This autumn you will be able to celebrate the diversity and beauty of queer plants and fungi with an inspiring new festival, Queer Nature, at Kew Gardens.
Step inside Kew’s iconic Temperate House to discover a large-scale suspended artwork and a living horticultural installation which explores the amazing world of plants and fungi, particularly those that challenge traditional expectations.
At the centre of the Temperate House, New York-based artist Jeffrey Gibson will create House of Spirits, an immersive installation fusing vibrant colour and pattern. Gibson draws upon his Choctaw-Cherokee heritage as well as queer theory, politics and art history as part of his multi-disciplinary practice, and similar themes will be explored in his new commission for Kew.
This large-scale, suspended artwork will be intricately crafted to form a collage of printed fabrics, incorporating previously unseen botanical illustrations alongside language and patterns informed by Gibson’s own perspectives on queerness, and the endless diversity of plants and nature. This new artwork, receiving its world premiere at Kew, also draws inspiration from the work and life of artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman, who was renowned as a stage designer, gardener and gay rights activist.
New Garden Display
Elsewhere in the Temperate House, visitors can discover a newly designed garden titled Breaking the Binary, created by Patrick Featherstone in collaboration with Kew’s Youth Forum. Exploring themes of plant classification and categorisation, this living installation celebrates the infinite potential of nature.
Featherstone was recently involved in a Gold Medal winning garden at Chelsea Flower Show 2023, and has advised on six Chelsea award-winning gardens in total. Working in collaboration with Kew’s Youth Forum, Featherstone will work with a group of 14-18 year olds to design a striking horticultural display. The process of co-creating a garden at Kew offers an incredible opportunity for members of the Youth Forum to develop new skills within the worlds of design and horticulture.
Recognising the incredible breadth and range of perspectives relevant to the festival theme, Kew has invited over a dozen horticulturists, scientists, authors, drag artists and activists to contribute to a film-based installation designed by British artist & designer Adam Nathaniel Furman as they explore what Queer Nature means to them. This series of short videos and reflections feature experts from across Kew, alongside artist Jeffrey Gibson, and others including Sixto-Juan Zavala who led projects such as Queer Botany.
Celebrating the diversity of nature
There is huge diversity in the plant world – from orchids that can self-pollinate, to avocado trees which are functionally female one day (in order to be pollinated), and functionally male the next (using anthers to spread their pollen). Looking at plants and fungi through a queer lens sheds a new light on the complexity and infinite possibilities of nature, highlighting the vital importance of conserving biodiversity and protecting the natural world.
Queer history of the Temperate House
The world’s largest surviving Victorian glasshouse, Kew’s Temperate House, first opened in 1863 and is home to some of the world’s rarest and most threatened plants. As you step inside, statues of Flora and Sylvanus can be found either side of the entrance. Both symbolise homosexual relationships in Greek mythology. Sylvanus is said to have loved a youth named Cyparissus who had a pet doe. When Sylvanus unintentionally killed it, Cyparissus died of grief, and Sylvanus transformed him into a cypress tree. He is said to carry its branches as a mourning token, represented in the statue at Kew.
Once inside, see the Dombeya mauritiana – a plant which changes sex depending on the temperature of the environment. In hot conditions, it grows male flowers, while in cooler conditions, it produces female ones. Believed to be extinct in the wild, Kew is now the only place in the world with the Dombeya mauritiana in cultivation.
Julie Flavell, Head of Visitor Programmes and Exhibitions at RBG Kew, says:
We are incredibly excited to celebrate the beauty and diversity of plants and fungi at Kew Gardens this autumn. This unique collaboration between art, science, horticulture and LGBTQ+ communities will be the first of its kind at Kew, promising to transform the Temperate House into a unique experience for all to enjoy. We hope visitors will leave feeling inspired by the wonder of the natural world
Queer Nature: Temperate House, Kew Gardens, Saturday 30th September – Sunday 29th October 2023 kew.org
After hours, 13th, 14th, 20th & 21st October Enjoy music, performance and comedy after dark in the stunning surroundings of the Temperate House at night. Further details to be confirmed soon.