The Wardian Case

The Wardian Case by Space Popular in the tapestry rooms at Palazzo Reale Milano. Part of the exhibition DE/CODING curated by Domitilla Dardi and Angela Rui with designers and artists Constance Guisset, Qu Lei Lei, and Sabine Marcelis. 

LocationPalazzo Reale, Milan Italy
TypeInstallation 
Year2019 April 3rd - May 12th 
SPOPeopleLara Lesmes, Fredrik Hellberg
ClientAlcantara 
CuratorDomitilla Dardi & Angela Rui
ProductionPlotiniStudio Cromo
PhotographsDavide Calafa 

Invented in 1829, the Wardian Case was a container designed to successfully transport rare plants between different continents and climates. In its day, it was considered a technological device for the transferral and conservation of information in the form of live plant matter, sealed within the case in order to guarantee its survival.

https://archive.org/details/ongrowthplantsi00wardgoog

On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward

Information always finds its appropriate medium and dimension to be able to travel as far as possible. Just as the Wardian case, paintings, frescoes, and tapestries are also means by which to transmit information, as its source is virtually represented on its surface. 

The Wardian Case by Space Popular, toying with the interplay between contents and container, is presented as a symbolic bearer of information and knowledge to be accessed through both physical and digital realms. Layer after layer, the augmented dimensions of the room are unveiled, just like the narratives of its tapestries. Inhabited by the Argonauts, of which the installation – just like the original case – alludes to the means of transportation that withholds ‘alien’ lifeforms. 

Emphasised by contact with various textures of Alcantara and Virtual Reality vision, the stories of the ancient myth come to life in a sequence of experiences linked only in our minds, going beyond the apparent illusory incongruences between what we perceive through touch and what we understand from seeing.



The carpet which the Wardian Case stands on

CO/DING
TEXT BY DOMITILLA DARDI AND ANGELA RUI

BEFORE THE ADVENT OF THE MASS MEDIA, FOR CENTURIES THE MOST WIDELY USED FORM OF EXPRESSION — AFTER WORD OF MOUTH — WAS THAT OF VISUAL, FIGURATIVE OR SIGNIC LANGUAGE. THEN JUST AS NOW, THESE FORMS CORRESPONDED TO CODES, I.E. SYSTEMS BY WHICH TO MODEL THE WORLD

Starting out from this assumption, also the Tapestry Rooms of the Royal Palace may be interpreted as a place where the codified meaning of a system would weave together both political outlook and artistic value: basically, every tapestry is a form of writing by images, ornaments and signs that hint at deeper, complex meanings, today ever more difficult to pick out.

At the same time, these surfaces withhold codes and conventions that lay down the rules for the interface between elements and their decoding – as undertaken in the four installations that make up the exhibition itinerary – viewed as an open system which from fluid material (information), takes on specific form and meaning, determined by reference to the work itself.

The plot further thickens with references to Ovid’s Metamorphoses: the leading theme of the tapestries and a key text of the classical world, telling of the dilemma of becoming, of transformation and of the mutability of the natural state of things, with an absolutely contemporary truthfulness and intensity. The idea of the code thus penetrates the universe of the natural just as much as it does that of the cultural, creating hypotheses of metaphorisation and abstraction, underlined here in the research by the creatives on show.

The updating of the codes also foresees 
that of the materials that convey it: 
what was once limited by the use of the 
fabric support, like in the case of the 
tapestries, in DE CODING may exploit 
a material vector such as Alcantara, 
capable of amplifying the incisiveness 
of the message, carrying out research into 
potential expressive formats.

The narrative itinerary of the exhibition 
unfolds through four installations that 
seek out a correspondence with the 
hosting space and with the Myth, from 
the multiform dimensions of Medea to 
the incarnation of Scylla, only to then 
experience the virtual company of the 
Argonauts.

