The curious world of Tony Heywood’s Super Botanics

Fascination, Repulsion, Desire, Curiosity, Beauty, Imagination – are among a cascade of responses that I sensed in an encounter with Tony Heywood’s miniature worlds at ‘Seventeen’ in London’s Kingsland Road. Set on two plinths that formed a v-shape as one entered the gallery, Heywood’s ‘micro-landscape’ installations – a crazy mixtures of cacti, mould, rocks, painted 50’s soft porn and cartoon imagery, jelly-like wax, cut out metal ribbon, squeezed into Taxidermists domes, on the left, and steel Petri dishes on the right. The domes evoked the most eccentric diversions of the Victorian collector, whilst the large steel dishes were an explosive collision between a rancid fruit bowl and a collectable comic book, or an exotic result of the discovery of penicillin. I was immediately drawn to an elegant upward growth of mould, whose black-dotted patterns emanated from the crystalline rock on which I could just make out a tiny a painting of a suggestive scene that involved an ageing man cavorting with a stylized young lady. The insipid blend of the two forms of decadence could hardy be more graphic-but I was left with a moral indecision: Of how the morality of (human) culture has been transferred onto such an organic thing as mould, vilifying it, but in viewing it from the safe distance that the glass dome’s sheen provided, it was permitted to become a thing of beauty…the titillating scene receded into obsolete kitsch in a manner of which Celeste Olalquiaga would approve. In fact her study of historical forms of kitsch, the Artificial Kingdom (1999) could quite easily accommodate an illustration of Heywood’s work. The inspiration that Heywood draws on is a dizzying range of references; the Picturesque movement in landscape design- all those sweeping Italianate expanses accompanied by the odd pine and curious retreat which would provide for an Arcadian moment; the miniaturisation of Chinese gardens where rocks represent mountains; The Japanese tradition of Sui-seki where culture uses landscape to represent mythologies; the detritus of Pop Art’s legacy especially Peter Blake’s paintings and Joseph Cornell’ cabinets. But the overriding sensation is of the physical experience. Tony described himself as a horticultural installation artist, but I think that his work goes beyond installation art, whose reliance on the presence of the visitor is superseded by the autonomy of Tony’s living worlds- little Arcadias which exist and breathe with the minimum of intervention (one syringe of water per month to be precise). We fancy ourselves into the Lilliputian environments, but what enhances the magic and the horror is the lack of reliance on our presence. The sense of atrophy is a stark memento mori, not only of each individual’s life, but also of our limited time on this lovely, lonely planet.

I am an artist and am studying for a Phd at the University of Bristol in the photographic documentation of art