Press release

'The Generosity Plates' at Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection's foyer and café will be home to small miracles of nature with a newly commissioned intervention of artworks, sculptures and plant propagation by artist John Newling. 'The Generosity Plates' finds inspiration in the extraordinarily adaptable Moringa oleifera tree for an exploration of sustenance, storytelling and ecological sustainability.

The Moringa tree is often called the miracle tree or famine tree, such is its nutritional richness. Native to the Himalayan foothills of north-western India, and grown across Africa and South America, its hardiness and late flowering, at the end of the dry season, make it an invaluable and dependable food source. Newling's work takes this most generous of plants and finds fresh forms for it, layering new meaning to the myths and legends that surround its dietetic and healing properties.

'The Generosity Plates' follows a cycle, with framed works using pressed Moringa plants grown in a previous exhibition, gilded bracelets laser-cut from scans of the trees and a hydroponic unit growing plants for future works. Newling has also designed plates for use in the Wellcome Café, completing a project begun in a public place of art in a public place of eating. The narrative of growth and decline, with pressed plants held in frames and new shoots being incubated, is provisional, as new artistic forms are envisaged beyond the walls and duration of this display.

Drawing on the Land Art and Arte Povera movements of the 1960s, Newling is as interested in the concepts, process and siting of material as in its aesthetic qualities. ‘The Generosity Plates’ is a work of counterpoints and unlikely alignments. The delicate beauty of golden sculptures plays against the Moringa plant's resilience, just as tropics-native trees find an unlikely home in the traffic-clogged urbanism of Euston Road, where Wellcome Collection is based. The installation presents an intriguingly modulated vision of nature, working with a plant outside of its natural environment as a means of affirming its rich environmental promise.

John Newling says: "Wellcome Collection is a good place for this phase of the Moringa oleifera work. The investigations and exchanges between the tree and me have brought about many material transformations. The trees have been generous in these exchanges and I have learned much from them. My hope is that Wellcome visitors will also experience some of this generosity.”

Following the display the gilded bracelets, whose whorled forms offer a charm-like memorialisation of the Moringa, will provide a further nutritional exchange. In a completion of the circle of sustainability, they will be auctioned, with proceeds used to buy food for food banks in Nottingham and Penzance, where the trees that inform the bracelets were grown as part of Newling’s ‘Ecologies of Value’ exhibition in 2013.

‘The Generosity Plates’ runs at Wellcome Collection from 15 May to 3 August 2014.