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Your sweetest empire is to please, Commissioned by Newcastle University and The National Trust for Gibside, Gateshead, 2018.
Supported by the AHRC as part of the research project Mapping Contemporary Art in the Heritage Experience. Wood, Water-Based Wood Stains, Artificial Plants, Acrylic Paint, Trugs, Soil. 3.6m (h) x 5m (w)

Watch a 10 minute film about the project here.
A research blog Undisciplined Women documenting the project can be found here.

Your Sweetest Empire Is To Please, 2018 was a temporary, site-specific commission for the National Trust estate of Gibside in Gateshead, North-East England as part of 'Mapping Contemporary Art in the Heritage Experience’, a three year (2017-2019) interdisciplinary research project critically examining the role and practice of temporary visual art commissioning within heritage properties in Britain. The project also tied in to The National Trust’s year of ‘Women and Power’ in 2018 to mark the 100-year anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement.

The commission focused on life of Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore, who lived there in the 18th century. An architectural folly based on a Wardian (plant transportation) Case was placed next to the ruined Orangery, housing a series of brightly coloured artificial ‘exotic’ plants defiantly emerging from the sides and the roof. The commission responded to Mary Eleanor’s interest in botany and the role it played in women’s education and the gendering of knowledge during the 18th century. Botany was linked to ‘polite’ feminine activities, however, in advance of the Enlightenment, in depth material knowledge of plants, their medicinal properties and use as dyes, had long been the traditional preserve of women contributing to an early example of female science. Women were denied access to university education and from joining institutions like the Royal Society that gave public validation to new theories and discoveries, they were instead restricted to the role of hobbyists or amateurs. Linguistic conventions were also prevalent in the 18th century linking women with flowers and notions of purity, beauty and fragility. Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), appropriated and subverted this play on floral references to draw attention to society’s neglect of women’s educational potential. 

Seeds and plants (especially ‘exotic’ ones linked to the tropics), like women, were a form of currency in the 18th century as both objects of exchange and symbols of status. As colonial practices in agriculture developed, different tropical environments became increasingly linked through global trade and the expansion of capital. The global networks of botanical gardens that developed during the 18th Century followed the contours of Empire and often served its needs as way stations for plant acclimatization and global trade in both goods and people. This project brought together research from these multiple historical  perspectives and played with feminist traditions of  storytelling and speculation in order to provoke broader dialogues on gender politics and an engagement with heritage as an ongoing and contested project of inheritance.