Celebrating 350 yrs of Chelsea Physic Garden
Curated by Francesca Dobbe
‘I saw them now with a disgust that they had never roused in me before. Horrible alien things which some of us had somehow created, and which the rest of us, in our careless greed, had cultured all over the world, one could not even blame nature for them.’
The Day of the Triffids
(1951) John Wyndham
Delivered as part of Chelsea Physic Garden’s 350th anniversary celebrations, Annie Trevorah’s solo exhibition Triffids draws on the ecological dimensions of science fiction to imagine a speculative future where the colonising species is not human but plant.
Taking inspiration from John Wyndham’s ecocatastrophe narrative The Day of the Triffids, in which an ambulatory, carnivorous and vengeful plant species breaks free from the experimental greenhouses in which they were cultivated to run amok across the English countryside, Trevorah reconfigures a mixture of textures and forms found in Chelsea Physic Garden’s own greenhouses to imagine this species in its destructive hybridisation and the ways in which it may flourish in a future hostile to human survival.
Spanning Pump House Gallery’s four floors and featuring a combination of hanging, floor and wall-based sculptures, Triffids treats us to flora with unique sensory structures that breathe, eat, hear and move about, whilst sharing many of the same interactive systems as humans. Numbering among such chimeras, are plants equipped with armour, thorns and noxious defences that threaten the hubris of human exceptionalism in which we are predators but never prey.
In privileging the nonhuman, Triffids prompts us to reconsider the human subject as just one of many organisms within a dynamic ecology of being, each with their own intrinsic vitalisms and potentialities, invariably involved in practices of their own becoming.
Drawing inspiration from the Paphiopedilum orchid, Paphies depicts the species with human-like legs, enabling it to liberate itself from the narrow distributions making them most at risk of extinction due to many threats especially ruthless collection for trade, exploitation for horticultural purposes, mining activities, logging, habitat degradation and human disturbance.
Paphies (2023). 300 x 70 x 70 cm & 260 x 70 x 70 cm. Pulp, steel, wood, thermo-plastic. £4500 (both)
Named after the gene in plants that orchestrates the development of stomata (tiny pores on the surface of plants that take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen), Mute counters the fallibility of our religious-based contentions of superiority, granted through the so-called ‘breath of life’ to remind us that, like humans, plants breathe too.
Mute (2023). 220 x 90 x 90 cm. Steel, pulp. £4000
Evolution’s anthropomorphic shapes and colour-shifting appearance alludes to preserved remains from a near future or perhaps a distant past, enacting a temporal rewilding of history to reveal alternatives that might have happened, or perhaps could still come to pass. In so doing, Evolution excavates humanities deep rooted value systems such as ‘development’ and ‘progress’ to question other species’s right to occupy space and move through time.
Evolution (2023). 95 x 50 x 15 cm. Illustrations CNC milled. £2400
Approximating fossilised remains of a monstrously shaped species wholly unknown in nature, Gone draws inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness in which the discovery of ancient and alien life-forms leads to dire consequences for the explorers who encounter them. The thawed specimens, once frozen in time now gruesomely come to life, transform from scientific marvels to harbingers of death. Thus challenging the concept of progress and advancement to replace it with the haunting realization that the abyss of the unknown can hold terrors that surpass the limits of imagination.
Gone (2023). 152 x 60 x 30 cm & 112 x 63 x 30 cm. Jesmonite £4500 (both)
Exploring ideas relating to hybridity, interspecies communication and ecological justice Eco-Alien Family blurs species boundaries to present a chimera in the process of developing. By refusing to participate in the classificatory ‘order of things’, it compels us to confront the limitations of our human-centric perspectives; shining a light on the possibilities that arise from modes of affiliation and connectedness across species lines.
Eco-alien family (2023). 155 x 80 x 30 cm. Resin, pods. £7000
With thanks to Francesca Dobbe for her outstanding curation and Kensu Oteng for his advice and mentorship. Thanks also goes to the wonderful team of makers and logistics – especially Toby, Andy and Marcus. Finally heartfelt thanks goes to my husband Richard, children Jack, Arthur and Perdi and friends for their love, support and encouragement.
Images: Noah Da Costa
With seed pods and germination at risk from climate change, Inhumana represents the pod as a robust, sentient predator. Disguised in the neutral tones of marble - historically attributed with symbolic manifestations of immortality - it serves as a hauntingly prophetic spectre, reminding us that despite humanity’s ravages on the environment the vegetative world will most likely live on without us.
Inhumana (2023). 60 x 182 x 152 x cm. Foam, paint. £7000
Auricle, named after the visible part of the human ear, explores the concept of plant consciousness. Plants are by no means insensitive to their environment. Although they lack eyes, ears, tongues and noses, they nevertheless see, hear, taste, smell and - like us - show definitive action in response to stimulus. As described in Blackwood’s novel The Man Whom the Trees Loved, ‘though this may be physiological, no one has proved that it is only that, and not - psychological.’
Auricle (2023). 72 x 55 x 55 cm. Resin, silver leaf, fibreoptics. £4200
An organelle is a structure inside a living cell that has a specific role. Although plant, animal and human cells have a wide range of organelles, exclusive to the plant cell chloroplasts contain a green pigment chlorophyll that is responsible for the process of photosynthesis. In addition a large central vacuole is present only in the plant cell and helps in maintaining water balance.
Organelle (2023) – Cells (L to R) 1-10, 42 x 30 cm. Ice, paint, steel. £180 (each)
Out for revenge, Predator 1 has assimilated certain human attributes and adapted armour to deceive and eliminate the human life that tarnished its habitat. Oddly, it’s thorns, spines and noxious defences present a view of our own extinction as utopic, providing a peculiar sense of reassurance, in showing us that our actions won’t have completely eradicated the planet, just ourselves.
Predator 1 (2023). 152 x 182 x 182 cm. Foam, pulp, steel. £6000
At once both phallic and dentate, Predator 2 embodies sex and sexuality in all its intricacy to confront the classical thought that has relegated plants to a status devoid of sensation, feeling and emotion. At the same time, Predator 2 draws on the history of herbal aphrodisiacs that insist upon the role that plants can play in eliciting sexual responses in humans to take revenge on those that have long exploited them.
Predator 2 (2023). 132 x 60 x 60 cm. Aluminium, resin. £7000