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Dimitri Launder on the role of the artist

Image credit: A Peoples Apothecary by Dimitri Launder

“The role of the artist is to transform society not represent it” Joseph Beuys 

Dimitri Launder has an art practice that ranges from socially engaged public planting polemics as Artist Gardener to site responsive performance installations he co-directs with Arbonauts. Here, he sets out some of his thoughts for Run Riot:

After 17 years designing and building gardens from the back of bicycles I got some interest from the press and the title Artist Gardener. My work dérives between landscape and gallery, community and context. This year CCA Gallery Glasgow commissioned a new work - a signpost towards re-empowering the health and wellbeing of city dwellers.

The installation I have made is called Towards a People's Apothecary: Glasgow. It is a gentle provocation to audience and city planers. The circular mounted print and resin cast botanical elements act as indicators towards my perception of the city as a responsive cosmology, exploring social ailments and diseases through the medicinal plants, histories and contexts of their locality.

“Whatever our nationality, whatever our geography and whatever the grid-iron niceties of our respective maps, our ecology is fecund and fragile, and we benefit from collectively unearthing socially-held lore that can help us relearn the meaning and potential of the symbiosis” Professor Ken Neil, Glasgow School of Art 

The plant species featured in this work are a native medicinal plant Ribwort & Common Plantain, both very common opportunist propagators growing in the cracks and crannies of many of Glasgow's parks, wastelands, streets and gardens. With one of their applications as a remedy for regulating blood sugar levels, perhaps a path towards change for Glasgow's morbidly growing obesity crisis lies at it's feet.

This new commission is underpinned by a long-term project I’m currently developing, initiated in partnership with London based organization Arts Catalyst. Titled 'Remedy for a City', the project utilises citywide networks, shared tools and planting propaganda to archive apothecary plants and living memories of remedies. I’v been working with is radical herbalists, city planners, citizen scientists and community gardening groups in developing this work.

“The idea of a holistic ecology, in which botanical remedies are to be found for the very ailments arising from the growth of the city itself, is lucidly expressed by the forms of Launder’s artifacts. Close-up details of medicinal plants ascend as guardians over the city, represented as it is by tiny details on the map ‘below’…The universal lesson for us all: ignorance of, or profligacy with, integrated and finite resources such as these might mean the map fades and the organic overgrows, if we haven’t impeded its survival that is.” Professor Ken Neil, Glasgow School of Art

I make work in the convergence of these concerns and contexts and sometimes they interweave. Helen Galliano my wife and I co-direct Arbonauts. Our 2016 work, The Soaring Sky, was commissioned by Inside Out Dorset Festival for Hengistbury Head. From a graphic score that reflecting on climate change and the bird song of 50 per cent of British migratory birds that pass overhead we created an ethereal, transient solo audience walk along 1km of coastline between sand dunes, sky and sea with local singers. Making the landscape audible we immersed the audience one by one in this national heritage site and site of special scientific interest.

Whilst living in complicated times I am trying to make some sense of my role as an artist. Transforming society is a big ask, and perhaps a more complex task than in Beuy’s era. We all have urgent political and ecological responsibilities to future generations. The only way I can do this is one artwork at a time.


~ Forms of Action Exhibition runs until 12th December at CCA Gallery Glasgow. Remedy for a City will share research with Arts Catalyst later this year.

Arbonauts are developing a new work Between the Dog and the Wolf looking at how the manipulation of fear is creating division and tension across Europe and beyond. Between the Dog and the Wolf will premier early 2018 in Shoreditch Town Hall, London and then transpose to Athens later the same year.

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