curated by Edward Chell

Exhibition: 3 February - 4 March 2018
Preview: 6.30 - 8.30pm, Friday 2 February
Thames-Side Studios Gallery, Woolwich

Rasheed Araeen | Alois Auer | Karl Blossfeldt | Henry Bradbury
Edward Chell | Peter Fillingham | Ori Gersht | Joy Girvin | Fay Goodwin
Derek Jarman | Paul de Monchaux | Rosa Nguyen | Pia Östlund | Alicia Paz
Sian Pile | Hilary Rosen | Suzanne Treister | Yu-Chen Wang

With Flicker+Pulse, a film by Brian McClave and Tom Wichelow

Thames-Side Studios Gallery open Thursday - Sunday 12-5pm during exhibitions and by appointment. Thames-Side Studios Gallery enquiries please email: 
+44 (0)20 8301 8844

Thames-Side Studios Main Office and Gallery
Trinity Wharf Studio 27
Harrington Way
Warspite Road
Royal Borough of Greenwich
London SE18 5NR
Phytopia is supported by University for the Creative Arts and St Paul's School, London

Alicia Paz, Guardians of the Secret, mixed media,, 200 x 160 cm

Alicia Paz, Guardians of the Secret, mixed media,, 200 x 160 cm

The visual idea of a Tree of Life is one that manifests itself in many cultures and traditions and is understood in a multitude of forms, from the genealogical to the evolutionary and from cultural and political hierarchies to growth forms. The exponential nature of branching structures and the diversity this represents is a metaphor for life itself. Phytopia seeks to harness the energies embodied in such structures and to celebrate the influence plants and organic forms have on nearly every aspect of visual culture. Phytopia includes a range of artists not usually seen in the same context and includes a number of works exhibited for the first time, with sculptural pieces by Derek Jarman and Paul de Monchaux,  work by Rasheed Araeen and some 19th century Nature Prints among these.

Yu-Chen Wang's growth forms weave across walls or tables, emerging as part organic, part machine cyborg structures. Alicia Paz' artificial flower mounds offer saccharine seduction laced with poison, while Derek Jarman's films and associated texts have layers of real and metaphoric seduction more sexual in nature. Jarman's delicate garden drawings are a sensitive and private adjunct to his films. Peter Fillingham conversely examines the floral metaphor of death and memento in Poppy. Pia Östlund's Nature Prints, inspired by the 19th century Austrian, Herr Alois Auer (Counsellor and Director of the Imperial Printing Establishment in Vienna) add infinitely fine detail to botanical visuals.

The show is conceived as a Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities, and will represent plant forms in a range of ways. Visceral but tight, the visual cues surrounding vegetable forms are multifarious, from growth progressions and mathematical curlicues to portrayals of gardens and botanical prints. Floral symbols abound as memento or reliquary and inform our aesthetic and ecological senses.

Karl Marx' idea of species being described the importance of meaningful work for people, emphasising the fundamental importance of proximity to nature:

Just as plants, animals, stones, air, light, etc., constitute theoretically a part of human consciousness, partly as objects of natural science, partly as objects of art - his spiritual inorganic nature, spiritual nourishment which he must first prepare to make palatable and digestible - so in the the realm of practice, they constitute a part of human life and human activity. 1)

The notion of the tree with its different branches structures the idea for this exhibition. This exhibition explores the interconnectedness of diverse floral narratives and, like Marx'species being, provides a platform for a range of individual approaches covering ideas from growth to gardens; memento to metabolism; commodity to collections.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated publication.
1) Economical and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Karl Marx. Manuscript XXIV Estranged Labour

Insel der Puppen

Powder-coated steel and enamel on concrete plinth

Public sculpture commission, Kunstmuseum Magdeburg, Germany


This sculpture presents four-sided “tree” structure, (5.10 meters in height) inhabited by a assortment of female figures originating in different time periods. Ambivalent narratives play hide-and-seek among the branches. The women are not meant to be particular individuals, (although some are well-known) rather, they remain hinted at or anonymous within the sculpture. Through these portraits, certain archetypes can be explored. In the feminine landscape that emerges from the subconscious realm, psychological projections materialize and instinctively can take on grotesque, beautiful, humorous, or dramatic forms. Each character carries the potential for her own story, intertwining with those of other figures. The title came from a conversation with Mexican archeologist Elizabeth Baquedano; we discussed Mayan legends involving mythical heads in trees, and also the "island of dolls” in the canals of Xochimilco in Mexico, where a man has hung hundreds old, tired and dirty dolls on the trees of his little island. It is said that his young daughter drowned, and a doll was found in the water. This was the beginning of a kind of cumulative process for him, maybe a way of mourning. My own tree is not as macabre as this description, but I liked the sound of the phrase, as something more oblique. Other references are Julia Kristeva’s critical text on "Severed Heads”, analysing historically the head as symbol and metaphor, and Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit”, against racism and oppression.  But these elements that inspired me are combined with several others, and only whispered. The piece remains ambiguous.


There is a long history linking trees and foliage with female figures, from Greek mythology to medieval European Folklore, to Renaissance and Baroque Grotesque ornamentation. In my own practice, I often use this motif to symbolize an existential position: the Self as a complex, hybrid being, traversed by multiple narratives, multiple personae, evolving organically over time, as in the life-cycle. 


