Anna Cady at Furzey Gardens

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  • Anna Cady

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  • Furzey Gardens
  • Arts&Heritage
  • Arts Council

As part of Arts&Heritage’s Meeting Point programme, artist Anna Cady marked the centenary of Furzey Gardens and celebrated the work of people with learning disabilities with her onsite exhibition, which was from Friday 29 April – 18 December 2022.

Created by artist Anna Cady, working with people from Minstead Trust, Not just a garden was an installation of films, images, and memorabilia looking at Furzey Gardens’ 100-year history and its role as a place of support and work experience for people with learning disabilities. 

The installation explored people and stories connected to the gardens, including English explorer and botanist, Frank Kingdon-Ward, who was a plant hunter for Furzey Gardens in the 1920s. Using letters, stamps, maps and other ephemera, visitors could discover stories connected to Kingdon-Ward’s travels and his role in Furzey Gardens’ history.

The installation included cyanotype prints, referencing the type of photography used by Frank Kingdon-Ward. A gallery of cyanotypes made by people with learning disabilities was on display in Furzey Gardens’ tea rooms, alongside pictures showing them being created.

Short films inspired by the gardens and their history were installed in the attic of Furzey Gardens’ 16th century cottage, including one made with people with learning disabilities celebrating their gardening skills, and their great success in winning the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee RHS Gold Medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2012.

In the cottage garden, Anna installed interactive ‘sound pots’ that contained stories recorded by the people that worked at Furzey.

“The reason we’ve called the exhibition, Not just a garden is because Furzey Gardens is also about the people, they’re the ones that make it such a special and inspiring place.

“It was so important to work in collaboration with the people that look after the gardens to create the installation. I knew I wanted to use a technique that would give people the freedom to unleash their creativity and make something they could be proud of.

“Cyanotypes produce such beautiful colours and they provide an instant magic as the image appears on the paper. It seemed the perfect artform for us to explore the gardens and be creative together.” – Anna Cady

 

A&H commissioned the filmmaker Pascal Vossen to create a ‘making of film’ for Not just a garden, capturing the artist’s process.

Furzey Gardens is part of Minstead Trust, which supports 220 people with learning disabilities to gain greater independence and lead fulfilled lives. Furzey Gardens celebrates its centenary in 2022. 

First developed by the Dalrymple family in the 1920s, Furzey Gardens was saved from demolition by Tim Selwood – founder of Minstead Trust – in 1972. It was established as a charitable trust in 1973 and today more than 30 people with learning disabilities and 20 volunteers work with head gardener, Pete White, to maintain the gardens and bring on plants in the nursery.

“What makes us unique is our pioneering approach to providing learning and training opportunities to people with learning disabilities. In our centenary year, we wanted to celebrate the people that help make Furzey Gardens such a special place.

Anna’s focus on collaborative working was something that really excited us because her work shows what people with learning disabilities can achieve. Everyone that worked with Anna is really proud of what they’ve created and that’s an important feeling to instill in people.” – Jay Powell, Furzey Gardens

Ingrid Swenson freelance curator, visited Furzey Gardens to view Not Just A Garden, a Meeting Point commission by artist Anna Cady.

Furzey Gardens, an exquisitely stunning and popular local attraction, is part of a larger, parent organisation, the Minstead Trust, whose core mission is to ‘nurture the unique potential of people with learning disabilities.’ Most visitors to the Gardens may not be aware that its business model is as a social enterprise rather than as a heritage site, and that much of the horticultural work is carried out by students with learning disabilities and volunteers, but it is this element that Anna Cady was keen to bring to the fore as Furzey’s centenary artist.

