Exhibition organised by Margaret Kerr

5th – 25th November 2023
Green Gallery, Dundee University Botanical Gardens

About this exhibition

This exhibition features work by eight artists who spent an August weekend making art in the Botanics this year.

Our work was inspired by the Japanese concept of Renga. Renga is a form of poetry composed by a group of authors: each contributing their part in a dynamic, unfolding process. It encapsulates the experience of being in a specific place and time.

Renga offers the chance to escape the limitations of a single viewpoint. It weaves together different, but connected pieces, like ‘shimmering threads’ into a whole, which is greater than the sum of its parts (Ogawa) .

This allows a feeling of place and time to emerge between the lines. This kind of feeling can be delicate, but leave the reader with a powerful sense of ‘something’ greater than what is explicitly said. The Japanese writer Terada Torahiko likened this subtle but potent sense to ‘a plum’s scent on a dim moon night’

As artists from diverse backgrounds, together we made a visual / auditory / somatic / verbal renga, which is this exhibition.

Working in this way, we supported and learned from each other’s practice. We also became intimate with the stones, pigments, water, plants, sounds, animals, insects, colours and textures of the Botanics, which all contribute their voices to the poetry of the place.

Artwork by Shōgen Blair

Biography

Shōgen Blair Thomson is an artist fusing approaches such as Japanese Shodō calligraphy, Zen meditative perspectives as well as drawing and painting to investigate dynamic impermanence and the wondrous nature of reality, attempting to create worlds within the worlds we perceive. 

Work at Dundee Botanical Gardens

After some time to settle and start accepting the Renga mindset of diffusing the self to let go of egoic artistic activity and so to allow working together with the other artists on the connected theme, I was influenced by the arrangement of negative spaces and intervening textures of the garden, and next by the vividness and variety of the other creative responses made. 

I first tried some experiments outdoors using pencil, calligraphy board and paints to connect to the place and map out a response to spaces of interest, and I brought in the kanji characters 連 Ren (connect, take along) and 歌 Ga (song, poem) to make some sense for me of the task at hand. I played with the idea of ‘shimmering threads’ using the materials and seeking to bring in some mature sense of timelessness (from the cultivated garden with pencil) along with spontaneity (floating yellow characters in fully cursive style font).

Next, influenced by the energy and curiosity of works made and ideas collected by the other artists, I freely explored the ‘punky’ north side of the garden using board again but this time with high key pens and brush-pens. In this larger piece I aimed to tease out a more modern response, looking at multiple viewpoints to build up an alternative and explosive botanical landscape.

Shogen Blair - Bakuhatsu-Dundee Botanic Gardens -Mixed media on calligraphy board