Rebecca Louise Law on Preserving Community

. June 5, 2018.
British installation artist Rebecca Louise Law.  Photo by Fabio Affuso.
British installation artist Rebecca Louise Law. Photo by Fabio Affuso.

Rebecca Louise Law doesn’t pack lightly. When the artist, known for her large-scale, sculptural installations of hanging flowers, recently flew from her United Kingdom home to Toledo, she brought with her the materials from every installation she’s ever made— a stunning bounty of over 100,000 pieces of preserved flora.

But this mesmerizing collection of dried yellow chrysanthemums, roses, iris, and dozens of varieties of flora is only one piece of Community, her largest site-specific installation to date, debuting on Friday, June 16 in the Toledo Museum of Art’s Canady Gallery.  

Artfully arranged

With over a year of planning and two teams providing thousands of hours of work, Community will be comprised of approximately 150,000 fresh and preserved flowers fresh and preserved flowers delicately strung together on long, fluttering strands of wire, which includes thousands of local plants and flowers sourced from Northwest Ohio that were chosen with the advice of local botanists and plucked with the help of 1,000 volunteer hours.

“In order to create this installation, I am using every flower I’ve collected in my entire life,” explained Law. “The process is very labor intensive. You will be able to see the number of hands that made Community possible, and that’s what makes it beautiful.”

Even with careful planning and preparation, Law had to hit the ground running when she arrived in Toledo. Compared to past works— which were smaller and took six weeks or longer to install— Law and her team have less than a month to install Community:  “The Canady Gallery is the largest space that I’ve ever worked in, but I fell in love with it when I first saw it and I love the challenge it presents.”

Despite limited time, Law has a shocking sense of calm: “Since I am combining so many materials, it is impossible to completely dictate how every single aspect of Community, so it will be my most organically-formed work to date. But I know exactly in my head how I want it to look and my works are rarely different than what I had envisioned.”

Painting in the air

With academic training as a painter and printmaker, Law has a unique approach to the three-dimensional spaces which her installations inhabit: “When I first started working with installations, I continued to create as if I was painting. I wanted the viewer to experience my work in three-dimensional spaces the same way they would with a two-dimensional image that is purely visual… but I found that I was most comfortable making art that provided a whole body experience.”

Rebecca Louise Law, The Beauty of Decay. Chandran Gallery, 2016.

Rebecca Louise Law, The Beauty of Decay. Chandran Gallery, 2016.

To fully realize her goal of experiential art, Law looked to an eternal muse: “Nature is my ultimate inspiration. I find the experience of being in nature overwhelming every time. I always go back. I try to pocket a tiny bit of that feeling in my artwork, but it’s nothing near what you experience when you go outside, so each installation is really about the human being interacting with nature and nature being preserved.”

However, her desire to be sustainable in her practice was complicated by the transition to three-dimensional spaces, presenting Law with the problem of object permanence: site-specific installations are often time-specific. To ensure her work would not be wasteful, Law sought out a natural material to would allow her installations to have the same permanence as a painting and said she started using flowers because they can last hundreds, if not thousands, of years when properly preserved and encased.

“What’s also amazing about flowers, and why we love them, is that we know that they offer a moment that won’t last forever,” remarked Law. “But I am interested in creating a space where the viewer can enjoy and take in nature without the feeling that is a temporary experience. But my work tries to hold on to that moment and allow the viewer to revisit that space again and again.”

Law continued, “I never went out to be an ephemeral artist, even though I was working with an ephemeral material. I went out to create installations that had an element of color and nature, but the journey has been one of discovering how to preserve an ephemeral material and make it last as long as possible. Now, I feel like I’ve gotten to a stage where my artworks are outlasting me.”

Suspended in time

Law says that Community, the title of her upcoming TMA installation, is both a nod to the process and our region: “I was overwhelmed by the community I met in Toledo through the Museum. I found the history, the people, and the involvement inspirational. I wanted my artwork to somehow incorporate and celebrate this community.”

To do so, Law brought the outside in. She worked with local botanists and volunteers to find local plants and flowers to pluck to the installation and chose to keep some of the flora fresh so they could later be planted back into the earth.

Community isn’t going to be just from me— Toledo is making it, and I love that. After it is installed, I’m going to be walking away and leaving it. This installation is a work for Toledo and I really want people to be able to take ownership.”

Law will discuss her work with TMA Director of Curatorial Affairs, Halona Norton-Westbrook, at 2pm on Saturday, June 16, in the Peristyle Theater. For a full list of planned events, visit toledomuseum.org.

Rebecca Louise Law: Community will remain on view through January 13, 2019. 
Admission is free for members and $10 for non-members.

Toledo Museum of Art Canady Gallery,

2445 Monroe St. | 419-255-8000. | Toledomuseum.org