The story of the evolution of Furzey Gardens across its 100-year history is one of considerable complexity. In common with many country estates that were once owned by landed gentry and have now become part of the heritage of the local area, Furzey has weathered changing fortunes, near catastrophes and extraordinary rejuvenation. It has also been a history which at times has echoed, in microcosm, some of the less glorious moments of Britain’s colonial past, as well as, by contrast, highlighting specific individuals whose passions have contributed knowledge or shaped and forged changing attitudes in British society. By delving into the history of and behind the front-facing beauty of Furzey Gardens, its surrounding woodlands and bucolic countryside, Cady discovers a fascinating narrative that reveals how privilege, and by association power, can function as a colonising and oppressive force, or as a nurturing, enabling, and caring one. 

At the very heart of Anna Cady’s work at Furzey – as indeed it is in her work as an artist – is an urgent desire to communicate. She was drawn to this commission because it provided the opportunity, as she understood it, …to co-create, understand, have conversations with, listen to, and work with the people there”. The project enabled her to combine her knowledge and love of gardening, with her desire to find ways to communicate creatively the levels and layers of activity, interaction and meaning that can be extracted from the place. Furzey is Not Just a Garden for the public to enjoy. It is a place of learning, employment, opportunity, freedom, safety, and creativity.

The commission brief was expansive. It was to explore and reveal elements of Furzey’s history in a way that would contribute to the celebrations of its centenary year. Cady approached this by creating a multifaceted project that simultaneously told a number of the key ‘stories’ of Furzey’s distant and recent past. But in so doing, Cady also situated her singular, creative voice into this wider context. At her first visit she was instantly drawn to the extraordinary picture postcard 16th-century thatched cottage located near the entrance and tearoom. This building is accessible to the public and had been ‘dressed’ with a mannequin in peasant costume and other indicative period artefacts, but otherwise had little role to play. The busy staff and volunteers at Furzey were very receptive to Cady’s proposal to employ the cottage as a self-contained space to create a work that could encompass both the artist’s and Furzey’s ambitions. In addition to this, Cady also used the kitchen garden at the front of the cottage to install four rhubarb forcers as sound chambers for visitors to interact with by listening to short excerpts from interviews with staff and volunteers.

During the winter months in the lead up to the opening, Cady worked with the students to make films with GoPro cameras and conducted cyanotype workshops. These simple but direct and highly effective film and photographic techniques were the perfect vehicles for getting to know and engaging the students in quick, collaborative and creative processes, regardless of their level of ability. The outcomes of this collaborative working were successfully and sensitively incorporated into Cady’s final installation as well as becoming a standalone display in the tearoom.

Placing artworks and integrating ideas or processes that normally reside in the more controlled environments of a gallery or museum into new contexts – whether they be everyday ones like in the street or in a supermarket, or if they connect to a specific heritage or other setting, such as Furzey – is not without its risks. Outside of an institutional or organisational framework, artworks can become ambiguous objects, prompting questions about the demarcation of where art ends and everyday life begins. But perhaps, as it is for Cady, this is also an excellent way for artists to consider and explore how the two are inseparable. Conversely, in recent years, archives, and other facts-based material such as documentary, forensic, scientific practices, have been designated or re-purposed by artists as tools for their work. Cady’s project for Furzey has also incorporated some of these ways of working in Not Just A Garden, and the result is a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk.  

Cady has used the ground floor of the cottage as a space to reveal Furzey’s core mission through interconnecting displays that bring together the past with the present. The atmosphere in the room is one of calm contemplation. There is much to look at, read and be drawn into. 

In the small entrance area to the cottage, visitors are greeted with a large horizontal collage of the exhibition title. Rather than presenting some of the Edwardian artefacts that she uncovered during the research for her commission – such as planting lists and dozens of lead strips with the names of plants embossed onto them – Cady has produced rubbings, facsimiles and cyanotype prints which she has then cut, torn and amalgamated to provide a bold vibrant visual introduction to several of the layers that are explored further inside.

