Rebecca Louise Law’s immersive, site-specific floral installations have graced venues ranging from the British Royal Academy, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, and Times Square, where she thoroughly transforms spaces with canopies and garlands comprising flowers by the hundred-thousand. Community, on view at the Toledo Art Museum, applies half a million floral elements that create a tangible lavender mist into which viewers can immerse themselves and disappear. It looks (and smells) absolutely transcendent, but Law’s floral works– tranquil, serene, and undeniably beautiful—also manage to gently touch on the themes of community-building and environmental sustainability.
This installation is her largest yet, ambitiously filling the TMA’s spacious Canaday Gallery with living flowers from Toledo and dried floral elements from each of her fifty-one previous works, some of which date back ten years. In this regard, Community manages to serve as a sort of early-career retrospective. Because of its immersive nature, perhaps even more so than most art, Law’s work must be experienced rather than seen. Step into this other-worldly space and the flowers suspended from the ceiling seem to form a luminous cascade which—depending on your perspective in the room– alternates between thin translucent veils or a dense and opaque mist.
The 10,000 living flowers in the installation will—of course– inevitably die, but every element from each of Law’s installations is preserved and reincorporated into subsequent works; there’s absolutely nothing discarded. She even preserves the dust that accumulates in her installations for use in future projects (she plans on working with it later this year during her forthcoming residency as a visiting artist at the TMA’s hot shop and glass pavilion). So each element in Community will one day see new life in a future installation. In this way, Law work obliquely addresses sustainability and pushes against unnecessary waste.
The themes of community and bridge-building are also subtly present in her work, and in this installation in particular. Here, dried plants and flowers from the UK entwine with living floral elements from the Toledo area. And even the creation of this installation was a sort of community-building; volunteers from 19 organizations worked together for 1,800 cumulative hours to entwine the innumerable garlands that comprise this work. Law states that one of the draws of the TMA as an exhibition venue in the first place was the museum’s many outreach programs that reach Toledo’s diverse demographics.
Admittedly, it’s entirely possible that these subtle themes may elude many viewers who, like myself, enter the space only to find themselves lost in the moment; when was the last time any of us have walked through a veil of half a million flowers, after all? But there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. TMA curator Halona Norton-Westbrook says that Law’s works serve as reminders to “look closely and appreciate the natural wonder that always surrounds us,” which is, undeniably, a perfectly worthy end in itself.
Viewers can see, smell, and experience Community at the Toledo Art Museum through January 13, 2019.