Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, USA, 2001

Residency and Exhibition

“Loss, aging, fading memory, possession, the germination of life, death, the generating and corrupting influences of light, the ever changing tonalities and hues of the color green are only some of the recurrent ideas and themes that are woven into the fabric of Ackroyd & Harvey’s extraordinary body of work.

For over a decade this British team has been exploring with steadfast discipline and determination the most ephemeral of Nature’s elements: living grass. Screens of specially developed photosensitive grass will soon be up on the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s temporary exhibition gallery, as the artists will harness the process of photosynthesis and capture chlorophyll to fix images in growing grass.

Having spent two weeks exploring the Museum’s galleries in the Spring of 2001, visiting the textile conservation labs and the greenhouses, and researching Isabella Gardener’s collection of textiles and manuscripts, Ackroyd & Harvey will be back in the Fall to complete their residency and prepare an exhibition of their work, entitled Presence“.
(Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2001)

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In March of 2001 the artists spent time viewing the Museum’s treasures and masterpieces and visiting the conservation labs researching the textile and manuscript collection. They were particularly fascinated by the important role light plays in the Museum. Ultimately they decided to focus their attention on a 15th century manuscript, several architectural and sculptural elements and portraiture.

In September of 2001 the artists made the Special Exhibition gallery their studio and darkroom, germinating and growing all the works in the space where they were eventually exhibited.

Script (courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) has been subsequently recreated as part of the artists solo show Fotosintesi at Metronom, Barcelona in 2004.

Artists Statement

“The act of conservation is a painstaking meditation on the corruptibility of matter. The art is to preserve the object in its existing state from destruction or change, effectively stabilising or slowing down the inexorable process of decay. Yet change is weaved into the fabric of things, perhaps barely visible, unseen, at other times rapid, unforeseen. Drawing on material objects from the ISGM collection not always directly visible to the public eye we propose a series of works expressing the seductions of time and visibility. Working with the light sensitivity of young grass and the pigment chlorophyll, we wish to create a series of photosynthesis photographs taking their subject matter from the idea of memory as fabric, a weaving of experiences and events. Early ideas are focusing on a original gown worn by Isabella, delicate complex lace work magnified to take on a fractal exuberance, a detail from the lost Vermeer painting ‘The Concert’ showing a young girl seated at a piano, or words from an early manuscript of Dante magnified into a texture of text.

Re-creating these possible threads of a collective narrative involves literally bringing them to life through the process of germination, growth and photosynthesis. Yet, our living material is itself subject to change and decay and in order to conserve the image for longer, needs to be dried and exhibited in low light. Advances in our understanding of the molecular indices of leaf death have been greatly enhanced through a long- standing relationship with scientists at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research. They have developed through a plant-breeding programme, a grass that does not lose its chlorophyll when under stress (termed a stay-green.) Parallels can be drawn between the volatility of very early photographs and the measures taken by the proto-photographers to capture the fleeting image. The relationship between the early art of photography and the science of the day in fixing the ephemeral photographic image is an eloquent dialogue about an essential collaboration between different disciplines, the desire to appropriate images as objects, and the power of commodity.

The ‘stay-green’ image in the photosynthesis photograph briefly stabilises the transient, yet in time it will fade, as such photographic ‘fixes’ hold no sway over the bio-chemistry of light and pigment.

Placed within the Gardner Museum the proposed work has a performative charge bound up within its own transient nature”
(Ackroyd & Harvey, 2001)