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The gardens are a living archive

Larry Achiampong has shown work at world-famous galleries, like the Tate and Somerset House. Now he is fusing art and science together for a one-of-a-kind exhibition at the Wonder Project. Here he talks of colonial histories and his muse, the 200 year old seeds.
19 July 2018
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A living archive

Kew is more than a park or a garden: it is an archive.

I am familiar with working with archives after working with the British Library. I was interested in working with archives from a different perspective.

With the British Library I worked with audio but at Wakehurst, I was breathing the air and took in the history through walking on the land.

My piece at the Wonder Project looks at elements of colonial histories and the connection between the research of Kew scientists like William Miliken and his project ‘Medicinal knowledge in the Amazon’.

A 200-year-old muse

Visiting the Wakehurst site I became acquainted with the area, both through the understanding of the site’s history, the plant life that exists currently on the land as well as those in the archive, represented through the seed back.

I read into the story of 32 different species of 200-year-old seeds that were captured from Jan Teerlink by the British Navy and thought of the ways in which seeds migrate naturally.

It was important that my work acknowledged how the development of Empire had strong links to the destruction of plant-life, the practices of indigenous peoples across generations and its part in the troubles of the natural world trouble today.

Seed-based art

The work created for Wakehurst is an entirely new body of work that involves the use of text and objects from a much more conceptual perspective.

Specifically, for Wakehurst, Aida and I developed a text that speaks how of death is as much of a part of society as it is of life and nature.

In the text -printed onto seed-based paper-  a narrator speaks of the unnamed Africans thrown from slave ships during the Transatlantic slave trade.

I have also been working on some of my chalkboard series, which will appear on the site.

This seed-based paper also places responsibility with the attendees of the exhibition as to how they will take care of this object which is not simply just a piece of paper.

It’s more than that; it’s more than seeds. If they read into it on that level, we’re talking about pieces of the body.

I’m very intrigued as to how the elements will weather away the chalkboards.

In fact I welcome it, although the work will only be up for two weeks, I’ve never placed the chalkboards within an outdoor atmosphere.

As for the written prose this really comes down to what the viewer decides to do with the object. Will they plant the paper? Will they tear it up? Will they fold it up and place it in their back pockets to be forgotten (once more). Or will they hold a reverence to the meaning of the words?


So, what will you do? Decide for yourself at The Wonder Project, Wakehurst from 26 July.


A chalkboard detailing his text 'on cities our roots shall grow'