousness, laid bare in a provocative way. Genzken’s imagery spans from the Renaissance to the present day. Visitors are invited by a gallery attendant to quite literally walk over her consciousness in a piece where her own photographs, quotes and influences cover the floor. Her work is very much a personal picture of Berlin: spray-painted salvaged materials recall the graffiti of the Berlin wall, and Berlin-era Bowie is collaged alongside images of the Neues Museum ‘Nefertiti Bust’.

The crux of the exhibition’s success is that it is daring and multi-sensory. Mannequins occupy the rooms like people milling around at a party and sculptures seem precariously balanced, daring the viewer to take a closer look. Mirrors give the viewer a glance of themselves inside Genzken’s collages and a comical film offers an animated view of the artist herself.

Botanical Garden may at first seem confrontational and at odds with its surroundings, but a closer look reveals it to be a deeply personal and profound. It reveals the artist’s influences, her life and her Berlin in a manner that is bold and interesting. Genzken’s show is an experience not just for the eye but also for the mind, blending the personal and the provocative. Even at just a glance this exhibition is guaranteed to leave an impression.

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