The Eden Project: Cornwall

‘Eden’ is a word synonymous with paradise or the Biblical garden home of Adam and Eve, and has connotations with a state of pure bliss and happiness… so it was with optimism that I boarded a train at London Paddington bound for Cornwall and the Eden Project. Just over four hours later I arrived at St Austell, where the public are encouraged to walk or cycle to the eco visitor attraction. However directions are cryptic to say the least, beginning with heading east out of the station (I didn’t have a compass on me!) and then to dog-leg over Sandy Hill (an instruction which still eludes me!), and an inebriated local who helpfully pointed me in the wrong direction. With limited WiFi I finally managed to navigate my way through the hilly terrain to the former clay-pit which now houses the iconic biomes and twenty-acres of outdoor gardens. Visitors are welcomed by contrived branding and an eco theme dominates the entire site; from the carparks named after different fruits (banana, plum, apple and kiwi to name a few) to the sculptures created entirely from waste which litter the gardens. Despite boasting the worlds’ largest indoor rainforest, this biome was little more than an overinflated plastic-bag filled with palm trees and manufactured humidity. The Mediterranean biome was preferable with distinct geographical areas ranging from Southern Europe to California, Western Australia and South Africa – but again contained nothing that can’t be seen at Kew Gardens, other greenhouses, or indeed on a walk in the natural environments being mimicked. The Core Building did contain an engaging exhibition in conjunction with The Wellcome Collection featuring striking images captured on medical cameras and other advances in science-technology. Admission is a costly £27.50 and although your ticket acts as an annual pass, I doubt I’ll be returning anytime soon!

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Barbara Hepworth: Tate Britain

Three things struck me at Tate Britain’s current Barbara Hepworth exhibition ‘Sculpture for a Modern World’ – 1. Her relationship with the landscape and natures’ influence on her work, 2. Her consistent control over her self-image, and 3. Her commissions filling urban landscapes today. In each of the seven exhibition rooms (carving, studio, international modernism, equilibrium, staging sculpture, guarea tropical hardwood and pavilion) Hepworth’s relationship with nature and particularly the seascape of St Ives in Cornwall is palpable, never more so than in room five where a film entitled ‘Figures in Landscape’ describes the sea hollowing out rocks, beautifully echoing Hepworth’s hollowing out of wood and stone in her sculptures. Likewise the exhibition highlights Hepworth’s constant manipulation of how she and her pieces were portrayed to the public, from early on in her career when she carefully organised photo albums of herself and her pieces in her studio with partner and fellow artist Ben Nicholson, to her close interest in how she was represented in the media as her recognition grew, and by the 1950’s her staging of sculptures and creating collages of false backdrops for her pieces. Finally I was surprised to learn how much her art fills the urban landscape, for example her ‘Winged Figure’ erected on the side of the John Lewis building on London’s Oxford Street in 1963 which I walk pass most days oblivious. I appreciated how the exhibition’s loosely chronological approach allows visitors to follow the evolution of Hepworth’s style and her various spiritual, political and personal influences. I also liked that it celebrates the raw materials themselves; tactile marble, lapis lazuli, alabaster, onyx, anhydrite, ironstone, hoptonwood stone, fossil stone, teak, elm, plane, Burmese wood, African blackwood, and finally bronze (a material little used until the end of Hepworth’s career) are all displayed to great effect.

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