Interview: Julie Flavell, Head of Visitor Programmes & Exhibitions at Kew Gardens, on Queer Nature
Ahead of the upcoming Queer Nature festival at Kew Gardens, we caught up with Julie Flavell – Head of Visitor Programmes & Exhibitions at Kew – to talk about the celebration of diversity in art, plants and fungi.
Hi Julie, thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions. We’re excited about Queer Nature – could you tell us a bit about how the idea came about?
We run several different visitor-facing events as part of our cultural programme every year at Kew, and these cover a range of themes and topics from food to countries. This is a theme we have wanted to explore for some time and the autumn festival felt like a great opportunity to do it, inside one spectacular space, and at a time of year when we have no other festival in the gardens.
From the work our incredible scientists do, we also know that, while the basic system of reproduction in most plants is binary, some individual plants do not neatly fit into binaries. From orchids that can self-pollinate, to avocado trees which are functionally female one day (in order to be pollinated), and functionally male the next (using anthers to spread their pollen), nature is wonderfully complex with infinite possibilities, and Queer Nature came about from a desire to celebrate and share this with our visitors.
If you could pick out just two or three highlights across the month, what would they be?
New York-based artist Jeffrey Gibson will be showcasing his world premiere of House of Spirits. His largest UK commission to date, this amazing installation is constructed from swathes of fabric suspended 10 metres high, in the centre of Kew’s iconic Temperature house. The fabrics incorporate botanical illustration alongside patterns informed by Gibson’s own perspectives on queerness, and the endless diversity of plants and nature.
Another highlight is the temporary garden being created by Garden Designer Patrick Featherstone. Featherstone has been working with Kew Youth Group to create a new garden called Breaking the Binary which features plants that don’t necessarily fit with traditional plant categories. Visitors will hopefully find it fascinating, learning about the hugely diverse range of plants and fungi we have here in the Gardens.
We’re looking forward to the After Hours nights (13, 14, 20 and 21 October) – what can our readers expect at these evenings in the Temperate House?
This will be a fantastic event for over 18s, with food and drink and eight incredible acts per night. These include Auntie Maureen on the Decks, the Queer Comedy Club, drag artists and the art of badge making, amongst many others! It’s also a chance to experience Kew’s iconic Temperate House like never before, after dark.
Away from Queer Nature, what’s your favourite place to be at one with nature in Kew Gardens?
The best thing about the Gardens is that they’re always changing, especially at the turn of the seasons. It means my favourite places also change, and very soon the Arboretum will be at its best with our 12,000 trees taking on a copper colour, but I have to say my absolute favourite place is Rhododendron Dell in the spring. Nothing beats those colours and scents when it’s in full bloom.
What’s coming up next at Kew?
It’s a really exciting time of year at Kew, with a huge selection of new events just around the corner. Later this month (from 20 October), a new exhibition from contemporary artist Mat Collishaw comes to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. It will feature sculptural installations and uses a variety of pioneering techniques to explore the relationship between the natural world, art history, and how representations of nature in art can impact the way in which we see the world around us.
October half-term promises fun for the whole family, with an epic family trail based on the award-winning animation and best-selling picture book written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, We’re going on a Bear Hunt.
Elsewhere, preparations are already underway for Christmas at Kew. Brand-new installations promise to show Kew Gardens in a whole new light, as the UK’s original festive light trail returns this November.
What are your favourite things to do in London?
I try and do lots of different things on the annual London calendar in museums and other venues. This weekend I am heading to the V&A and of course I love coming to events like Christmas at Kew! My favourite place to find food is usually Borough Market.
Don’t miss Queer Nature at Kew Gardens, 30 September – 29 October 2023 – click here for tickets!
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