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The Plant Room: First Edition

Plants and our attitudes towards them say a lot about us. From the gentleman gardeners of the Victorian era to George Orwell taking one plant in particular as a symbol and banner for everything wrong with bourgeois middle class respectability, plants have always had an interesting, sometimes revealing place in the hearts and minds of society. With inner city living meaning less and less people actually see even grass escaping through the cracks in the pavement, they’ve become a popular home decor item, one often not incorporated with any real thought or art other than to green the place up. The ficus tree currently visibly dying in my flatmate’s room attests to this.

The Plant Room shows this doesn’t have to be the case. But this isn’t necessarily its mission statement or anything like that. It’s simply another layer of meaning and depth to what it so effortlessly manages to pull off. A pop-up exhibition space-cum-interior design manifesto-cum-model for living, the First Edition of hopefully many to come takes over the office space of design company The Archipelago in Tower Works, Leeds. A multi-disciplinary multi-party effort bringing together graphic design, art, furniture, home decor, pottery and plant cultivation and curation, they have created in the leaf-filled space a snug, busy, eclectic yet beautiful environment that is a joy to simply bask in and more than likely even more joyous to work in.

The offices themselves certainly aid this, with Tower Works’ large north facing windows allowing in a soft diffuse light that rests gently on its minimal white walls and wood flooring. Shelves and desks and window sills and vinyl players all become natural homes for the potted focus of the project. A plaque on the wall explains the positive effect that plantlife has been psychologically found to have on work efficiency and happiness, and while in some offices well-curated plantlife is a redeeming much needed saving grace in The Archipelago it is more frosting and garnish on a cake, making something already great and elevating it a step higher.

What’s perhaps most impressive as far as the careful curation and design is how the white-walled space has been so packed with plants and ideas yet still comes across as minimal and clean-cut, as if just the essentials have been covered. Lucy Ketchin‘s bold, bright and beautiful prints in all their stripped back simplicity sit perfectly alongside the chaotic natural growth of the plantlife. Their depictions of uninhibited naked female figures interacting passively and almost erotically with their leafy flatmates is a smile-inducing meditation on creation and nature.

Alongside this we have the work of Matt Kelly, whose choice of furniture to work with the space and attendant shrubbery is a simple twist on his day job of art curation and installation. His efforts at The Hepworth, Wakefield, have translated wonderfully into his design and layout of the space, with all the disparate elements working together cohesively and inseperably, each playing off, highlighting and contrasting with its neighbours.

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Ideas for less conventional pottings and features come in the form of the use of Dove Street Pottery‘s beautiful hand-spun mugs and beakers, with hedgehog cacti being made very at home in salt dishes. The pottery is an object to fetishise over in itself with its great tactility, their human-made cold earthenware shapes a clear counterpoint to the warmth of the green.

One interesting point to note is that the exhibition also doubles as a lifestyle store, with everything that isn’t an office fitting or possession of The Archipelago themselves being up for sale, including the pottery both with and without plant. You can even take it home that day if your guilt for subtracting from the space isn’t too overriding, meaning that the elements of the edition become fewer and fewer as time goes on, with the curators rearranging and reworking the space as it goes on. We have a living, breathing exhibit, always adapting to change and reworking itself to make best use of what is on hand.

With only a short tenure at The Archipelago, those who don’t make it down by this Friday 5th June may have a while before the next edition. Ketchin in conversation revealed an approach of its being ready when its ready, showing the kind of patience needed to care for plantlife in making sure the right people and space and materials and ideas are brought together for the second edition. Wherever and whatever it may be (this First Edition had a focus on succulents and cacti, plants of a very low maintenance low water ilk), we can look forward to another lesson in how to truly make a space something else with plantlife. You could have an office space you want to live in if you’re not careful.