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The Willful Plot exhibition

January 13 @ 10:00 am - April 16 @ 5:00 pm

The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery is open from Tuesday to Friday 10 am to 5 pm; Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 pm; and closed Mondays and holidays.

Derya Akay and Vivienne Bessette, Gabi Dao, Derek Jarman, Charmian Johnson, Glenn Lewis, Mike MacDonald, Rehab Nazzal, Dana Qaddah

The Willful Plot brings together artists’ practices to expand the notion of the garden as a site of tension between wild and cultivated, temporal and perpetual, public and private, sovereign and colonized. Here, the garden is considered by the artists not only as a delineated patch of earth, but as a story and a will to drive that story to complicate the way in which cultures and individuals see themselves in relation to ecology, sociality, belief and possibility. It is an opportunity to look at human relationships with land, flora, fauna and their interrelatedness. In its willfulness, the resistance garden is a counter-site, a heterotopia for alternative cultivation and potential transformation.

The complexities of resistance and “…willfulness as audacity, willfulness as standing against, willfulness as creativity” (borrowing from scholar Sara Ahmed’s thinking in Willful Subjects) are articulated through works that use the garden as a site of cultural defiance and reclamation. From Mike MacDonald’s quiet technological focus on threatened traditional medicines as part of the endangered cultural practices of Indigenous peoples to Derek Jarman’s film shot in and around his visionary garden that was created in the face of his own mortality, these works activate possibility in the face of loss.

Countering notions of the garden as a site of nostalgia, Gabi Dao’s film and collage work explores the garden as reparative, a site of decomposition and recomposition that can support and regenerate history. Rehab Nazzal’s photography and film give agency to the wild plants that grow through ruined Palestinian villages and connect people to the land, even as parks and gardens are created as political claims. Dana Qaddah’s photographic focus on a Beirut rooftop is a site of social and vegetal cultivation for specific bodies that would otherwise have limits on their gathering.

The politics of communality is embedded in Derya Akay and Vivienne Bessette’s relational work with gardens as part of a larger resistance to development, outsourcing, individuation, speed and as a site to better entangle human and all other life. Gardens create links across time and cultures that connect the human desire to make sense of the earthly in relation to the cosmos. Over five decades, Glenn Lewis has photographed and created gardens in an investigation of paradisial symbolism. The symbolic stages of the garden, an allegory of the cycles of life (and death), cannot be untangled from the climate crisis. Charmian Johnson’s careful study of plant life through drawing offers another space of time in line with her subjects. If the garden is a site and a practice analogous to the studio, it exists within and beyond the logics of human time, holding its own agency, yielding non-linear narratives that give and take, fruit and compost, persist and disappear.

The Willful Plot is curated by Melanie O’Brian and made possible with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and our Belkin Curator’s Forum members. The Willful Plot is part of the 2023 Capture Photography Festival Selected Exhibition Program.

UBC Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery / 1825 Main Mall / Vancouver, BC  V6T 1Z2 / 604.822.1389 / www.belkin.ubc.ca