There’s an upside down garden at The Royal Standard. It hangs overhead, suspended from the ceiling by long wires and erupting with delicate ferns, bushy flowers and bristly weeds. As the summer draws to a close, pieces of it drift off and fall to the ground, creating a second garden of curled remains on the gallery floor, dying more and more each day.
This is Seen by Everyone, a collaboration between Leanne Cook, florist,and Zarina Muhammad of The White Pube. There’s a powerful mood of bittersweetness to it, a sense of time curdling as you stand in the presence of something frankly gorgeous and watch its unstoppable disintegration.
It’s worth mentioning this mood because this really is an exhibition about creating an atmosphere and inviting people to simply be in it: as Zarina writes, ‘The show is really just an exploration of tenderness I think; what it could look like if you made art while thinking about how people would feel in the space’.
This idea of tenderness also runs through an accompanying book (free, donations accepted), composed of a loose constellation of WhatsApp / email screenshots, Instagram posts, tweets, conversation transcripts and smartphone photos that cast some light on how the show was put together.
It is written almost entirely in the playful language of digital spaces: in the preamble, Zarina states ‘NOTE::: Dear Visitor… I don’t wana write u a big long essay about ~meaning & the academix of all this bc truth be told, we’ve all tried to make a nice show that’s a pleasure to be in a gallery with… I hope it brightens ur day. Bc lesbehonest dark times rn’ [rn=’right now’, btw].
There’s a friction between the raw and open intent of statements like this and the cool, distant style from which they are written, which can be either mysteriously seductive or just plain infuriating. But it does touch on something big: the crisis of sincerity a lot of us are facing, our discomfort with talking openly about things like tenderness and affect, tensed up, bottled, forever tiptoeing over a minefield of clichés.
Yet in some way, in a culture deadened by the long-term effects of all this tiptoeing, perhaps the only way of re-legitimising these very real experiences is by packaging them up in the written or visual language of the disaffected. From this understanding, the show becomes an honest and dedicated endeavour to fill cold digital or gallery spaces with human warmth, especially when considering Leanne’s background as a researcher in the connection between floristry and mental health
With Liverpool Biennial’s Beautiful World, Where are You? programme approaching, Zarina and Leanne have set the bar high for contemporary art that seeks to relocate the beautiful in 2017. What they have ultimately created is a very much contemporary space in which you are absolutely permitted to be moved, where it is enough to simply be in a room quietly and feel powerfully good. It’s art as gift, animated by the basic impulse to reach out and transform you, to lift you up, if only for a while.
Seen by Everyone, Leanne Cook and Zarina Muhammad, The Royal Standard, closes 20 August.
Jacob Bolton is a Liverpool-based writer and music producer. He works at Open Eye Gallery.