Radical Landscapes at Tate Liverpool was recommended to me, and in the exhibition, there is Back to the Fields by Ruth Ewan.
Back to the Fields is a really interesting work, both for the concept behind it, and the physicality of the work itself. The work consists of 360 disparate items, each of which
“denote[s] the days of the year [according to the French Republican Calendar] – such as a lettuce, a cart, wax, a turnip, honey, a fir tree, ivy, figs, mercury, lava, moss, tuna, a pheasant, an axe” (Ewan, R. ND).
The combination of such seemingly unrelated items and beings into one indoor space forces the viewer to consider the human interaction with the natural world, and how we have separated ourselves from it, and attempt to control it – although it is at its core uncontrollable. What I also find particularly interesting is the way in which there is a mix of artificial and natural items displayed here – combining the human and the natural – yet the dominating element in the exhibition is the plant.
For me, the dominance of the plant in the installation symbolises the dominance of the plant in our every-day lives; we are unable to live without plants: even the artificial objects in the installation have plant based elements. Yet we still seek to control them. for the installation, all of the plants are placed in plant pots for their continued survival, a fact which of course is a logistical element, but which also demonstrates our human unwillingness to allow nature fully into our artificial environments.
The labelling and organisation of the work also strikes me – as each item has been given a corresponding number, which in turn is colour coded to match the related month in the year that that particular item belongs in. There is again, and orderliness to it, which feels as though it is an attempt to control the uncontrollable, breaking something large into manageable chunks that humans can better understand and grasp. However, having said this, I really like the method with which Ewan has labelled and organised the pieces of the installation – creating an easy to read and understand almost ‘clock-face’ calendar, which invites the viewer to engage with the work, forcing them to look more deeply into the work.
This encouragement to engage more deeply with the work due to the level of detail and organisation is something that I am also employing in my work, through the use of labels and the level of detail that I have included in my drawings, encouraging the viewer to want to look more closely and learn more about the subjects of the work.
Additionally, the subject matter of Back to the Fields is very closely related to both my Rewilding Project, and the botanical illustrations that I have created. Although the reason for using these particular subjects differs between our works, the fact that we are both creating art involving them illustrates (I believe) the continued and in fact, ever growing, importance of plants and nature in our lives – regardless of whether we continue attempting to control, destroy and isolate ourselves from the natural world. Back to the Fields is definitely a work that I would be very interested in seeing in person and experiencing the installation as it is meant to be viewed – physically, with the accompanying sights, sounds, smells and emotional responses.
- Ewan, R. (2015/16) Back to the Fields. [Installation] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/radical-landscapes
- Ewan, R. (ND) Back to the Fields. Available at: http://ruthewan.com/projects/back-to-the-fields/