British artist Rebecca Louise Law’s site-specific work The Journey at the Cummer Museum, Jacksonville, exemplifies both the mission of the museum (“to engage and inspire through the arts, gardens, and education”) and a concerted shift toward cultural presence: a tender and meticulous installation comprised of hundreds of dried and fresh flowers that form a lush, semi-opaque corridor for viewers to walk through.
This elegant, spatial composition breathes as viewers move within the space and peer through gaps between petals, seed pods, branches, and grasses. While its scale seems monumental– botanical lines drop from ceiling to floor and span the length of the exhibition room– its genteel materiality, and the precise directive that viewers are not allowed to photograph the work, generate a contemplative and inquisitive experience, increasingly rare within cultural spaces. In requiring viewers to not photograph the work, admittedly an impressive Instagram-able backdrop, the emotional tenor of the installation creates reverie: viewers talk quietly with one another, watch each other examine the plant life, point curiously at flowers, leaves, and seed types- creating simultaneous private and communal exchanges about science, mortality, site-specificity, memory, family, joy and grief.
This purposeful instruction by Law, that viewers may not take photos or videos of the installation, allows a qualitatively distinct form of attention to emerge. Sans-phones, viewers reflect on the intensive process of carefully linking sensitive biological matter with delicate copper wire, the delightfully referenced exercise in physicalizing plein air painting and impressionism, brush strokes built by reeds and grasses, texture developed through coxcomb and marigold, weight distribution between baby’s breath lightness and dried seed density all folded into a saturated orchestral tapestry. What’s more, the opportunity for concentrated viewership begets an understanding of the artist’s intent on reflecting cycles in the natural world: the corridor beginning in softness, filling up in the center, and gracefully thinning out at its end. Law notes that the installation is designed to reflect such cycles: “After exploring the intimacy of the womb and the sensation of being consumed and cocooned in nature I would like to explore the momentum of life. From the second we are formed in cells we are moving and changing, within a world that is also evolving. The motion of walking through nature and witnessing its many forms from life to death. This rhythmic cycle that we are all participants of, fascinates me. This installation will be a short journey through nature, with its many forms and scents, stimulating the senses to the extreme.”
In removing the insta-opportunity to refract, flatten, and recompose our experience with Law’s installation, the instant invitation toward personal-collective presence and observation
grows. Artists, scientists, intimate and familial relations all share this quality of attention and time-based processes in order for genuine discovery, content, and meaning to materialize. In a time where in which we have been isolated- though technological, pathogenetic, and political ways- The Journey offers an expanded understanding of texture, palette, installation, and provides viewers a rare and reflexive chance to commune with one another in singular time-space.