UK’s largest outdoor art installation opens at Wakehurst

Wakehurst is now home to one of the UK’s largest outdoor art installations. The work, at Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex, was commissioned to wrap the Elizabethan Mansion, while it undergoes an extensive roof restoration. Titled Planet Wakehurst, this bespoke photo montage was created by Australian-born artist Catherine Nelson.

“I couldn’t really imagine this moment,” she said at the unveiling. “I’ve a nice big monitor, but that’s as big as the piece got. It was a great surprise, when I came and saw it for the first time at this scale… how strong the concept was and how it really spoke about the garden and diversity. So, I was really happy about that.”

Using photography of plants captured across the 535-acre site, the inspiring installation is a celebration of Wakehurst’s rich array of plant species, from the colourful blooms of the abundant Water Gardens to the towering Giant Redwoods of California in Horsebridge Wood.

“The first thing was to take lots of pictures. These three works comprise hundreds of photos. I came in August last year, and for ten days photographed everything in all sorts of light. By doing that I created a massive library of material which I could work with to create this digital collage.”

A visual artist who uses the camera and digital medium as a paintbrush, Nelson studied painting before moving into film visual effects. She’s worked on several big budget productions, including Moulin Rouge, Harry Potter and 300. The skills she learned are now applied to creating incredible photomontage artworks and videos. “Although what I was doing in film was time-based, the concepts of how to put things together still apply. Also that informed my discipline to just sitting down and doing it hour in, hour out; day in, day out, week in, week out!”

The installation also houses a new viewing platform. Raised 33ft above ground level, the lookout point creates a new experience for visitors to the Sussex site, affording stunning views across the Mansion lawns and out to the Sussex Downs beyond. This is the first-time visitors will be able to take in Wakehurst’s spectacular landscape and the surrounding countryside from this elevation.

Set in the heart of the garden, the Elizabethan Mansion was built in 1571-1590, and it requires extensive work to preserve the Grade I listed building for future generations. Lorraine Lecourtois, Wakehurst’s Head of Public Programmes, says the Mansion’s roof work forms the biggest restoration project of the last century.

“We knew the vast scale of the site with its layers of scaffolding poles and boards could form a magnificent canvas, but we had no idea just how spectacular this opportunity was until we started working with Catherine Nelson. Her vision for Planet Wakehurst will transform a building site into an artwork unlike anything you’ll see around the country. The connection with our collections and our critical science research is palpable in her work. Her consideration for our important plant collections and her passion for Kew’s mission to halt biodiversity loss has resulted in a truly striking work.”

Measuring over 1550m2, Nelson’s UK premiere installation forms the equivalent of 25 double decker buses, wrapping around three sides of Wakehurst’s mansion. Visitors can see beautiful species magnified in exceptional detail, offering new perspectives on the flora which makes Wakehurst so special, and sparking curiosity into science research conducted across this unique living laboratory. “This work is about what I’ve always been interested in,” says Nelson, “which is nature, the need for diversity in the local… That’s our future. We live in a time of crisis with climate change, so the concepts I’m dealing with in this project are always present throughout my art.”

Catherine Nelson’s Planet Wakehurst runs for the next two years. For more information, visit:

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