Anna Cady on Not Just a Garden: and a response from visitor Ernie Dalton


18th October 2022

 

The below text has been provided by artist Anna Cady

Creating the installation ‘Not Just a Garden’ has been an extraordinarily rewarding
experience for me both as an artist and as a person.

The challenge the artist’s brief set out was to create a contemporary artwork at Furzey
Gardens which would reveal the history of this special garden which was celebrating its
centenary, whilst responding to the people and the the garden itself. This was not as easy
as it sounds. But so rewarding. I loved every moment.

Deb who runs the nursery with and for the students with learning disabilities at Furzey says
in a film we all made together – ‘It’s plants and it’s people’. Pete, the head gardener says,
‘it’s being a family – we work together as a group of people who have an ambition – for all
of the family.’

Being invited to become a part of this community / family, albeit for a few months, was a
gift. Making a piece of art which would honour the people, the garden and the history was
a challenge. Leaving my ego at the gate was step number one!

Some visitors enjoy the collaged panels which represent the history – the Victorian plant
hunters and original owners of the garden. Others enjoy the film I edited of the incredible
event when Furzey Gardens came away with a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show and
enjoy the craftsmanship and beauty of the cyanotype prints we all made together, whilst
for others it is the films installed in the attic which provide the magic of the installation. For
the people who work there I think it is the film I made with the people with learning
disabilities, where they reveal their personalities and skills, that are most moving.

I’d like to share with you a personal piece of writing sent to me by a visitor who was
incredibly moved by his visit to the garden and the installation.
__________________________________________________________

Planting a new vision for art in the 21st Century.

A personal response by Ernie Dalton.

“I am nearly 70 years old. Art has been a part of my life. The looking and feeling about it has
shaped my consciousness. Just what is it though? It’s certainly been an inspiration to try
and understand why it affects me. The way my perception has been altered by my
appreciation of it. Not always though. Perhaps our personal likes and dislikes just reveal
who we are. What made my visit to this installation so memorable? Why did it affect me
so deeply? Provoking me to think about art in my time. It gladdened me to know why Anna
Cady’s work here felt so important. It is in this context that I write this now, in my late
season of life.

The approach to Furzey Gardens is through the New Forest. You drive up and down ancient
winding lanes and then enter a clearing. Anna Cady’s art installation, ‘Not just a garden’, is
situated in a thatched 16th Century Cottage. For me it was like entering a fairy tale. I was
enchanted. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere, the feel of this place. It was as if the
ground itself emanated a vibration. My feet felt lighter treading through the picket fence gate. Anna Cady’s artwork starts here. There was a rhubarb forcer with a sign that said,
‘lift and listen’. Voices of participants involved in her project rise from the pot. It brought a
smile to my face. It was like an ethereal embrace. It was a warm sunny day but the
warmth I felt came from the sense of being welcomed to discover for myself some of the
living history of this place.

Furzey Gardens is part of the Minstead Trust organisation whose mission is to ‘nurture the
unique potential of people with learning difficulties’. How it does this in this setting is to
focus on serious horticultural activity. Plants grown for sale. A garden nurtured. Students,
staff, and volunteers engage with each other in this work. Their produce, the fruits of their
labours, colour the site. How it was created and what it has become is the focus of the
installation.

Anna Cady’s work here made me think about the reach of the visual arts.
It’s difficult to place art in time, yet individual artists themselves have a developmental
chronology placed upon them. There’s a sense that they are working through or towards
something. Often linked, of course, to their physical age, through different periods – youth
to maturity.

Anna Cady was commissioned jointly by the Minstead Trust and Arts&Heritage. She was
the one chosen to be their centenary artist. I can see why. She has brought an intuitive
depth perception both to this place and these people. It was a six month process of
working with the staff and students to co-create the installation. As you enter the low-
ceilinged cottage (I had to duck), there is a wall mounted screen displaying a film. ‘It’s
Plants and It’s People’ shows students working in the gardens. Anna Cady edited this film
with footage from Go-Pro bodycams some of the students wore, as well as an interview
with Deb, a gardener and horticultural therapist.

Both in Deb’s words and the students’ comments you hear why Furzey Gardens, and the
work undertaken there, is so enriching for all. It is a very moving film, a celebration of
achievement.

One powerful sequence for me has a student meticulously transplanting seedlings. I never
realised just what it takes to do this properly: the concentration needed, the gentle
separation of earth and compost, the placing of the seedling, then the covering, more a
stroking of earth over it. It did strike me, no gardener, that this is what it takes to make
things grow. Was there a wish made as it was planted, a prayer?

Anna Cady’s ability to enable those who find it difficult to communicate to express
themselves moved me. It heightened my own sense of being there to absorb the colours
and textures, the physical objects she uses to illustrate the history of this place.

When artists burst forth or die young, it is often recognised as their individual struggle with
form, colour, space, or concept at that time. A chronology of art seems forever timebound.
This is a factor, although not a determinate, of the art that is produced. This art or these
artefacts personal lives. Yet we continue to explore the interaction between the life lived
and the art that springs from it. In many instances this may include issues like poverty,
addiction, or madness – as if art worth anything must be born from extremity.

Further on in the room, on the wall are a series of blue cyanotype prints. The colour blue
is a powerful signifier for Cady since childhood. These prints have an x-ray quality to them.
You see a leaf’s shape, but it is also not there, like a memory of it frozen. I felt something
else. I wanted to stretch out my hand and touch through the blue image, as though it were
a portal to another dimension.