Over the succession of rooms, the 
relationship with the notion of code 
evolves in spatial terms: signs, symbols 
and calligraphy come together to 
constitute a founding matrix in the work 
of Qu Lei Lei, to be understood as a 
conceptual moment of the writing 
of the code itself; the meaning and context 
of the Myth are instead rethought and 
remodelled by the audience in their 
passage to the three-dimensional, as 
rendered by Sabine Marcelis. In the 
third room, the process of decoding 
the Myth embraces the space as the stage 
for the metamorphosis itself, personified 
by the powerful fantastical creature of 
Constance Guisset; while the expansion 
of the correlation between visual code 
and its physical enactment is sublimed in 
the last room, designed by Space Popular, 
in which the Myth is presented in its 
ideal form of augmented reality, i.e. as a 
coupling of the real and the virtual. 
All four installations become playful 
mechanisms that foster participatory 
interaction on behalf of the public. 
The onlooker is invited to take part in a 
form of active fruition that triggers new 
associations of thought and decoding, 
as well as creating physical interaction 
with Alcantara: an excellent medium for 
artistic research revolving around the 
search for correlations between tactile 
and experiential processes. 
A fifth element – represented by this 
guide to the exhibition – requires a 
successive interaction with onlookers, 
called upon to compose their own 
recording of the exhibition experience, 
almost like an invitation between the lines 
to take a stand against the volatility of 
information today.

The Tapestries in room 125 at Palazzo Reale Milan

 "The warriors born of the snake's teeth turn their weapons against each other", 1764, cm 427x500.


The second trial consists in sowing the teeth of a dragon into a newly ploughed field. However the teeth sprout into an army of warriors. Once again Medea’s help is providential in passing the trial: she has a rock thrown amidst the warriors who, not knowing where it came from, promptly attack and slay each other.


"Jason conquers the golden fleece", 1767, cm 427x530.

The third trial involves Jason killing the dragon that guards the golden fleece. Here Medea provides her beloved with a potion made from select herbs that causes the dragon to fall asleep, allowing Jason to seize the fleece. Thanks to Medea’s help, Jason succeeds in overcoming all the trials imposed by King Aeëtes, who nevertheless remains hostile to him and would like to deny him the golden fleece. Thus Jason, Medea and the Argonauts set sail at night and flee to Iolcus. Aeëtes launches himself in pursuit of the fugitives. Here once again Jason reveals his ambiguous nature: for the sole purpose of gaining time, Jason murders Medea's brother, his fellow escapee, cutting his body to pieces and throwing the parts into the sea, knowing that Aeëtes would be forced to stop to gather his son's remains to give him a decent burial.
On reaching Iolcus Jason is again faced with his Uncle Pelias' refusal to cede him the throne and, according to the different versions of the myth, he is required to overcome other trials. In all of these, to emerge victorious, Jason must still seek the indispensable help of his sorceress/lover Medea. At Pelias' umpteenth refusal, Medea unleashes her wrath. Promising to make their father young again, she induces the daughters of the old king of Iolcus to cut his throat and to boil his body in a cauldron. Pelias is succeeded by his son Acastus who, bent on avenging his father, drives Jason and Medea from Iolcus, who are forced to take refuge in Corinth.


The argonouts of the Wardian Case have emerged from the vehicle of the tapestries and now live in the virtual space around the case and in the virtual reflection on its surface. 


Photograph Davide Calafa

Photograph Davide Calafa


The Wardian Case Immersive Film

Photograph CFV Hellberg

The visitors to the tapestry room in Palazzo Reale experienced an immersive film produced by Space Popular where the The Wardian Case and its argonouts come to life. The film explores the power of virtual representation and the evolution of the surface as an information vehicle. 

Still from The Wardian Case Immersive Film

Still from The Wardian Case Immersive Film

Still from The Wardian Case Immersive Film


Photograph Davide Calafa

Photograph CFV Hellberg
Photograph Davide Calafa

Photograph Davide Calafa

Photograph Davide Calafa

Photograph Davide Calafa

Photograph Davide Calafa

Photograph CFV Hellberg

Photograph Davide Calafa