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Objects from the Temperate Palm House is a provocative gallery experience, which challenges the established power relationship between art and inanimate exhibition furniture.
Palm trunks, largely donated by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, take on the role of the traditional gallery pedestal. Unlike their alternative, uniform podiums which offer their services but remain largely unnoticed, the palms demand a viewer’s gaze.
In this collection the humble plinth has been elevated to ‘object’ worthy status, making for a unique and innovative display format.
The curation of this exhibition is its strongest attribute, and undoubtedly excellent. The pairing of each piece with a palm has been done with care, and there is a resultant symbiosis between the narrative of each plinth and its associated artwork.
One such example of this is ‘Déchet indexé’ by Benoit Marie, showing a computer mouse rendered functionless by its severed cord, indicating a loss of communication. In contrast to the impotence of the mouse is the palm it rests on; the ‘King Palm’ (Archontophoenix Alexandrae), indigenous to central Australia. This particular section is a fine specimen, standing strong and erect. The juxtaposition of stability next to weakness serves to further highlight the meaning of the artwork, in a way that a regular pedestal simply could not. There are many other similar examples within the gallery, like the symmetry between Dunja Herzog’s ‘it belongs to us a little less than we belong to it’ and a Cabbage tree palm plinth.
Palms notwithstanding, many of the pieces in the exhibition stand alone as exciting art: Jasper Coppes is particularly notable for his work. The room is slightly reminiscent of a 17th century wunderkammer; disorientating yes, but ultimately charming. This exhibition has achieved what it set out to do, and challenges one’s preconceived notion of the gallery plinth as passive. Instead, these palms have their own history and create a novel context in which to experience the art. Overall, an exciting exhibition and one definitely worth going to see.
Image: basswulf (Flickr)