A closer look at nature in the Belkin Gallery’s The Willful Plot

The newest exhibition at UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, The Willful Plot, invites visitors to take a closer look at gardens and how we relate to them. The exhibition features works from nine artists in a variety of mediums that explore ideas of land, sovereignty, possibility and cycles of life, according to the exhibition’s curator and the gallery’s acting director Melanie O’Brian.

Though the exhibition is in a traditional gallery space, it attempts to introduce more natural aesthetics and ways of engaging with the pieces.

“I feel like an exhibition, especially a group exhibition, functions kind of like a garden, with the path that you follow, elements of surprise, viewpoints, kind of like moments of intrigue,” said O’Brian. “I think if you're dealing with land and gardens, the impulse often is to try and bring that into the space.”

A photographic series from Dana Qaddah captures a sense of movement across plant-populated rooftop spaces, while a film by Gabi Dao is accompanied by the smell of soil suffusing the gallery.

Alongside the scent, artists including Derya Akay and Vivienne Besette explore other unconventional mediums including a fridge stocked with miscellaneous plants, food and beverages from a local community garden. The fridge invites visitors to leave something if they take something.

“That fridge comes directly from their community garden,” said O’Brian. "It's where all the materials that they've harvested get stored. It's one step before compost; it's like slowing down decay.”

The exhibition also features a garden variety of lens-based works, from a video installation of 30-second films of plants on televisions by Mike MacDonald to a 92-minute film by Derek Jarman. Work by Glenn Lewis portrays gardens over decades around the world. The images, which date from 1970–2021, have a strong element of stillness, containing almost no explicit human subjects to keep focus on the gardens themselves.

Overall, the exhibition encourages visitors to pay closer attention to the nature around them.
Overall, the exhibition encourages visitors to pay closer attention to the nature around them. Mackenzie Burley / The Ubyssey

“I wanted to focus the attention on the elements in the garden,” said Lewis. “And with people in the garden, it's hard to do that because they become the feature.”

From sculptures, fountains, and architectural details to a few flowers or a cluster of bushes, there is variety and attentiveness in the subjects Lewis explores.

“I go around and I photograph those elements in the gardens I find,” said Lewis, “and I think they're kind of like the memory of our ancient relationship to nature and prehistoric times.”

Overall, the exhibition encourages visitors to pay closer attention to the nature around them — from the manicured lawns of West Point Grey to the forests and beaches around us.

O’Brian encouraged visitors of The Willful Plot “to look closely, and to think about the kind of relationship of us not just to the land and how we cultivate and how we think about our kind of own mythology surrounds cycles of life, but also how artists kind of slow things down for us.”

The Willful Plot is open through April 16. Admission is free.