Madonna Lily

‘Art in the Garden’

Installation at the Chelsea Physic Garden, London, 2002

Scientific glass tubing, coconut oil, lemon peel, chives. 1500 x 2500 x 10mm

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This installation was produced as a response to a poem and site specific aspects of the Chelsea Physic Garden. The installation consisted of numerous scientific clear glass tubes 8mm x 1500mm placed vertically to form a continuous sheet. The tubes were filled with coconut oil (white), and sealed.

The dimensions of the work were adjusted according to the location allocated ( 1500mm x 2250mm ).

A poem accompanied the work. The poem with the title 'How Lilies Came White', by Robert Herrick, is about transformation and change. It is erotic, earthy and spiritual. It is full of light, metaphysical transformations, and organic qualities. The work made for the Chelsea Physic Garden replicated this by using natural materials and processes. Coconut oil was used to suggest breast milk, the creame of light and the whiteness of the lily. This was constantly changing in terms of opacity, depending on air temperature. The hints of yellow and green of the Madonna Lily were suggested by using lemon peel and chives.

The glass tubes provided the structure for the work, relating to the scientific aspects of the garden, which for me is about nature and the amalgamation of botany and science. It has a history of discovery, exploration and experimentation, is intimate and exotic and brings together the human and the botanical. The work alluded to all of this.

This installation was about fusing the physical with the metaphysical; the scientific with the natural; human biology and botany. The catalyst for the work was a poem by Robert Herrick from the book Flora Poetica by Sarah Maguire, past poet in residence at the Chelsea Physic Garden.

‘How Lilies came white’ by Robert Herrick

White though ye be;yet,Lillies, know,

From the first ye were not so:

    But I’le tell ye

    What befell ye;

Cupid and his mother lay

In a cloud; while both did play,

He with his pretty fingers prest

The rubie niplet of her breast;

Out of which, the creame of light,

    Like to a Dew,

    Fell downe on you

    And made ye white