Sea Garden

November 2019 – 26 January 2020

This exhibition explored the gendered relationship with the sea and seaweed. Sea Garden featured RAMM’s first South West Commission by Bryony Gillard. Gillard explored Amelia Warren Griffiths‘ seaweed collection and its connection with contemporary ideas and conversations.

The Sea Garden exhibition rejected the idea that humans have a higher status than other living organisms. Instead the exhibition presented contemporary art that explores our close relationship with marine life – specifically seaweed. Many of the works address a tension between nature and culture: between the living algae on the shoreline and dried seaweed specimens carefully preserved by the museum.

The exhibition developed out of the artist Bryony Gillard’s suggestion that she make new work inspired by RAMM’s extensive seaweed collection, specifically those specimens collected by the 19th-century ‘Queen of Algologists’ Amelia Griffiths. British women were not encouraged to actively contribute to the scientific professions before the 20th century,
but botany – specifically the study of algae – was one field of research in which women were able to participate. These seaweed albums of dried specimens were described as ‘natural illustration’ and reflected a popular fascination with plants of the sea at that time.

Installation view, Sea Garden, Bryony Gillard, Unctuous between fingers, 2019

Sea Garden was made intentionally international: the ocean has no border. From Devon to the North Pacific via Ireland and the West Coast of the USA, the themes suggested in the artworks place the local within the international. Susan Derges’s Tide Pool series illuminate an ecological aesthetic drawing upon the rich diversity of Devon’s rock pools; Mikhail Karikis focuses attention on a rapidly disappearing sustainable economy in the North Pacific Island of Jeju, while Dorothy Cross turns the marine world into a domestic space and focuses on the human touch.

Installation image from the exhibition, Sea Garden
Installation View, Sea Garden, William Arnold & Mollie Goldstrom, and Claude Cahun, various works

By setting up dialogues between artwork made by artists in the 21st century, Sea Garden addressed interconnected themes of algae collecting, feminism, and environmentalism that questioned how we relate to each other and, in turn, the natural world. Seen together, these thought-provoking artworks express the artists’ intimate relationship with their environment. This exhibition reminded the viewers that the natural world exceeds the framing of both
art and science.

Artists included: Claude Cahun, Jo Crook, Dorothy Cross, Susan Derges, Bryony Gillard, Mollie Goldstrom & William Arnold, Sarah Gordon, Ingela Ihrman, Mikhail Karikis, Sarah Rose, Lucy Skaer.