The timeline of art we are most familiar with, the contents of the world’s galleries and
museums, stretches back around eight or nine hundred years. This omits the ‘classical
tradition’ of Greek and Roman civilisations. Most of the earliest art in the western tradition
features depictions of Biblical stories, art about, or for, God. These were often
commissioned by the Christian church or despotic patrons seeking salvation, up until the
modern period and abstract expressionism. Take Jackson Pollock: you search to find a deity
in his work.

Below the prints on the wall there is a tabletop collage of material from an Edwardian
botanist and plant collector- Frank Kingdon-Ward. He is a key historical figure for Furzey.
Cady has assembled material from her own research of his correspondence about his
travels to far lands in search of rare and exotic plants. His expeditions provided proof of
other countries natural abundance. Things desired by the wealthy at home. Yet his
fascination for the plants themselves is reflected in books and articles he wrote. These
fragments give insight to how Furzey began. It’s a complex story, touchingly told. A mix of
grasping colonial expansion and innocent personal exploration. A copy of his book ‘The
Land of the Blue Poppy, Travels of a Naturalist in Eastern Tibet’ sits on a chair next to a
fireplace, published in 1913.

The ‘role’ of art from Victorian times has been imbued with a fantasy that to contemplate a
painting or sculpture leads to moral improvement. Whole galleries were established as a
gift from one-time mill or chocolate factory owners to accomplish just that. They saw the
exposure to and appreciation of art as intrinsic to social welfare. Albeit that many of the
works exhibited also hid where the money that bought them came from. The sweat and toil
of the local working masses. These institutions became stuffed with the looted lives and
treasure of the old world and now were paraded with civic pride to the new.

In the 20th Century there grew a fecund projection from modern art onto what was
described as ‘primitive art’. This material, ethnographically bound, was linked to
geographical exploration. It arrived from the ‘Dark Continent’, the ‘Aboriginal’. Although
profoundly influential to the big names in western art we rarely knew theirs. Then there are
the extraordinary artworks of China, Japan, the Middle East, stretching back. Their art and
timelines remain not fully translatable to the all-encompassing theory of the meaning of art
which reigns in the West.

My sense of time in the cottage began to change. These sensed colours, these sensed
things. What is the meaning they have for me? Here I was, in summer 2022, in this old
space. The lives of those who lived there, imagined. Our country’s past explored in
miniature. I began to climb the narrow staircase.

Of course, not all art is of one kind. Sometime around the 1920s Duchamp’s Urinal ushered
in a new appreciation of the ‘thing itself’ and came to be a conveyor of a deeper meaning whose concept lay elsewhere. At that same time the science of society, much in vogue in
ideologically persuasive countries, produced an art committed to the ‘new man’ and ‘new
woman’. This ‘new art’ celebrated their achievement in bright hues with strong muscles.
The more avant-garde there sought to create a calibrated construction of human liberation.
Like so much art produced pre-Second World War however, these efforts crumbled under
the weight of a harsher reality. After that conflict, producing as it did the mega-
mechanisation of death, many said the very idea of ‘art’, in such a post-traumatised world,
was obscene. But time moved on. The timeline of art became a record of forgetting as much
as a record of enlightenment.

I stood on the landing looking into two small rooms on either side. To my right I saw in this
enclosed space a film, ‘Betty’s Butterfly Box’. Anna Cady’s hands opened tiny packages of
old newspaper from over a hundred years ago filled with extraordinary, preserved
butterflies and moths. A forgotten personal archive revealed, from 1915. It was so
poignant.

Nowadays the value of a work of art is clear. It transmutes to another form of international
currency. ‘If only money could talk’. These are the most potent words which give definitive
meaning to the nature and value of art when many of the greatest works of all time lie
hidden in the depths of a Swiss bank vault. However, these substitutes for hard cash only
exist when supported by an art theory which springs from the establishment of micro-
cultural connoisseurship and within the strongholds of academic art ‘knowing’. This is not to
say there is a hegemony of meaning within or between these two tribes. Often, factions can
be at word-war. Particularly when new/re-discoveries of what constitutes art flourish under
contemporary analysis. Linguistic post-modern idioms have revealed to us a minefield of
tired and laboured concepts. Old theories and patriarchal hierarchies explode under topical
academic scrutiny – a one-time offering up to God becomes just another sorry chapter of
his-story.

In the left room, on the ceiling, another film was being projected: ‘Blue’, illustrating Anna
Cady’s signature focus. It features a close-up of a chemical process. There are seeds left
from a blue flower called ‘Love in a Mist’. And then, as I was watching, something
happened to me. I felt my heart lift. It was as though I was rising through the projected
image skywards. I could hear music and a voice, but it was the movement of the blue to a
white that transported me. These moving images were powerfully abstract but
nevertheless had a gripping reality that made me feel so alive. All I had sensed and felt
before, time, emotion, beginnings and endings, here and now in this confined space I was
expanding…

So, what of now when so much contemporary art appears to be a veiled or not so veiled
form of worthy propaganda, extolling our species’ imminent decline and extinction – an art
which highlights the ‘wrongs’ of the past. If only from a pixelated-enslaved and
technicoloured technology, obeying unwittingly the control of the ‘absent master’
algorithm. Here, such ‘art’ takes on the role of the doomed, decorating the inside of a
coffin.

So, can we imagine an art which communicates to reach our full human selves? Those
emotional registers that are capable of loving and knowing, beyond words? That it is how art can affect us viscerally, through the senses that enliven us. It is the perception of
beauty. Becoming aware of the sanctity in the effort that is made to connect with one
another. Through this art we can sense a timelessness of feeling – a transcendence as
actuality rather than imagined.

This is what Anna Cady’s work at Furzey has achieved.

For me, Not Just A Garden plants a new vision for art in the 21st Century.”


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