A wall-mounted screen displays Cady’s film, It’s Plants and It’s People (2022, 7.30). Focussing on several Furzey students who attended Cady’s workshops, the film has been edited from GoPro footage from their bodycams and other material shot or obtained by the artist. Gardener and horticultural therapist Deb speaks movingly about how the students’ work in the gardens and nursery has enriched their physical, mental, and emotional health, but it is the clips by the students as they simply and unselfconsciously describe the pleasure and pride that they gain from their work in the gardens and nursery that is especially moving. This film is a testament to the transformative potential to people’s lives that Furzey offers. 

A second film on a smaller screen is set within a display of cyanotype prints. The film charts the remarkable story of how in 2012 Furzey took part in the Chelsea Flower Show – and against the odds, won a gold medal. It has been edited from recently filmed interviews of students and staff as well as stills and footage taken 10 years ago. The Minstead Trust’s Founder Trustee who established Furzey 50 years ago, Tim Selwood, together with Head Gardener Pete are revealed as two quiet, unassuming forces for good which have done so much to power the Furzey spirit for many decades. The public’s response at the Chelsea Flower show stands out as the epitome of this spirit. This key episode in Furzey’s story is an unequivocal demonstration that disability does not have to be a barrier to fulfilment.

A direct, physical reference to Furzey’s outstanding contribution at Chelsea in 2012 are 35 fused glass rhododendron leaves that hang in the two windows of the cottage. These windows act as readymade light boxes for these unique, translucent, and delicate objects, which cast a soft and warm light into the space.  Cady chose these from the total of 142 that were made by the students and staff for the thatched structure called the Chelsea Lantern, which was the centrepiece of their display. In the cyanotype prints that surround the adjacent film, Cady used the fused glass rhododendron leaves made for Chelsea as stencils and then created patterns using seeds and leaves from Furzey’s winter garden. The resulting images once again layer the past with the present.

The element that completes the installation for the ground floor of the cottage explores a key figure of the history of Furzey. Acclaimed, erudite and somewhat eccentric Edwardian botanist and plant hunter Frank Kingdon-Ward (1885-1958) was commissioned by the estate’s original wealthy owners, the Dalrymple family, to travel to Tibet, China, Myanmar and North East India to research, discover and collect rare and exotic plants to bring back to Britain to grace the gardens of the rich. Kingdon-Ward’s sensitivities to the peoples, cultures and the often-volatile politics and ecologies in the places he encountered on his expeditions make him stand out amongst other explorers of his time. Cady has fully engaged with his story and brings it to life by creating a tabletop scrapbook collage of actual and ersatz archive material that directly relates Kingdon-Ward’s life.  This includes books he has authored, correspondence with his children about their gardens, a Country Life article marking his centenary, photographs, and even a copy of a Fortnum & Mason invoice itemising the purchases for a 1924 expedition that includes essentials such as Wrigley’s chewing gum, various tinned foods, and even somewhat counterintuitively tea and curry powder alongside a folding table, kettle, lamp, batteries, and camel hair blanket. Cady has created cyanotype prints from some of the material on display, connecting it visually as well as conceptually with the wider installation. 

The ground floor of the cottage gave Cady the opportunity to create work that connected with Furzey directly – both now and in the past. Cady also wanted to make artwork that was a distillation of her months of activity, conversations, and research. Specifically, she wanted to find a way to make a direct, visceral, and meaningful connection between the various elements from Furzey with something that has stimulated her emotionally and creatively since childhood – the colour blue.

On entering the room to the right, hangs a prose poem framed within a cyanotype blue background. In this the artist writes poetically about how the colour blue evokes powerful memories of key moments in her life and how, perhaps unconsciously at first, blue has emerged as a leitmotif at Furzey. Cady is a passionate reader of a number of contemporary writers whose work traverses prose and poetry such as Ann Michaels, Jonathan Safran Foer, W.G. Sebald and Maggie Nelson, the latter whose philosophical and personal exploration of the colour blue in a book called Bluets has been an important and inspirational text for the artist. On the seat of the wooden armchair next to the large fireplace is a copy of Kingdon-Ward’s most acclaimed book, The Land of the Blue Poppy, Travels of A Naturalist in Eastern Tibet (1913). This book is also important for Cady, both for its account of Kingdon-Ward’s first solo expedition, and for the artist and writer’s shared connection with the colour blue. 

