Jyll Bradley, The Botanic Garden.
Exhibition: 20 September – 23 December 2008
Jyll Bradley’s new installation of large scale back-lit works, created especially for the Walker Art Gallery, is a response to the artist’s year long exploration of Liverpool’s extraordinary botanic history
The work is a response to the artist’s year long exploration of Liverpool’s extraordinary botanic history. This 200 year history has always been strongly identified with William Roscoe, one of Liverpool’s best-loved figures who in 1803 founded the first Liverpool Botanic Garden.
The garden was Roscoe’s version of ‘elysium’ in Liverpool and in time led to the creation of two more botanic gardens in the city, both of which played an important role in Liverpool’s identity. However, the last garden closed in 1984 amidst bitter labour disputes. The collections were dispersed and stored remotely from public view. The glasshouses were demolished.
Miraculously, today all the collections of the garden remain. The plants live on, as does the Herbarium; the botanic library books; the botanic gardeners and the world-wide connections to other botanic institutions. In short, Liverpool’s mythic botanic ‘garden’ is everywhere and nowhere to be found. Bradley constructs a ‘virtual’ Liverpool botanic garden using a series of large scale documentary -style photographic images. Each is of a ‘real’ scene from the dispersed places and collections associated with the former botanic gardens. In the Herbarium (at the World Museum) two botanists are engaged in pressing an orchid, whilst in the botanic library (the City Library) the head librarian snatches a quiet moment with a beautiful book.
Outside the botanic propagating houses (Greenhill Nursery) gardeners on their lunch break chat and sleep. The panoramic format of the images enhanced by back-lighting, imply that these could be stills from a promotional film. Seen as a group they propose an idyllic garden, probably high on any tourist’s ‘must-see’ list in this Capital of Culture year. Yet, in reality, this garden does not exist.
The Botanic Garden explores the almost utopian dream in the city, (which Bradley has felt from many), for a new botanic garden; one which would finally dispel the indignities of the 80’s closure and ‘restore’ its founder. Bradley’s ‘version’ of the ‘garden’ is one which is united only through the imagination, thus playing on the notion that, in disparate times, the image itself becomes a form of wish-fulfilment. Ultimately, that the artist’s and viewer’s eye sees what it most desires.
The Botanic Garden is the last, and perhaps most personal, in a series of works that Jyll Bradley has made during the course of the year; each of which reflects upon Liverpool’s botanic story and the image of William Roscoe. Her artist’s book ‘Mr. Roscoe’s Garden’ will be launched alongside this new installation work.