Paulette Phillips has developed a series of kinetic, solar-powered sculptures for installation in the Rose Garden pool, which bring to 'life' a new version of the Canadian Walking Fern in an area surrounded by many rare fern specimens.
The Rose Garden contains a small collection of ferns from around the world. These specimens line the perimeter of the garden, dwarfed by the roses at the height of summer. The Victorian love of ferns resulted in something of a craze – Paxton’s Fernery houses a collection brought from the rainforests of New Zealand and the introduction of the plant into homes signalled a new era. No longer confined simply to glasshouses, plants were to be grown indoors where previously only cut flowers would have been deemed appropriate or desirable. However, as interest in the fern grew, the hunting of specimens brought many to the brink of extinction. Over-hunting suggests both the gluttony of human consumption and the possibility of the plant’s attempt to avoid capture.
‘Domesticating’ the wild, Paulette Phillips has brought to Tatton a specimen from her native Canada to add to the collection. The Walking Fern, or Asplenium rhizophyllum, throws down its fronds, which can then take root in the soil. This action can be endlessly repeated, allowing the plant to relocate as soil conditions dictate. Phillips’ plants, a herd of solar-powered ‘fern-bots’, are presented in the drained bath of the Rose Garden. Trapped by the architecture, they plod along the tiles, searching for suitable conditions in which to survive. Phillips describes her interest in taking up the agency of plants, recognising the possibility that flora possess self-determination, as witnessed by the solar-driven ‘monster’ that moves at will. Within this idea there is a further link between technology and biology. The artist suggests that, far from seeing the technological as monstrous, it is advantageous to view technology as emanating from our natural, human world. The positive attributes of such a reading are seen throughout Tatton, from the heated walls of the Orchard to the earthy darkness of the Bothy.
Paulette Phillips is an artist based in Toronto, Canada. Recent group exhibitions include: Gallerie Chomette, Paris; The Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris; The Power Plant, Toronto; ZKM, Germany; Kunsthaus Graz, Austria; Heidelberger Kunstverein, Germany; Ludwig Museum, Hungary and the Palazzo della Papesse, Italy.
Referencing the conventions that determine modern life, her interests veer towards the fringes where trauma, hybridity, aberration and paradox reside. Cinematic language is used to underscore the unconscious roots of paradoxical behaviour and agency within the realms of the natural and psycho-socio.
Phillips teaches film and installation at The Ontario College of Art and Design. Upcoming commissions include Fashion and Crime, premiering at Tate Modern in May 2008.