Sunday, March 18, 2018

Local Review: Mounts Botanical Gardens & the Washed Ashore Exhibit

I do not have a green thumb.

I managed to kill an air plant - an air plant. They survive and thrive without roots.

Air plant growing upside down in the test of a sea urchin

When invited to join the Master Gardeners, I politely explained that I respected what they did and it was out of such respect that I chose to steer clear of their hard work lest I inadvertently destroy their efforts entirely.

My husband doesn’t let me water the plants unless it is the middle of the summer and he is on a 48-hr shift, and we are in the middle of a drought. He actually has our 8-yr old do it whenever possible instead. The two of them will go outside and talk to plants like the ever-blooming bleeding-heart vine behind our house or the cucumber seedlings on the back porch – even the avocado tree they are growing for me (since I’m the only one who likes them) gets a pep talk. I am not permitted to speak to the plants.

I am the evil mustache-less twin of the Lorax.

I killed the snapdragon bestowed upon me by the fabulous Farmer Jay (Farmer Jay's Pure Organics). That hurt. His motto is “grow something” and I felt particularly embarrassed when the plant died. (Incidentally, Farmer Jay’s Ted Talk is very much worth the time too)

So how does Mounts Botanical Garden, an iconic place with a huge following, get a sworn “not a plant person” onto the property? Simple. Host a special exhibit with a connection to the OCEAN. Of course! Why hadn’t they thought of it before? I’ve been in south Florida for nearly 20 years now and never set foot on the grounds. I finally realized where it was just in the past 2 years. But I am not a plant person. I’m a water baby.

I am also, as you may have read in previous posts, a person who has a penchant for picking up trash. I present to you the coup de grĂ¢ce on how to get a beach person to a land locked garden: host an exhibit of giant sea-inspired statues crafted entirely out of trash pulled from the surf and sand.

One of my goals (some people call them resolutions, but I tend to break those pretty quickly) this year was to try 30 new things. This includes visiting places buried on my to-do list and over the years I crossed paths with many wonderful people who volunteer, work or regularly visit Mounts. It was on the list, but as we have established, I am not a plant person. I needed a push.

Not only did this exhibit inspire me to visit, the magnitude and message were not lost. I enjoyed the project a great deal and even managed to explore the entire garden on my own armed with a camera to keep me from touching, and possible placing a curse on, any of the flora. “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea” is running for six months – with the exhibit concluding in June 2018 and I highly recommend giving this moving and intense exhibition your time.

So this is how starfruit grows!

Temporarily “planted” along the paths throughout the 14 acres of MBG are ten massive statues, each telling a tale of both sadness and hope. This is just a sample of artwork from the project, however, as they have a home gallery in Oregon, and traveling exhibitions currently in Chicago, Washington D.C., and Sarasota. There really is no excuse not to find visit when it comes to your area, and you will not likely see works of this magnitude elsewhere.

I have seen trash-based exhibits before, often at museums or science centers, but those were usually only one or two marine themed pieces comingled with other constructs. The Washed Ashore not only has a clear message about plastic in our oceans, but even the sculptures themselves have a very specific theme based on their components. One thing that struck me in particular – the use of color without the use of paint. All the colors and textures you see in these statues are intentional and still true to their former life as a piece of flotsam.

My visit took place on a cloudy weekday, and even then, the basic parking lot was full. There was a workshop going on for actual plant people, and combined with the guests walking in I chose to take my map and go through the gardens in reverse. In respect to the works and direction in which the items were actually placed, however, here is the special exhibition for you to enjoy. Know that these photos in no way do the statues justice as they are huge and, in some cases, downright imposing.

“American” Sea Star is based on items leftover from Independence Day celebrations in America. The marine biologist in me must point out and give a heartfelt thank you to the artist for not calling it a ‘starfish’.

I was particularly disturbed by the shotgun shells. Not exactly expected marine debris.

Marine Debris Anemone focuses on single-use plastic bottles, but I found the most moving part of the work the use of color derived from unwound sections of rope and line.

