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Kew celebrates Queer Nature with new festival this autumn!

This October, Kew’s iconic Temperate House is transformed into a celebration of the connections between queer people, plants and fungi, with a vibrant new festival, Queer Nature.

  • New month-long festival celebrates the connections between queer people, plants and
  •  Large-scale commission from acclaimed New York-based artist Jeffrey Gibson
  • New Festival Garden by Patrick Featherstone in collaboration with the Kew Youth Forum
  • LGBTQ+ scientists, horticulturists, artists, writers, and more come together in a film-based installation exploring personal experiences of queerness and nature
  •  Two original spoken word pieces by LiLi K. Bright and Ama Josephine Budge Johnstone
  •  After Hours events include music, cabaret, comedy, drag artists and talks

As part of the festival, Kew has commissioned four bespoke installations, featuring stories by queer artists, gardeners, scientists, and more. Step inside the cathedral of glass and discover a large-scale suspended artwork by Jeffrey Gibson, recently announced as the first Indigenous artist to present a solo exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion during the 2024 Venice Biennale. Alongside this, encounter a vibrant garden display and be inspired by real stories of queer people– there is something for everyone.

Credit: Jeff Eden @RGBKew

House of Spirits by Jeffery Gibson

Suspended in the centre of the Temperate House, this spectacular large-scale installation is artist Jeffrey Gibson’s largest UK commission to date. House of Spirits is an intricate, layered collage of fabric, illustration and text, incorporating previously unseen botanical illustrations 1 alongside writing and patterns informed by Gibson’s own perspectives on queerness and nature. Fusing vibrant colour and pattern, the artwork will appear to be in a constant state of flux, undulating in the light breeze and glowing from within when bathed in streams of sunlight.

‘House’ is a reference to ball culture, an underground subculture that originated in the queer African-American and Latino communities of New York City. Receiving its world premiere at Kew Gardens, House of Spirits also draws inspiration from the work and life of artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman, who was also a renowned artist, stage designer, gardener and gay rights activist. Gibson acknowledges that during his time living in London

Credit: Jeff Eden @ RGBKew

in the 1990s, a period when the HIV epidemic was prevalent, he developed an obsession with Jarman’s work, which set in motion a desire to intentionally bring nature into his life.
Within his wide-ranging art practice, New York-based Gibson draws upon his Choctaw-Cherokee heritage as well as queer theory, politics and art history. Through mediums such as painting, performance, sculpture, textiles, and video, Gibson celebrates ideas of care, plants and ancestry, and embraces the infinite possibility and diversity within the natural world.

Credit: Stuart Davidson @RGB Kew

Breaking the Binary by Patrick Featherstone and the Kew Youth Forum

A temporary garden display will take over the South Octagon of the Temperate House, designed by Patrick Featherstone in collaboration with the Kew Youth Forum.
Following three workshops held by Patrick Featherstone and his studio, which is entirely LGBTQ+ run, Featherstone and the Kew Youth Forum aim to encourage creative thinking and invite visitors to embrace the wonderful complexity of the natural world.
Breaking the Binary features a range of plant species with reproductive methods that offer a challenge to binary language. These include Oreopanax xalapensis, which contains multiple types of flowers, Illicium macranthum, a dichogamous 2 species of plant in the star anise family, and Persicaria amplexicaulis which has rhizomatous stems, enabling it to spread and reproduce vegetatively.

Queer Voices

LGBTQ+ scientists and horticulturists, historians, artists, writers, and more come together in a series of video interviews, brought to life through an installation designed by Adam Nathaniel Furman.

The interviews cover a range of topics, including the intersection of LGBTQ+ identities and botanicalscience, the history of queer representation in the arts, and the ways in which nature can inspire and inform queer creativity. Through personal anecdotes, scholarly reflections and artistic interpretations, these individuals shed light on the richness and complexity of queer experiences, as well as how nature plays an integral role in shaping identity, community, and activism.

Contributors include Dr Suzanne Moss, Head of Education & Learning at the RHS, drag artist Cheddar Gorgeous, and Lee Davies, Kew’s Fungarium Collections Manager. Visitors will also be invited to share their perspectives on identity and nature as part of this installation.

Drawing inspiration from the vibrant colours and intricate patterns found in nature, Adam Nathaniel Furman creates a visually striking space that complements the diverse voices and narratives on display, embracing plants as queer symbols and pushing them to their formal limits. Throughout their varied practice, Adam has explored decorative traditions as a challenge to the status quo, with a particular interest in non-Western and queer perspectives.

In dichogamous plants the stamens and pistils mature at different times, preventing self-pollination Reverberations by LiLi K. Bright and Ama Josephine Budge Johnstone

Kew has invited artists Ama Josephine Budge Johnstone and LiLi K. Bright to respond to the theme of Queer Nature through two spoken word pieces. As you wander through the Temperate House, their personal perspectives are absorbed by the 10,000 plants found inside, transforming their celebrations of diversity, beauty and queerness within the natural world into ethereal reverberations.

Celebrating the diversity of nature

While the basic system of reproduction in most plants is binary, involving the fusion of male and female gametes, some individual plants do not neatly fit into binaries. In some such plants, flowers can start off by being male and later the female parts become active (and vice versa). Some plants are even more complex, with functionally male, functionally female and hermaphrodite flowers all on the same individual. In fungi even the basic system is anything but binary, with fungi having as many as 36,000 different mating types.
From orchids that can self-pollinate, to avocado trees which are functionally female one day (in order to be pollinated), and functionally male the next (using anthers to spread their pollen), nature is wonderfully complex with infinite possibilities, and it is vitally important that we celebrate and protect the natural world for the wellbeing of people and the future of all life on Earth.

After Hours, 13, 14, 20 & 21 October – Experience Kew as you have never seen it before, with Queer Nature

After Hours. As night falls and the Temperate House takes on an otherworldly glow, experience music, cabaret, comedy, drag artists and talks alongside a sprinkling of queer joy. Over 18s only. For a full list of acts, visit our website.

Julie Flavell, Head of Visitor Programmes and Exhibitions at RBG Kew, says: “We are incredibly excited to celebrate the beauty and diversity of plants and fungi at Kew Gardens this autumn. This unique collaboration between art, science, horticulture and LGBTQ+ communities will be the first of its kind at Kew, promising to transform the Temperate House into a unique experience for all to enjoy. We hope visitors will leave feeling inspired by the wonder of the natural world”

Find out more at www.kew.org/queer-nature

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