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The subject of flowers has permeated throughout art and cultural history in different ways and is familiar to many people. “This brings around the opportunity

to reveal contemporary artists working with the subject in more conceptual, more political or socially engaged ways than might be first imagined. “The exhibition was an idea born

about eight years ago but only developed in earnest about three years ago. There were a number of artists whose work I wanted to show from the outset such as Ori Gersht, Clare Twomey and Jacques Nimki, while others came about through research and conversation. “I wanted this to be a touring project

‘The Alien Species’ through paintings and drawings and outside the gallery, as well as exhibiting existing painting and drawings. The two resident artists that Flora

features make the experience even more special. A global invite for artists was

sent out to take part in two fantastic opportunities. As part of the Flora exhibition, Oriel Davies Gallery teamed up with Botanic Garden of Wales and Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre in Cwmbran for an Artist in Residence in each venue. With over 280 artists, musicians,

performers and writers sending forward their ideas for the eight month residence at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, from October 2015 to June 2016, Cardiff-based artist Magali Nougarèdem was chosen for the position. Known for her successful

international career as a photographic artist, French-born Nougarèdem was invited to share her art at Flora. Her piece, ‘Plat de Résistance II’

portrays the themes she explored during her residency - soil cultivation and resistance. Nougarèdem’s space at the back of the Aberystwyth Arts Centre gallery features a table covered with soil, produced by the gardeners who work at the Botanic Garden of Wales. The table is then mirrored by a photograph of the soil-covered table on the wall behind it. Nougarèdem’s clearly demonstrates

her goal within her work by showing the importance of soil as the key to everything. By choosing the title, ‘Plat de Résistance’, Nougarèdem aims to promote sustenance and resistance. As we observe Nougarèdem’s

piece, it is very striking to see how she relates her piece to the resistance and determination in order to keep true to ethical principal. It was this quality that she found in many people who surrounded her during her residency at the Botanic Garden of Wales. Nougarèdem dedicates her project

to all of the people who understand that preserving kindness to others is an act of political warfare. Through daily gestures of kindness, we resist the forces that aim to destroy our soil. With around 100 artists applying for

the Artists in Residence at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre in Cwmbran, from January to March 2016, both Oriel Davies and Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre made the decision to choose Caroline Dear, based on the Isle of Skye. After spending her residency in

Cwmbran, Dear explored our changing relationship with the natural world and set out to create objects expressing inherent historical layers. As a result, Dear presents three pairs

of shoes, approximately a ladies size six, with their soles against the wall and toes pointing down. Firstly, the St Dial’s slippers are

a pair of solidly woven, slip-on shoes with pointed toes made from St Dyer’s Greenweed, common knapweed, Fescue grasses, shaggy moss and common broom from ancient meadowland. The second pair are Llantarnam

Grange loafers. They are seen to be slip- on shoes made from Cyprus, Scots pine, and New Zealand Flax sourced from the 19th century garden around Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre. Lastly, Dear presents Blaenavon

Boots, which have an open and loose weave of brown twig-like heather stems looped to form the shape of the boot. Alex Boyd Jones, Curator at the

Oriel Davies Gallery, talked to The Herald about the exhibition and how it all began: “I was keen to work with a universal concept that could transcend barriers around contemporary art and connect with people in many ways.

across Wales, showcasing seminal works and established artists alongside those less well known but with really interesting practices. I didn’t endeavour to create a survey show of artists working with the subject but rather more create interesting conversations between the work and reflect the span of ideas and approach. “Instead of touring the same

exhibition into different venues, I was keen to nurture new relationships as well as strengthen those that I and Oriel Davies had already. I wanted the project to be organic so that it would evolve over a period of time; through collaboration with the partner organisations and through long term conversations with the artists, developing focus group activities where we could. “This is where the various

strands developed from to include the residencies, the new commissions (which responded to the different exhibition venues and developed over the 18 months), the outreach and learning programmes - that accompanied every venue working with artists already involved in the project but also others along the way - and the commissioned texts for the different aspects of the show. “Visitor numbers and positive

feedback to the shows (both touring project and residency exhibition) and engagement with the outreach programme have been really great (obviously, with still the Aberystwyth show on for a few more weeks and Anne- Mie Melis’s show at Oriel Myrddin).

“It is not possible to give a precise

number in relation to the residencies but in terms of visitor numbers that we have been able to record to date, there are 50,000 exclusive of Aberystwyth or Oriel Myrddin’s current shows. “The subject is an easy way in for

audiences who may not be familiar with contemporary art. “Also, some of the works, such as

Owen Griffiths’ Becoming Garden, were site-specific. People engaged with it (and continue to do so as it is still there and in fact has been further developed this year with support from Newtown Town Council and Oriel Davies), without realising that it’s ‘art’ but rather more with the ideas either directly or indirectly. “From the comments from the

exhibitions, I would say that the general mood was that people felt moved (particularly by Clare Twomey’s work), amazed, challenged, captivated by the works that they encountered. The residencies added a depth of engagement with those connected with the organisations they were sited, whether visitors or employees. “Magali’s work with the gardeners

at the Botanical Garden gave an opportunity to develop meaningful relationships over a number of months which allowed for a dialogue and exchange with mutual growth on both sides. “Caroline’s residency, although

much shorter, really focused on connecting with the community through expert advice (from all sectors), engaging children through practical workshops and having a presence within the venue whilst she developed her research and ideas in an open and public way. “Both of these artists worked

23 Community

very closely with plant matter which appeared to be non-threatening or open for discussion in ways perhaps other non-traditional arts practices might not - people ‘got’ it. “Jacques Nimki was the artist

who worked with schools at each of the touring venues and his approach focused them towards visual literacy in a very straightforward and engaging way, which all of the schools and gallery educators were really impressed and inspired by. His knowledge about plant matter took them on journeys directly working with or growing plants too. “Other activities and events by

led by other artists included foraging, making jewellery inspired by flowers, indigo dye printmaking and poetry to name a few. “For the first time, we have

developed an audio description programme which people are able to see and hear at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. This is something we are wishing to develop and integrate into our exhibitions where we can. “This is the start of the journey and

there is work to be done in developing attendance from blind and partially sighted audiences but we’re keen to make contemporary art accessible in different ways.” “Overall, the exhibition has been

extremely positive and I feel very proud of all the amazing work the artists, writers and my colleagues have done to make this the best it can be. It has been a complex and a lot of hard work but my feeling is that it has made a positive impact on a lot of people living in, as well as visiting, Wales.” For more information, visit exhibitions/flora and www.orieldavies. org/en/exhibition/flora-0.

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