The upstairs to the cottage is accessed via a narrow steep staircase. From a small landing at the top of the stairs, visitors can view inside two little rooms whose windows have been blacked out, and in each Cady projects a new film work. These are intimate spaces, whose low, multi-angled ceilings create cave-like atmospheres that have a very sculptural feel. 

To the left, the film Blue (2022, 2.51) appears initially as abstract – its subject not immediately identifiable. Cady has filmed in close-up the chemical process of a cyanotype print in development as the water engulfs the dry image and the paper becomes an intense blue. What emerges is the negative white ‘shadow’ left by tiny seeds, reminiscent of a cosmic starburst. The seeds used are of the blue flower, Love In A Mist, and hold the power to be transformative – microscopic and infinite. The multi-angled shape of the ceiling disrupts and refracts the projection, splitting the image into two. This is a collaborative work – with a specially commissioned poem by Joan McGavin, whose words directly follow the moving image. Music by composer, Andrew Heath, contributes a further dimension that delicately crystallises word with image. It is interesting to think of Cady’s Blue film alongside that of Derek Jarman’s 1993 film of the same name. Both artists combined spoken word with music, and both make direct reference to Yves Klein whose International Klein Blue signified the rejection of representation in painting, and the attainment of creative freedom. Cady’s Bluets text refers to having visited Klein’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1995, so again subtly adding strata and complexity to the work. For Cady, blue is not just a colour, just as Furzey is Not Just a Garden. Blue has sculptural qualities, and is also a trigger for memory, emotion, freedom, alchemical transformation, birth, death and regeneration.  

The projection in the second room is a 16-minute looped excerpt from the film, Betty’s Butterfly Box (2022). The artist’s hands are seen gently unfolding small pieces of letterpress newsprint that reveal exquisite butterflies and moths. These were collected by the artist’s husband’s grandfather whose family lived in India for generations. Most of these small paper packages have been carefully cut and folded from the blue-printed 1915 ‘Annual Clearance Sale’ catalogue of British-owned Bombay department store Evans Fraser & Co. The advertisements for consumer goods and bargains to be had contrast starkly with the stunningly patterned and colourful insects whose deaths are poignant indications of the British sense of entitlement and a compulsion to collect and control the exotic. 

Cady’s wall label for Betty’s Butterfly Box states that it was made: In recognition / in memoriam for the plants, animals and insects killed, collected, named and categorised by the British during the Empire, but also in recognition of the ecological work done at Furzey Gardens today, which includes the annual butterfly survey. Here, again, we return to a fundamental theme of Cady’s work at Furzey. The gardens today, the people who work, learn and volunteer there have resulted from its multi-layered and at times dichotomous history that have emerged organically over the past 100 years. Fascinated by this complex layering, Cady was initially tempted to call her installation ‘palimpsest’ but felt that this may situate her work too heavily within a contemporary visual arts context. Not Just A Garden explores how attitudes, mindsets and perspectives have shifted as the history of Furzey is re-examined, and how the present is forever being reassessed through new ways of seeing and understanding ourselves.

– by Ingrid Swenson, 2022

The Artist

Anna Cady is a multi disciplinary installation artist who worked in textiles before returning to University in the 1990s to study Fine Art at Winchester and Goldsmiths. She often collaborates with people who have a story to tell, a story which matters. These include It Works Both Ways, an installation of pinhole photographs and films made with Louisa who could not speak orally or move her body voluntarily, Drawing Breath, with Pauline who was living with terminal cancer, with the gardeners and conservationists at Mottisfont NT, and most recently Invisible, a short film about an older woman isolating in an attic during the pandemic.

International screenings and installations of her award winning films include Tate Modern, the Sundance Film Festival and film, live music and poetry in the James Turrell Sky Space at Tremenheere Sculpture Garden.