Naturalistic Inquiries

Naturalistic Inquiries

The Bowes Museum have two parallel exhibitions open this summer, both of which attempt to open up perspectives about nature and create an interactive museum. With themes of beauty, aestheticism and the organic world, the events invite audiences into new ways to discover art.

A: How are The Clockwork Garden and Turkish Tulips exhibitions reflective of The Bowes Museum’s mission, tying into the 125th anniversary celebrations?
BM: These exhibitions celebrate in different ways the legacy of John and Joséphine Bowes as founders of The Bowes Museum. The Turkish Tulips exhibition – hidden in every room of the Museum amongst the exhibits and also including several dozen tulip related exhibits – encourages a playful exploration of the architecture. The contemporary artworks included in the exhibition reflect the Museum’s mission to engage a younger audience as well as a new generation of creatives that the founders may well have collected if they had been alive today. It is a mission of the celebrations to also engage the traditional visitors of the Museum in new experiences so although the politics and ideas within the theme of Turkish Tulips is quite radical and cutting edge its appearance and relationship with the Museum is aesthetically pleasing and harmonious for all visitors. The Clockwork Garden expresses their curiosity and enthusiasm for the eccentric as well as the beautiful.

A: What are the conceptual links between the exhibitions, and how do they evoke different narratives?
BM: Both exhibitions have a loose horticultural theme and an educational ethos. The exhibitions unpack ideas and inspire curiosity around our relationship with nature and history. The narratives are very different. The Clockwork Garden exhibition has a strong narrative involving an alien, a mechanical seed and space travel. The Turkish Tulips exhibition does not have an overarching theme beyond an academic enquiry into the role of tulips through history and their ability to be a metaphor or even an excuse to explore Middle Eastern and European History,  trade and the birth of capitalism, economics, science and the enlightenment.

A: How do you think that Turkish Tulips looks at a new way of expressing art through re-visiting iconography and providing new platforms?
BM: By taking a clichéd icon like the Tulip and inviting artists and creatives to explore and be curious about the meaning of this symbol we are able to take the audience on a mind adventure as well as a trail through the gallery. They have to think harder in order to fully appreciate the art but this is easier to do because of the strong theme and accessible form of the show. The interactive pieces in the show as well as the map trail and the newspaper help to engage the playful side of our imaginations.

A: How do you think it combines a sense of the scientific with the aesthetic?
BM: This question is key to why the exhibition has a power to make the audience think because there are so many stories hidden within the tulip that are about the philosophy, science, economics and racial divisions, differences as well as shared cultural motifs. To fully appreciate this the mind of the audience has to slow down and unpack the relationships using scientific inquiry not just an appreciation of the aesthetic nature of the pieces.

A: How does The Clockwork Garden look at the beauty of the natural landscape?
BM: The narrative of this exhibition requires the audience to “teach” the alien and its Mechanical Seed device about gardens through exploring, investigating and remembering. This inevitably leads to a deeper appreciation and understanding of nature. By making an adventure trail outside the Museum it takes the audience into every corner of the landscape, deliberately inviting the audience to appreciate nature through the eyes of an artist.

A: What is the importance of interaction in these shows?
BM: More passive shows that don’t invite the audience to actively participate and engage are not always able to capture the imagination especially of audiences who are not immediately receptive. By inviting interaction, we are reaching out to all members of the audience in an intuitive non-linguistic communication. The art in these cases is not in what we are offering but in the act of participation. That is to say we need the audience for the art to exist. This is an exciting dynamic which is increasingly understood by the academic and high culture world as well as the more traditionally leisure spaces such as visitor attractions who use terms like “edutainment.”

A: How do you think that both the programmes promote a new understanding of the world around us, combining both digital and organic worlds
BM: We live in a rapidly changing world where technology has won our complete attention within less than one generation. We need to remember that nature as well as the traditional cultural activities to exercise our cognitive faculties. We must ensure a bond between all our communities and the natural world as we move into an increasingly urban, technological and dangerously unsustainable future. We are perhaps at the pinnacle of an equal, affluent society and if we don’t encourage active and healthy citizenship we are in danger of losing many of the privileges of a democratic and egalitarian society.

Both exhibitions runs until 5 November.

For more information about The Clockwork Garden:

For more information about the Turkish Tulips:

1. Flowers in a Glass Vase by Gordon Cheung.