A Language of Seeds by Léonie Hampton RAMM Museum UK
Commissioned to complement the touring exhibition Seedscapes: Future Proofing Nature, Léonie Hampton’s body of work engages directly with the ecological emergency through a series of photographs that celebrate her vegetable garden, her family and friends, and the seeds in the collections at RAMM, Exeter. The exhibition ran from 18 May to 5 September 2021.
A Language of Seeds is a series of photographs created between May and October 2020 celebrating the artist’s vegetable garden, family and friends while responding to RAMM’s botany collection.
Léonie’s lens captures both the beauty of the natural world while attending to the urgent climate crisis through the tender relationships she creates between human hand, body and mouth, and the food she grows. Children feature in these photographs: their presence reminding us that they are both witnessing and inheriting this man-made climate emergency.
Léonie visited RAMM’s varied botany collections in store where she was introduced to a range of specimens including those from local enthusiasts such as William D’Urban, RAMM’s first curator, and William Keble Martin, best known for his book The Concise British Flora in Colour. These extensive collections come from all over the world, arriving at the museum via travellers and botanic gardens such as Kew. Many of the pressed plants or ‘herbaria’ were chosen by the artist for display here because of their original medicinal properties. Displayed together, Hampton’s photographs and RAMM’s seeds provide a rich context to consider our place in this fragile world and our need to respect, nurture and tread lightly within it.
Gardening is reciprocity in action, a dynamic relationship that can be expanded universally and is central to our very existence. As Rebecca Solnit writes, “Planting food seems the right response to the strange uncertain time we are in. People want to be tillers of the Earth tied to something coherent calm tangible and sensible. Tied to an old slow process that is sustenance itself. Soil has the potential as a site, to bring forth crops; which maybe crops of ideas or community, ideas of resistance, rebirth or pleasure. You can argue that vegetable seeds are the seeds of revolution.”
In Candide, Voltaire states that “We must tend our gardens”. Rebecca Solnit asks, “Is this a statement of defeat or is it a manifesto for tending the garden as a larger set of intentions and interventions? If planting vegetables allows you to retreat from supermarkets and factory farming, it is a political act and a political victory, maybe even an attack in the guise of a retreat.”
Installation Stills Ramm May 2021