Laura Amussen, Checkmate, 2020. Artificial ivy, installation view. Photo: Courtesy the artist

Laura Amussen

Monkton, Maryland

Ladew Topiary Gardens

As the world screeched to a standstill last year, Laura Amussen continued working on the large-scale installations for her 2020 sculptor-in-residence exhibition at the Ladew Topiary Gardens. “Flourish” acted as a living testament to Amussen’s practice, which explores natural phenomena, human relationships, and climate change. Inspired by nature’s ability to reclaim, and by Ladew’s follies, gardens, and topiaries, these new works devoured the furniture in the estate library and provided shelter in the gardens, a reminder that the natural world can be a healing balm, and that there is comfort in its cycles.

Amussen, who simultaneously embarked on a mindfulness and meditation project focused on chronicling minute seasonal changes along a single hiking trail, has “always been interested in emptiness and loss.” She finds solace in ritual, in slowing down and paying attention. Watching her Ladew works interact with the landscape, she saw the beauty that can come from loss, as changes demonstrated the idea that “if we don’t empty out we can’t fill back up.”

“Flourish” began in Ladew’s Oval Library before meandering through the wildflower meadows behind the mansion. In the well-appointed library, blankets of artificial ivy overtook a grouping of two side chairs and an inlaid drop-leaf gaming table set in front of a window overlooking the grounds. Checkmate nodded to an intrepid ivy shoot creeping through a grate in the floor, which someone had pointed out to Amussen during one of her early visits. She imagined the vine continuing, perhaps eventually swallowing the entire room. From the window, visitors could see Embedded in the seed is the blossom waiting to unfold, which alludes to traditional connections between femininity and nature. The large sphere covered in artificial ferns recalled seed pods from the surrounding meadows, with an explosion of flowers in various shades of pink joyfully bursting from the top.

Amussen’s largest work, Oval Library Topiary Folly, took the form of a gazebo enveloped in artificial greenery and flowers. The structure brought the library interior outside, merging architecture and landscape into a space simultaneously peaceful and playful, natural and constructed. Clad in greenery on the exterior, echoing the topiaries, the interior of Amussen’s folly burst into color, awash in thousands of mostly secondhand artificial flowers that picked up the many colors of Ladew’s gardens.

Though Amussen used manmade materials so the installations would last, she welcomed natural intervention. In addition to the ivy shoot in the library, she was delighted to see real ivy growing through Oval Library Topiary Folly, which later became home to a wasp nest. Sunlight and wind faded the artificial ivy on the outside (just as they did the flowers of Embedded) and began to unwind the flowers on the inside. The experience of these works in midsummer was quite different from that in mid-fall, their relationship to the landscape shifting as they settled in, the seeming permanence of the artificial taking on a different relation to the ever-changing surroundings, even bowing to the power of nature. Amussen’s work perfectly captured the pleasurable push-pull she feels between the natural and the manmade, staking a claim on nature while yielding to its dominance over us all.