Priscilla the Parrot Fish, while colorful and apparently a poster child in many of the articles and media posts I have seen, was not my favorite piece in this collection. The items are bit more random and did not have the same intensity as images such as the Sea Star.

Sebastian James the Puffin shares a sobering quality with its real-life counterpart, the statue has a comical quality and an inquisitive expression. Puffins were the creatures behind the creation of the 'porg' species in the most recent Star Wars installation, and the quirky little birds are prone to exploring trash in search of food scraps, and are particularly susceptible to ingesting plastic. My favorite detail of this particular piece was the hook at the edge of the beak. Despite it being much longer than on the actual birds, and more so like that of a raptor’s beak, it still captures the animal’s nature and not just the cuteness factor.

Grace the Humpback Whale Tail / Hugo the Humpback Whale Tail

This pair of sculptures showcases the research done by the artist, making a point of differentiating the Pacific humpback from the Atlantic whales. In reality this species has benefitted greatly from conservation efforts over the years, but personally I cannot help but attribute some of the interest and support in humpbacks back to Star Trek IV and the plight of “Gracie” and “George” – mostly because that movie inspired me, an 8-yr old land-locked kid living in the Midwest – to learn and appreciate marine life for the first time.

Musical Seaweed is meant to be an interactive exhibit, but during my time instead the sky was filled with the roar of planes landing at the airport nearby. It was the first time I truly noticed the noise, but am reminded how creating beautiful spaces in areas that many people would not wish to live is exceptional strategic planning. The areas in and around airports are great for natural areas and in this case, an amazing garden.

Water Bottle Jelly

I fell in love with the statue from a distance and was not disappointed up close. It was placed off the paved pathway, up on a little knoll. There was no resisting the opportunity to lie down in the grass and look up to the sky through the waving tentacles of plastic. This massive reminder speaks of the plastic bags resembling jellies in the ocean – confusing the living dinosaurs (in this case sea turtles) of what is food and what is dangerous.

Flash the Marlin

This cool fish is constructed from reflective materials such as sunglasses and beer cans. Check out those choppers! Some people are able to stare at a piece of art and 'see' things within the picture such as sadness, faces, or ghost-like apparitions buried within the image. What I love about this exhibit is how it doesn't matter if you are a big fan of the arts, or even over the age of five, you can still find so many things within each of these pieces. You can observe tactile metaphors and see the reincarnated spirits of old shoes repurposed as the original builders never imagined.

Lidia the Seal has a significant portion of the structure being provided by various lids of items, hence the name Lid-ia. I am always a fan of a good pun, but found this sculpture personally more disturbing that many of the others. The irony behind the ‘smile’ will haunt my dreams for some time.

While this special exhibition drew me in, I was still compelled to explore the entirety of the grounds and gift shop. Some of the flora enjoyed throughout the gardens were familiar let lacked nomenclature, and I was glad to have adequate signage without it distracting from taking photos. There were plenty of guests in the area, but it was not difficult to find solitude amongst the leaves. The layout of the gardens lends itself to reflection, and the volunteers/staff were not invasive. One can be engrossed in the vegetation, or simply a temporary observer.

For those who love plants, this is a must visit. For those who want to feel peaceful, Mounts Botanical is a great option. For others who wish to learn more about the greener side of life, MBG offers a variety of classes and workshops. Visit them directly for more information at: Mounts Botanical Garden.

Let’s take the time to give attention to the project that created these inspiring pieces that travel the world, spreading the message of Art to Save the Sea. Be sure to check out Washed Ashore  for details and the locations of other exhibits currently traveling around the country.

Whatever it takes to hook you into trying something new, keep an exploring eye out as there could be great new experiences waiting to inspire!



Dawn Quyle Landau said...

Wow, this is amazing! I SO wish I'd read it while I was in FL last week, as this is something I would have loved to have seen. That said, I hope to be back in June, and maybe I'll get there before it closes. Wonderfully informative piece, with great photos! Thanks for sharing this super exhibit!

Callie Sharkey said...

Thank you so much, Dawn! I'm sure you will love it when you come to visit. The exhibits are truly larger than life.