Approaching Viriditas (Act III) - Holly Willats

From afar it looks alarmingly like someone has fallen down and is unable to stand back up. As we walk along the path towards the figure, I am reassured it is in fact the artist’s performance. Or am I assured?

On the raised pathway, Slingsby is dragging her body, ever so slowly, towards the conservatory ahead. It is an arresting sight: she is wrapped in a hospital curtain, bare foot, wearing disposable gloves and clutching on to stems of wheat grasses. Passers-by hesitate from a safe distance, unsure whether to help. A few of us stand close, observing. Less shy, some small children in fancy-dress approach and squat right next to her; they whisper to her, to make sure she is ok, asking her what she is doing.

It’s a warm autumnal day, dry and bright. But she would have done it in the rain and cold; I’m sure of that. Bit by bit, Slingsby extends her arms and her legs to shift her body further along the gravel path, edging closer to her destination. It looks uncomfortable; it must be hurting her skin.

The destination point: the glass conservatory filled with exotic plants, frames her figure. It towers over her struggle. There is something overwhelmingly sad in this performance, a small tragedy amongst Regency surroundings. With no sign or indication that this is an artist performance, Slingsby appears to have left a hospital to triumphantly find her way to the conservatory, now only moments ahead of her.

The Latin word Viriditas, of which the performance is titled, means ‘greenness’, lushness; alluding to spiritual and physical health. Slingsby is adorned with objects associated with ill health, dragging herself towards a conservatory filled with warmth, light and thriving plants: a sanctuary of growth.

Will she make it there though, before a concerned member of the public misunderstands and intervenes; and would such a reaction in fact provide a perfect ending? Is this a call for help, or a display of determined physical and mental endeavour?

Holly Willats