Jo Coupe

Rarefied (Phalaenopsis lobii)

Jo Coupe Rarefied (Phalaenopsis lobii)

Jo Coupe Rarefied (Phalaenopsis lobii)

Rarefied (Phalaenopsis lobii)
18ct rose gold approx. 15 x 10cm

Jo Coupe’s work for the Biennial focuses on the value and collectability of objects; their value as things bought and sold, traded, catalogued and displayed. She has worked with Tatton’s Orchid collection, which, like any botanic assemblage is prone to decay. It is also of extreme monetary worth, with some specimens fetching thousands of pounds when made available for sale. It is this sense of the ‘worth’ and ‘value’ of Tatton’s collections that has caught the artist’s imagination and has spurred her on to produce a solid gold cast of a rare orchid. Its placement, in the Orchid House, is deliberately problematic – how can the work of art be viewed when the glasshouse that contains it is not opened to the public most of the time? How can these specimens afforded titles of exceptionality be anything but rarefied?

Corruptibility is part and parcel of a valuable collection: it suggests both issues of decay and, more pertinent to this work, perhaps, issues of conscience. The Orchid House is normally only open to the public when staffed because of the precocity and delicate nature of its contents and the need to interpret these unusual plants. Coupe’s cast challenges this perception, tossed to one side in the gravel alongside its living relatives, it invites theft, but, as it is contained within a ‘safe’ environment (literally and figuratively – the living orchid has been cut, killed and preserved as a gold-encrusted corpse), little harm can come to it.

Part of the joy of the work is the knowledge that many of the plants that sit near to it are much more ‘valuable’ than the object itself. The artist asks which one is most precious? When all known signifiers of status are removed, can we see the inherent value the connoisseur dedicates a lifetime to perfecting their understanding of?

Thanks to Chris at Deva Orchids, Apple at Hean Studio and Joseph Hillier


Jo Coupe's work tackles the complex relationship between growth and decay, exploring the ephemerality of living things and questioning what constitutes ‘life’. She works in materials as diverse as chalk, gold, vinegar, fruit and bronze and my working practices invade the spheres of botany, chemistry and jewellery. Some recent work uses the aesthetics and methodology of science, adapting simple experiments for their metaphorical significance and subverting half-understood scientific ideas.

Jo Coupe studied in Newcastle upon Tyne and decided to stay there, although she has also lived in New Orleans and London, where she studied for an MA at Goldsmiths College. She now works from her converted garage, frequently consulting experts in various areas.

Jo Coupe's projects have included a temporary commission for Locus +, a residency in Grizedale Forest and a group show at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. At the moment she is working on a residency with global aluminium producer Alcan, a commission for Tatton Park Biennial and a solo show at Workplace Gallery, Gateshead.