Starting with the figure of the herbalist or apothecary, this project considers the interconnection of art, medicine and plants via the number five and the quincunx pattern. A quincunx is a set of five objects arranged in such a way that four are at the corners of a square or rectangle and the fifth is at its centre – like the five on a dice. It is embodied in the motif of the lozenge from Thomas Browne’s 1658 text The Garden of Cyrus, in which the number five stands for a sacred geometry of self-similarity in the plant kingdom. This metaphor is used to (re)construct a healing ecosystem of plants and medicine formed of five artists in isolation and five historical medicinal plants from five apothecary histories. 

Artist Rachel Pimm has collaborated with four other practitioners across disciplines – artist Lilah Fowler, composer Holly Márie Parnell, poet Daisy Lafarge, and chef and designer Peiran Gong – on an exploration of medicinal plants, sounds and breathing. The plants are recorded to form choral, poetic, edible, written and visual compositions, which seep into each other. Made to heal, breathe and sing in time with the earth and its seasons, the work employs these histories to decode the link between modern life and nature. 

The project, developed in partnership with Team London Bridge, started as a public art commission responding to the local histories of medicinal plants in the London Bridge area. Covid-19 meant radically adapting to new conditions of communication, production and site-specificity. In its current form, the project stands as research, a positive series of exchanges between isolated individuals and a foundation for future work when possibilities emerge. This microsite presents some of the project research and production processes, fragments of the collaborators’ work and short interviews between each of them and us – a group of eight graduating curators from the Royal College of Art. The hope is that one day some of the research will manifest in shared physical space.  

The pandemic has placed many in a vulnerable position, especially creative practitioners who work freelance. With exhibitions, events and all kinds of gathering cancelled, this situation puts the urgency of cultural production into question. At the same time, it highlights our need for togetherness and, for many, the irreplaceable position that nature and plants occupy in our lives.

Holly Márie Parnell, Quincunx thoughts in progress; an overview, 2020

Quincunx is curated by Junyao Chen, Jinghua Fan, Hetian Guo, Chao Liu, Si Shen, Costanza Simonini, Irina Sinenkaya and Jianan Wang as part of the MA Curating Contemporary Art Programme Graduate Projects 2020, Royal College of Art, London, in partnership with Team London Bridge.

We would like to thank:

  • Rachel Pimm, for their openness in sharing their work and research process with us and for the dialogue maintained. Lilah Fowler, Holly Márie Parnell, Daisy Lafarge and Peiran Gong for their commitment to the project.
  • Team London Bridge, in particular Ellie Beedham, for her invaluable help throughout our research of the London Bridge area and for presenting us with the opportunity to make the project happen (before everything changed drastically).
  • Our tutors Rebecca Heald, Marianne Mulvey and Kelly Large, as well as the head of programme Victoria Walsh for their continuous support and guidance throughout the project.
  • The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret, The Garden Museum and Dr Henry Oakley at the Royal College of Physicians for their collaboration and support of Rachel’s research.
  • Gerrie van Noord for proofreading the texts.
  • Harry Blackett, co-founder of An Endless Supply, for his help in designing the project’s microsite.
  • Ourselves, for rocking this project.
  • You, our visitor who is reading this now, for sharing this experience with us.

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©Quincunx, Royal College of Art and the Artists, 2020.  All rights reserved.  

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