5 January 2022

Zadok Ben-David's Blackfield: Behind the scenes

Find out how more than 17,000 metal flowers become a breathtaking piece of art.

By Ellen Reid

Detail from Zadok Ben-David's artwork Blackfield of plants, hand-painted stainless steel

Blackfield is a breath-taking piece of art, in scale and skill, alongside the impact of devastation and destruction it implies – an expanse of small, monochrome flowers, perfect in their execution, but seemingly dead.

As you see the coloured side of the piece, emotions shift to those of joy and surprise at whatever magic has given these plants life.

There is a sense of relief that this is not apocalyptic doom, and the clever playfulness of the artist Zadok Ben-David is revealed.

Walk around Blackfield and experience endless sunrises as it transitions from black to colour like the iconic scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy enters MunchkinLand.

Read on to find out how this stunning exhibition was installed at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art.

Close up of colourful of flowers in Blackfield
Blackfield close-up, Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew

All hands on deck

Installing such an intricate artwork takes a lot of time and people. 

We are lucky to have many wonderful volunteers at Kew who helped — it took over 80 of them eight days to bring Blackfield to life.

The flowers arrived in a very unassuming box, individually wrapped in sheets of paper.

They had to be carefully unpacked before sticky tape was applied to the base. This needed to be done in a particular way, which took a while to perfect, but the team soon sped up.

Volunteers applying tape to flowers at tables
Volunteers working at tables, Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew
Volunteer taping flower for Blackfield exhibition
Taping flowers for Blackfield, Ines Stuart-Davidson © Kew RBG

Small but beautiful

The flowers were very light and had exquisite detail, to the point that our volunteers found they had to work on the black side of each piece to reduce distraction!

Intricate metal flowers, unpainted side up, ready for install
Blackfield flowers to install, Jeff Eden © RBG Kew

Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art volunteer Arabella Morgan commented that the plants were instantly recognisable, even though they are not painted to accurately represent each species.

'It was a joy to hold them' said volunteer Nancy Purser, and Arabella added 'many of us had our own favourite piece.'

This connection to the individual plants extends to visitors of the exhibition, with many bending down to look more closely at the flowers and marvelling at their intricacy.

Volunteer taping flower base for Blackfield
Volunteer tapes flower base, Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew

Attention to detail

Blackfield is stunning as a whole, but even more impressive when each part is taken into consideration.

The variation in plant sizes enhances the organic feel of the installation, with no obvious uniformity in the flowers or how they have been placed.

But setting it all up was not without challenges. As Arabella noted, ‘some of the pieces are tiny, no more than one centimetre high; if you weren’t careful, they could catch in your sleeves or hair and fall to the ground.’

Large and small flower in place
Little and large, Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew

As the stainless-steel edges are very sharp, no part of the flower bases could be left bare, otherwise the installers could have cut their fingers on them.

Line of people taping flowers down for Blackfield
Installation line, Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew
Installing the Blackfield flowers, unpainted side
Installing Blackfield, Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew

The fellowship of the flowers

There was a real camaraderie between the various volunteers, which were a multi-generational group including people from Zadok Ben David’s studio as well as volunteers and staff from across Kew.

Interestingly, this extended from other Blackfield exhibitions.

Blackfield has been shown in different galleries around the world, changing in response to each location (using a different number of plants for each installation, for example, or how the pieces are displayed).

‘When we unpacked the boxes we found messages from other galleries along with the flowers, things like “Hello from Sydney”’, said Arabella.

Zadok Ben-David and helpers taping Blackfield flowers down
Zadok Ben-David taping flowers down, Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew

Nancy mentioned how working alongside Zadok Ben-David helped to foster a real connection to the artist.

'It was exciting to work together on such a large installation, a feeling that mounted as the days wore on and the artwork took shape.’

Various shapes and colours of Blackfield, partly installed
Day 2 of Blackfield install, Ines Stuart-Davidson © RBG Kew

Delving deeper

Visitors to the gallery have remarked how powerful Zadok Ben-David: Natural Reserve is, with many deciding to come for a second – or even third – visit to take it all in.

When it is time to pack the flowers carefully away again, Kew will be sending its own message along, and maybe a pressed flower or two.

Floor of flowers with people in background taping last ones down
Floor of flowers, Jeff Eden © RBG Kew

This unmissable exhibition runs until 27 March 2022, and entry is included in the price of a ticket to Kew Gardens.

If you're unable to visit us at Kew or want to find out more, watch the video below. Narrated by Zadok Ben-David, it gives good insight into the exhibition.


Thank you to all the volunteers who help install our exhibitions, with special thanks to Nancy Purser and Arabella Morgan for their input to this blog.

If this has inspired you to get involved and volunteer at Kew, there are roles within different areas of the Gardens and we would be very happy to meet you.

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