Title: This Garden at This Hour
Artist: Matthew Ritchie
Location: FDA White Oak Campus Commons, White Oak, Maryland
Media: Aluminum, steel, polyester, composite stone and plants
Throughout history and across cultures, gardens have been used to represent the universe in microcosm. Following in this tradition, Matthew Ritchie created This Garden at This Hour, a sprawling artwork comprising both sculpture and landscape elements that evoke the complex and important mission of the FDA. Described by Ritchie as “a molecular garden,” the artwork’s interlocking metal arbors, planters, benches and hexagonal stone pavers are patterned after the structure of carbon, the elemental foundation of life. Treating the roof surface as an enormous canvas and working with GSA horticulturalist Darren DeStefano, Ritchie carefully selected the artwork’s plantings for their visual and sculptural qualities, historical uses and culturally symbolic meanings (often represented by their traditional names) to represent an evolutionary timeline moving from the deepest areas in the south, with some of the oldest plant types in the deepest soil, to the north where the shallow depth limits choices to survival species that can thrive in four inches of soil. All three plant adaptation strategies are represented: the “competitor,” maximizing resource acquisition, the “stress tolerator,” thriving through metabolic performance in unproductive niches, and the “ruderal” or genetic propagator, which survives through rapid completion of its lifecycle in disturbed areas. Ritchie’s intention is for the plantings to migrate and change naturally as they vie for resources, producing a “wild garden,” and ever-changing landscape of evolutionary competition at work, exploiting every part of the ecological triangle.
Ritchie is well known for his elaborate, multimedia projects that variously combine drawing, painting, sculpture, sound and video to explore the relationships among many fields if inquiry, such as history, religion, science and literature. With each new project, Ritchie shifts the focus of his artwork’s content to address its specific context. For example, with This Garden at This Hour, Ritchie traces the parallels between archetypal creation stories and the vital work of the FDA, balancing nature and culture. The artwork’s title is an allusion to John Milton’s 17th-century epic poem Paradise Lost (book 9, lines 205-06, "...we labor still to dress this Garden..."), the structure and themes of which Ritchie connects to the idea of biological growth at different levels and scales. Ritchie has described his work as an attempt to “create a landscape where different kinds of information can coexist…to convey my personal sense of how incredibly rich and complicated the world is.”
Matthew Ritchie was born in London in 1964. His installations of painting, wall drawings, light boxes, sculpture and projections are investigations of the idea of information as explored through the lenses of science, architecture, history and the dynamics of culture.
In 2001, Time magazine listed Ritchie as one of 100 innovators for the new millennium, for exploring “the unthinkable or the not-yet-thought.” As described on the website of the Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York, Ritchie's art encompasses "everything from cutting-edge physics, ancient myth, neo-noir short stories and medieval alchemy to climate change, contemporary politics and economic theory," to create installations that "fuse unique narrative forms with our constantly changing factual understanding of our universe."
Ritchie's work has been shown in numerous exhibitions worldwide including the Whitney Biennial, the São Paulo Biennial and the Sydney Biennial. Solo shows include the Dallas Museum of Art; the Miami Museum of Contemporary Art; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art; Portikus in Frankfurt, Germany; and The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. His work is in the collections of New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and numerous other institutions worldwide. Ritchie has completed several large-scale public commissions in addition to This Garden at This Hour for the FDA campus at White Oak. Among these is his first GSA Art in Architecture commission, completed in 2006 and comprising a large aluminum-and-steel roof sculpture and three illuminated light-box murals that Ritchie designed in conversation with Pritzker prize-winning architect Thom Mayne for the Wayne L. Morse U.S. Courthouse in Eugene, Oregon.
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