This project was generously supported by Cemex Germany and the Mexican Embassy in Germany, SRE.

I'd like to thank Annegret Laabs, Uwe Gellner, and Judith Mader for making this project possible. I'd like to also thank Elizabeth Turrell, Jessica Turrell, Sebastian Anastasow, Klaus Pfeiffer, James Shearer (, as well as the staff at A.J. Wells, for their production and design assistance.



Current group exhibition

Edition of 25 signed and numbered prints, commissioned by Kunstmuseum Magdeburg, Germany

Silk-screen and digital print.  Collaboration with Michael Hall, Invisible Print Studio, London. www   


My piece The Super-Ego, the Id and their Ladies in Waiting (Mixed media on board,152 x122 cm, archival frame, 2013) has recently been acquired by the City of Paris Municipal Contemporary Art Fund, (FMAC). It will be exhibited at the FIAC in Paris with other recent acquisitions.

FIAC 2017 stand O.C01

19-22 october 2017, Grand Palais

Fonds municipal d'art contemporain de la Ville de Paris

1, rue Jean Mazet 94200 Ivry-sur-Seine – France Tél. : 01 46 71 20 53    BLOG FMAC à l’école

APAZ0The Super Ego, the Id, and their ladies in Waiting.jpg

Article published in Turps Banana Issue 18 pg. 18-23

Michael Szpakowski: Two visits to three different paintings by Alicia Paz


Exhibition catalogue for Tous, des sang-mêlés!

Essays (bilingual English and French) by Alexia Fabre, Frank Lamy and Julie Crenn


Published by
MACVAL - Musée d’art contemporain du Val de Marne
Place de la Libération, 94400 Vitry-sur-Seine, France

ISBN 978-2-916324-95-1

Cette exposition s’ancre dans l’actualité pour aborder la question de l’identité culturelle au travers de visions et d’expériences d’artistes : Qu’est-ce qui nous rassemble ? Comment se construit une culture commune malgré des origines toujours différentes / diverses ? Ces interrogations, en effet, agitent le monde.

Sous le patronage conjoint de l’historien français Lucien Febvre et de son ouvrage Nous sommes des sang-mêlés : Manuel d’histoire de la civilisation française (1950), ainsi que celui de Stuart Hall, père fondateur des Cultural Studies, cette exposition souligne la dimension fictionnelle de la notion d’identité culturelle. Le parcours imaginé par les commissaires est nourri de propositions soulevant des questionnements et apportant des éclairages sur ce qui nous réunit et nous distingue, sur la transmission et le devenir, sur le pouvoir et la résistance, sur l’individualité et le collectif… Par la voix d’une soixantaine d’artistes internationaux et d’une centaine d’œuvres, les identités culturelles, nationales, sexuelles… sont autant de thèmes ici questionnés. Si tous ont l’être pour sujet, certains sont perçus comme manifestes, d’autres soulèvent le débat — souvent passionnel, résolument politique, et d’autres encore font surgir de la mémoire les traces du passé, émerger le sensible, l’expérience, l’existence même, allant de l’instinct de survie au vivre ensemble.

Les œuvres réunies abordent ces thématiques à partir de situations vécues dans une optique d’échange et de dialogue. Si l’identité culturelle est une fiction, il s’agit de voir comment les artistes l’interprètent, l’interrogent, la remettent en question… en sortant de la perspective identitaire, trop souvent réductrice.

Comment se construit-on par rapport à la langue, au territoire, à la famille, à l’Histoire et sa narration, aux stéréotypes ? L’exposition met en espace des éléments d’un terrain du commun, où les altérités se déploient ensemble et en regard les unes des autres.

Chaque visiteur peut s’approprier, à travers l’histoire, la sensibilité, la parole et l’engagement d’artistes de tous horizons, âges et nationalités, des éléments de réflexion pouvant alimenter sa propre acception de la notion « d’Identité ».

Avec les œuvres de : Soufiane Ababri, Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Adam Adach, Nirveda Alleck, Francis Alÿs, Giulia Andreani, Fayçal Baghriche, Sammy Baloji, Raphaël Barontini, Taysir Batniji, Sylvie Blocher, Martin Bureau, Ali Cherri, Claire Fontaine, Steven Cohen, Bady Dalloul, Jonathas De Andrade, Morgane Denzler, Jimmie Durham, Ninar Esber, Esther Ferrer, Karim Ghelloussi, Marco Godinho, Mona Hatoum, Joana Hadjithomas et Khalil Joreige, Maryam Jafri, Katia Kameli, Jason Karaïndros, Bouchra Khalili, Kimsooja, Kapwani Kiwanga, Will Kwan, Lawrence Lemaoana, Mehryl Levisse, Violaine Lochu, Melanie Manchot, Lahouari Mohammed Bakir, Kent Monkman, Malik Nejmi, Nguyen Trinh Thi, Otobong Nkanga, Harold Offeh, Daniela Ortiz, Alicia Paz, Adrian Piper, Présence Panchounette, Pushpamala N, Athi-Patra Ruga, Zineb Sedira, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Société Réaliste, Tsuneko Taniuchi, Erwan Venn, James Webb, Sue Williamson, Chen Zhen