Adulthood installation view. Image courtesy Bunker Gallery.

Land art makes minimal and temporary interventions in the landscape, whilst also bringing organic materials into the gallery space, bringing attention to the natural world and working with it. Artist Rufus Biddle takes this one step further – so rather than just bringing the natural world in to the gallery, he uses organic materials to create an alternate space within the gallery itself. His latest exhibition Adulthood at Bunker Gallery not only transforms the space into a tranquil oasis for contemplation, but also creates a self-portrait of the artist himself. Through minimal sculptural works the exhibition contains interwoven ideas on space and memories, with plants acting as the common thread tying these different ideas together both in context and medium.

The exhibition explores philosopher Michel Foucault’s idea of Heterotopia, in which an illusion of space is explored in real space. He categorises gardens as Heterotopian spaces, in what he describes ‘creating utopian nature’, in which a garden functions as an illusion where ideas on nature and space itself can be imposed. This varies depending on personal and cultural ideology on ‘what nature should be and look like ‘ for example; Japanese gardens create balance and harmony whilst French gardens impose structural order and geometric lines. Biddle uses the idea of Heterotopia to create the illusion of an outdoor garden space within the gallery, thus creating a space that is neither indoors or outdoors. By transcending the distinction between the two spaces the ambiguousness creates an alternate space in which the materiality of plants is acknowledged and explored.

Biddle uses a variety of plants and organic material in a measured, carefully constructed, way to create sculptural works that highlight the aesthetic structural quality of plants and stones. This can be seen in his piece ‘Front Street {the house I grew up in}’ (2018) in which structural patterns are created within gravel, reminiscent of meditative mandala patterns. A large and small moss covered rock sit within the gravel, mirroring each other to create symmetry, whilst two ivy plants trail the walls adding height and contrasting texture. The overall effect creates a tranquil space reminiscent of a sacred temple or yoga studio, designed for relaxation and contemplation. The piece works with the existing space of Bunker Gallery to create a whole new non-defined space, which in the Heterotopian spirit isn’t tied to a particular time or space.

Interestingly whilst the idea of space is explored, there is a personal aspect to the exhibition that gives an added depth to the work. The exhibition becomes a self-portrait of the artist’s mother and her influence upon his chosen medium of plants. This is not only reflected in nostalgic childhood references in the titles of the pieces, such as ‘Mum’s Pot’ (2018), but also in the incorporation of his photographical book which directly references his family’s passion for plants and gardening. The juxtaposition of a complex theory such a Foucault’s with the simple nostalgia of the artist’s childhood is intriguing. The space once again acts as an illusion transporting the viewer from a measured, tranquil and reflective space, to the artist’s childhood memories and autobiographical meaning behind his work.

This constant shift between varied contexts could make the exhibition confusing for the viewer, however the minimal sculptural quality Biddle uses, and the repeating aspects – such as the circular shapes and carefully selected plants – means the viewer isn’t overwhelmed. It is the non-invasiveness of the exhibition that allows the viewer to be transported to a space that operates outside the conventions of a typical exhibition space. One in which nature is used as a medium to take the viewer on a journey through the artist’s memories, whilst drawing upon the therapeutic cathartic release of stress through the aesthetic sculptural quality of nature. In this Adulthood transmits a surreally peaceful calm that resonates long after departing.

Claire Walker is a writer based in Wigan.

Adulthood, Bunker Gallery, Manchester.

8 November – 15 December 2018.

Published 13.12.2018 by James Schofield in Reviews

653 words