Six years ago, Heather Beardsley visited the site of an infamous—and recent—nuclear accident: Chernobyl in northern Ukraine. Using an old photo of nearby Pripyat, now a ghost town, Heather hand embroidered the image with the wild plants and flowers she spied overtaking the city during her visit. The Virginia Beach artist would eventually create similar works inspired by later travels: Budapest, Vienna, Beijing, and Las Vegas are among the cities the artist has decorated with embroidered plants and flowers.
“Travel was a huge part of my work for so long,” says Heather in a statement about her current exhibition, Strange Plants, which is now on view at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, through October 29, 2023. “I spent five years without a fixed address living out of a suitcase as I moved between residencies and fellowships around the world. This body of work grew out of it; the cities I use for inspiration are the cities my career has brought me.”
When the pandemic washed over the world in 2020, Heather reluctantly quit her travels and headed home to Virginia. “It was hard to come back, especially when it didn't feel like it was my choice,” she says. “Yet it led to this beautiful opportunity to have my first solo museum exhibition in a place my parents used to bring me to in a stroller.”
NOT REAL ART spoke with Heather about Strange Plants in 2021. Since our last interview, the project has grown exponentially in scope and size. Alongside the embellished photographs, Strange Plants includes sculptural works that emphasize the man-made structures peeking out from under all that overgrowth. While her work concerns itself with somber issues, Heather playfully deconstructs high-brow scientific conventions with crafty displays worthy of an after-school science fair. Her approach infuses the work with a sense of wide-eyed wonder usually reserved for scientifically-minded children on their first trip to the field museum. Even Heather’s embroidered found photos carry a lighthearted appeal; there’s an aura of quiet jubilation, palpable in the unbridled surge of wild plants throughout otherwise empty cities.
“Travel was a huge part of my work for so long.” — Heather Beardsley
All photos published with permission of the artist(s); featured image: “Strange Plants, Virginia Beach” by Heather Beardsley.
Want to be featured on NOT REAL ART? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.