Lee Mingwei: The Moving Garden

Art, Sculpture and installations Free
Lee Mingwei 2016 The Moving Garden 2009 2014 Installation view at National Gallery of Victoria photographer credit Wayne Taylor courtesy NGV
Photograph: Wayne Taylor 'The Moving Garden' (2009/2014) installation view at NGV, 2016

Take a flower for free from the NGV this spring – on two conditions

This spring, visitors to the NGV are invited to take a fresh-cut flower on their way out of the building. “When you take a flower, you trigger the magic,” says artist Lee Mingwei.

Lee is behind the floral installation, called The Moving Garden. Running over summer it will see tens of thousands of gerberas, carnations, chrysanthemums, irises and roses (among other seasonally-available blooms) exchanged between strangers.


The magic, Lee explains, is two-fold: first, he wants you to make a detour from your intended route from the museum to your next destination; second, you must give the flower to a stranger. “It’s about what it is to be a human being, and what it is to be vulnerable to strangers,” says Lee.

Born in Taiwan and based these days between New York and Paris, Lee’s ties to Australia go back to his participation in the 1999 Asia Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, where he formed close bonds with curators including NGV’s director, Tony Ellwood.

The Moving Garden is one of four major works by Lee being presented in major institutions this year: his performance and installation ‘Guernica in Sand’ showed at the Biennale of Sydney; and his participatory installation ‘The Letter Writing Project’ and his interactive performance work ‘Sonic Blossom’ were both featured in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibition Telling Tales.

With the exception of ‘The Letter Writing Project’ (a solo and non-participatory experience wherein gallery visitors enter one of three plywood pavilions to write a letter to a loved one) all these works are ‘social’, bringing disparate individuals together to interact in ways that are more or less direct.

In ‘Sonic Blossom’, a series of classically-trained singers approach gallery visitors at random and ask "May I give you the gift of song?" If the person says yes, they are led to a wooden chair and invited to sit while the singer delivers a personal performance of one of Schubert’s lieder (songs).

Lee, who studied textiles and weaving at California College of Arts and Crafts before diverting into performance and conceptual practice, says: “I see my projects as the social warp and weft between human relations.”

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