Art in Flux Plants Leah Poller’s “Bed of Flowers” in Harlem
As an artist, Leah Poller knows that a bed is never simply just a bed, but a subject of continual fascination and insight. From May 3rd to May 31st, her installation, “A Flower Bed”, will be on display in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, as part of a new Landscape exhibition by Art in Flux.
In the course of “A Flower Bed” Poller transforms the phrase ‘bed of flowers’ into an actual bed of flowers. On top of a 10-by 12-foot bed frame, she’s laid a small plot of flowers, which will grow and flourish over the next three weeks they’re on view.
The frame consists of iron grills that the artist found in windows and gates in Harlem on buildings that were undergoing construction or renovation, destined for the junkyard. The frame consists of pieces from different architectural periods, assembled into a collage of the buildings restored throughout the neighborhood.
Poller chose the flower bed with particular attention to which blooming species would take hold and blossom during the month of May– Vinca Vine, licorice plant, yellow charm, creeping phlox, orange gerberas, and daffodils, among others. She then coordinated their colors to resemble an old-fashioned quilt and sourced the plants from Jim Van Houten of Van Houten Farms, who runs a stand in Union Square’s iconic farmers market.
I met Poller on an overcast Wednesday morning, as she and her team of gardeners and installers worked with excitement to assemble the bed of flowers in preparation for the show. There she told me about the project’s last minute challenges. Originally, she planned to create a bed of roses, but upon discovering she wasn’t permitted to use thorns in the public park, she reworked the piece into a flower bed instead. That morning, she also found out that the plot where she had planned to install the bed was covered with vegetation. Her work, which deals so intimately with the garden, is as much about its challenges and evolution as it is the finished piece.
Poller has dedicated her artistic career to exploring this single subject of “the bed”. Her art serves as a bridge between our public and private lives that chooses to display what we’re conditioned to conceal.
Poller’s beds have been shown in Beijing, Mexico, Miami, Providence, and New York City, and yet “A Flower Bed” is ironically the first of her beds to be displayed outside.
“A Flower Bed” was inspired by a project Poller has been working on for the past 15 years, entitled “101 Beds,” where she takes phrases with the word ‘bed’– like “Army Bed”, “Bed and Breakfast”, and “Bed of Roses”– and converts them into bronze sculptures. “It’s a way of using language in three dimensions,” she explains.
Her collaborative project, “The Unmade Bed,” is a crowdsourced collection of images of people’s untidy beds. Poller explains, “We’re used to seeing perfectly-made beds on display and in photographs, but we never see them unmade,” which she finds is a deeply intimate part of ourselves— imperfect, raw, and unpolished. Her work, including “A Flower Bed,” is also a meditation on the privacy and intimacy of the bedroom.
The show’s theme of transformation, meanwhile is represented through the old grills from windows which are by nature foreboding and designed to keep people out, and turning them into something inviting, like a bed. “It’s a sign of the change that’s happening here in Harlem,” she says, a place where she’s lived for the past eight years.
Poller is still debating what do with installation after May 31st, though hopes to replant the flowers elsewhere. “The work is made to be assembled and disassembled,” she says.
Art in Flux’s first public exhibition in Marcus Garvey Park will display over 40 artists with a mission to represent the creative spirit and history of Harlem by bringing artists together. “A Flower Bed” is #10 on the Art Flux Map — next to the playground on the north side of the Park between Madison and Park Avenue.
On May 3rd at 8:00 pm, FLUX Public Art Projects will be hosting a tour of all the artists and celebration at Marcus Garvey Park. We hope to see you there!