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The McQuesten Project

October 15, 2018

The McQuesten Project

To celebrate the revitalized Rock Garden and Canada’s 150th anniversary, Royal Botanical Gardens issued its first permanent sculpture commission in decades. Funded in part by the Ontario 150 Fund, and RBG donors Peter and Camilla Dalglish, the commission was issued in January under the guidance of Cobalt Connects. The commission sought to find an artist to “commemorate the legacy of Thomas McQuesten and RBG’s long-standing commitment to the stewardship of our land.”

The jury, including Tobi Bruce (Art Gallery of Hamilton), Mark Runciman (RBG CEO), John Best (author of Thomas Baker McQuesten: Public Works, Politics, and Imagination), Camilla and Peter Dalglish (RBG supporters), and Maryella Leggat (RBG supporter), considered over 45 submissions from across the country before settling on 4 short-listed artists. Each artist was paid a fee to create a detailed submission which was presented in-person to the jury.

After careful deliberation the jury selected Hamilton artist Brandon Vickerd’s proposal of Flora Hominis for the commission.

About the Artist

Origin: Hamilton, ON
Education: Masters of Fine Art (2001), University of Victoria Bachelor of Fine Art (1998), Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

Brandon Vickerd is a Hamilton based artist and Professor of Sculpture at York University, where he also serves as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts and Art History. He received his BFA from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (1999) and his MFA from University of Victoria (2001).

Purposely diverse, Vickerd’s art practice straddles the line between high and low culture, acting as a catalyst for critical thought and addressing our social fascination with nature, technology and the happens when these two aspects of our world collide. Recently, Vickerd was awarded a commission for a permanent installation by the Edmonton Arts Council. The sculpture, entitled Wildlife, consists of two bronze figures that appear to be citizens leisurely going about their day. However, upon inspection the figures reveal themselves to be composed of squirrels, raccoons, foxes, owls, and other animals working together to appear human. Humorously referencing cartoon clichés, this sculpture invites a thoughtful reflection on our relationship to nature.

Vickerd has received numerous awards and grants from Social Science and Humanities Research Council,  Canada Council for the Arts, Toronto Arts Council, and Ontario Arts Council.

About the Sculpture

Cast in bronze, Flora Hominis consists of a life-sized figure weighing approximately 350 lbs. that appears to be Thomas McQuesten from a distance; on closer inspection, the sculpture will reveal itself to be composed of a collection of local flora and native plants. The artwork is intended to connect the representation of McQuesten to the rich and vibrant ecosystem of Royal Botanical Garden that he was pivotal in creating. Flora Hominis addresses the interconnected ecosystem that humans inhabit along with all other forms of organic life. The title of the work, Flora Hominis, is the Latin translation of the words plant and human, and is intended to encapsulate the interdependency of both.
By presenting a figurative work that marries plant and man, the sculpture addresses the interdependency of both elements of the natural world. As McQuesten sought to preserve the natural spaces around Hamilton/Burlington, he was known to refer to park spaces as the “lungs of the city,” a vital organ that by its very nature makes civilization possible. McQuesten’s forward thinking approach to fostering and protecting biodiversity is at the core of Flora Hominis and the way that it stresses plants and humankind share the same future. Like McQuesten, Flora Hominis calls for an alternate understanding of what it means to be human – that humanity can only realize its full potential when it accepts that it is part of the natural world. In other words, we are not stewards of all things natural, but subjects of the complex ecosystem that surrounds us.

The Process

Vickerds’s proposal includes both traditional and innovative Vacuum Assisted Organic Burnout (VAOB) bronze casting methods. Flora Hominis will be the first public sculptural work using the VOAB process in which a ceramic mold is constructed directly around organic material. The ceramic mold is then fired at a high temperature that strengthens the mold while incinerating the organic material, leaving a cavity. Next, the ceramic mold (which is porous by nature) is placed on a high capacity vacuum so that when the bronze is poured into the mold the vacuum forces the molten bronze into the miniscule cavity of the mold creating a highly-detailed rendering that exceeds the detail of any traditional bronze casting process.
Images of natural materials Vickerd collected at the RBG and processed using the VOAB method are in the figure below. Vickerd has already spent time onsite with Jim Mack, head of horticulture for Royal Botanical Gardens, gathering natural materials for inclusion in the final sculpture.