a 'Weed Garden' and more:
Caroline Rothwell is another artist who has used plant material as the content in several of her works. Her underlying concerns for her work have been “the modification of nature, the collecting of specimens and the search for utopia” (Alfrey)
In The Weeds of Arcadia Nicholas Alfrey examines her work, Weed Garden, which has the one predominant motif - the weed.
1. Weed garden III
For this work Rothwell used many different references to create her own imagery. Amongst the references she used is a NZ published book, The Weeds of New Zealand (by FW Hilgendorf) and she also used her own hand drawings of weeds from her garden.
Using these relentless invaders, as the content for this work Rothwell has created 7 large suspended ‘drawings’. The drawings were created using signwriters’ vinyl on large sheets of PVC. (What has been a challenge is finding information about this work was almost impossible, beyond Rothwell’s own web page).
There are many great aspects of this work and the article written by Alfrey that appeal to my own practice and challenge my thinking:
- The title - Weed Garden - as Alfrey points out “the title plays on an obvious contradiction, one that goes to the heart of the principles of selection and exclusion involved in the management of a garden. A garden of weeds would be a neglected, failed or abandoned garden, or perhaps an alternative one, a site of resistance to prevailing convention.” - Alfrey is correct in his statement, as generally no garden allows weeds to flourish. We do have to remember that a weeds is a human construct and is influenced by place and culture. However weeds in the forgotten and abandoned places are often not seen, like ghosts free to roam. But do ghosts create shadows? Are they larger than life, like these images are? I like this concept that weeds can be ghosts. In a personal garden they are weeded out like a hawk by the gardener, while the same gardner can drive past many road sides/verges, forgotten lots and not get the same urge to start pulling these same weeds. The blending of several images over the top of each other in this work can also appear to talk about the any references she used.
- The use of natural and artificial light is a great combination in creating shadows of each image. - Plants need light to grow, by lighting these images they appear to ‘grow’ larger.
- As pointed out by Alfrey in the article; The size, material used and method of creation of the images have no relationship to the tradition of botanical illustrations. - They are more like a contemporary florilegium of weeds, where the images are dedicated to the ornamental. Traditionally methods were drawing or painting, with a strong focus on detail to aid future identification. These images have used neither of these methods and they lack detail. They reference botanical documentation but contradict botanical illustration.
- “Rothwell’s sources for her weed images are diverse. Her choices serve to prompt a series of reflections on plants and their proper place, and how this is always relative. Plants act as emblems of identity and take their meaning from particular locations and contexts; they can be invested with a potent symbolic value, but no system of values is ever fixed. Running in parallel to this cultivation of uncertainty, her own artistic strategies – her use of materials and scale, her formal procedures – also deliberately work against any expectations we might have of botanical representation, twisting away both from the conventions of scientific illustration and any lingering assumptions about drawing plants as an essentially feminine practice”(Alfrey). - The fact that this work could make people stop and reflect about what is the proper place for a plant, any plant, I believe is encouraging . Plants do have a strong link to identity, even in todays world you are considered ‘alternative or witchy’ if your interest in plants is beyond the rose and broccoli. (Getting people to admire ‘other’ plants is something that I enjoy doing in my practice). Plant/Botanical illustration have long stopped being a feminine only practice and this work is certainly not delicate, nor feminine. Rothwell’s approach to this work is innovative and outside of the normal scope of plant ‘illustration’, one that struck me about this work. What is obvious is that they are plants, what is less obvious is which plants they are and as a plants person the challenge is to try and identify them.
- The way that Alfrey describes weeds and what is desirable and what is un-desirable - Alfrey believes this is relative to “ideas of culture, and the language in which weeds are described is inevitably loaded, steeped in the values of the social and political world and permeated by anxieties about national character, integrity and purity”. - From this comment my thinking went - Did Rothwell consider these thoughts while making her large works on PVC, where many overlay each other, trying to be the one at the front, the one that would be noticed first? Or did she simply ‘copy’ a part of her garden with the weeds she had identified from the book, The Weeds of New Zealand? If the character, integrity and purity of NZ was displayed in these images than you would have to ask when was this ‘picture taken’? And from whose stand point was this view? An image that has several pictures overlaying each other does not speak of purity or integrity, but more of conflict and disruption. Of one trying to out do the other, which is very much what ‘weeds’ do. But is that what the values of New Zealanders are? I found this hard to accept, that the words used to describe plants is imbued with the broader social and political view of a place. I can accept that this could be possible on a person by person basis. Agapanthus, seen in NZ countryside, for instance really gets me cross, while my father (from holland) each time thinks he has gone to ‘agapanthus heaven’.
Rothwell has done several other works that have plant content and where she has used this same technique of large vinyl cut outs, but most of these have been direct onto the gallery walls:
2. Tessellated 2006.
Vinyl Varying dimensions, approximately 3m x 9m Site: Grosvenor Place, Sydney
3. Lexicon (Weeds and Island) 2008
Structural UV stable PVC
285 x 530cm
Lexicon (Orchis hybrid) 2008
Lexicon (Global office plant 2009
Lexicon (Newton’s Tree) 2009
All these works are larger than life, creating an impression of a creator at work, both in the sense of the artist but also in the sense of genetic manipulation & creation.
Many of these works have some form of distortion to them, which creates a sense of lost control, running out of thought and ideas and maybe even a feeling that this is the way the world is seen by others. Maybe Rothwell has created this visual interpretation to help us understand that we all see things differently?
This distortion used in some of Rothwell’s work appears to be a use of anamorphic illusions, in particular perspectival anamorphosis. Anamorphic imagery does not make sense when viewed normally, but to see the image ’correctly’ the viewer must find a viewpoint or mirror to see the full & correct image. (many street artist use this technique to create their realistic looking images)
During the 16th, 17th and 18th century anamorphic imagery was very popular. Some of the earlier anamorphic drawings were on walls of monasteries (from Historical Anamorphoses). These large ‘drawings’ on gallery walls by Rothwell can be seen to be placed in a modern day monastery, as galleries are places where contemplation happens and where silence is a given.
Viewing of these part distorted plant works creates a different view of the 'world', it challenges us to find the spot which ultimately creates a pleasing image, one that we can understand. Considering that we are all of different heights, the place of this perfect spot is potentially different for each of us. This feeds into the comment by Alfrey regarding that weeds are seen and described differently through our varying social and political worlds we live in.
Nicholas Alfrey. The Weeds of Arcadia. Retrieved on 28th April 2014 from
Illusionworks. Historical Anamorphoses. Retrieved on 28th April 2014 from
Phillip Kent. Art of anamorphosis. What is anamorphosis? Retrieved on 28th April 2014 from
Kim H. Veltman. Perspective, Anamorphosis and Vision. Marburger Jahrbuch, Marburg, Vol. 21, (1986), pp. 93-117. Retrieved on 28th April 2014 from:
Weed World - Caroline Rothwell. Creative NZ publication (2003)
Sue Crockford Gallery Catalogue ISBN 0 473 08947 5