Ant Hamlyn Talks About His New Show “Terrarium” at Weserhalle

by Rubén Palma
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The last time we talked to Ant, was back in October of 2023, and before that in May of 2023. He is currently having a solo exhibition at Weserhalle, in Berlin, titled “Terrarium“, which delves into the magical accident of the Victorian era, and acts as Ant Hamlyn’s main point of reference for this series of work. Creating ‘miniature worlds’, Hamlyn captures these ecosystems, as botanicals hand-sewn of soft velvets and polyurethane-coated fabrics are pressed tightly behind Perspex. Simultaneously, they appear to lean into and repel their confines. Paused in motion, they threaten to spill from the sides but instead are caught, teasing the edge of a petal or limb. 

Read the full text from the show, written by Olivia Rumsey, HERE.

Ant Hamlyn at Weserhalle – Photo by

Hi Ant! it’s a pleasure to sit down with you again. The last time we talked was back in October of 2023, and before that, back in May. What have you been up to since then?

Hey man, great to catch up with you again. Soon after we spoke last when I got back from Madrid I co-produced a new Bad Art Presents show called ‘Let Them Eat Fake’ in late November. It was pretty wild, we partnered with BWG gallery and we had over 110 artists exhibiting fake food/ food or drink inspired works and performances staged across 3 rooms in soho. On the night of the Bad Art opening I was speaking on the phone to Ben who runs Weserhalle about the ideas for a ‘Terrarium’ show, so I started to build the exhibition early December and here we are.

So your new solo exhibition opens today at Weserhalle in Berlin. It’s titled “Terrarium”, how did that come about? And what’s the story behind the title?

The terrarium was actually invented by accident at the very end of the Victorian / start of the Georgian era. The original terrarium was invented by Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1842, he was an English botanist. He made the discovery when he was raising moth pupa in a sealed glass jar. He noticed that moss and ferns were thriving in the environment he had created for the moths and began experimenting with cultivating plants in this way. Over the years terrariums became items of wealth amongst the aristocracy as they would import exotic plants from overseas to show off their wealth. Nowadays terrariums are all over the place, and a lot of people have them in their homes in one way or another. I loved this idea of something that was at once only for the super wealthy and now a commonplace (like velvet) and I wanted to build a show that has its initial context and reference points dating to the mid 19th century, yet approach the terrarium in 2024 as more of an archival, domestic or art object.

For this show your main points of reference are terrariums. Or “miniature worlds” of small ecosystems. Tell me about that. What is it about these topics that resonates with you?

When I was a child I remember making tiny little gardens in boxes with my nana in the garden. We could make anything and we had little rocks and a little bridge. It’s one of those memories that I can’t pinpoint how old I am but I know it happened and I remember it vividly. I think that’s what I like about terrariums, they give the maker a freedom to compose and design their own world; gathering all the mini cacti and succulents to make a mini cactus garden in a giant jar. I like this idea of miniature worlds and for me as terrarium is the vessel to explore this concept with this show. I was also always fascinated by the fake terrains in the warhammer shops in the UK, although I never got into warhammer itself I loved going in and seeing that massive green model in the middle of the store. I also like those bug hotels and things like rockeries and miniature ecosystems. We all live in our own little worlds and i’m always trying to emulate and capture this idea of nostalgia, and relatability with the works, be it through the bouncy castles, flowerpresses and now with the terrariums. They are essentially about creating spaces for time to stop.

Does your terrariums represent real or imagined ecosystems?

My terrariums are imagined and I’m sure that a botanist would tell me that they couldn’t be real, especially the ones with the giant fly agaric mushrooms or oversized fly traps inside. But that’s why I made them, to me they don’t have to be real, my works are an exaggeration of the real world in order to gain some understanding of it. The act of recreating botanicals and squashing them into terrariums is at once ritualistic and nostalgic for me. I’m currently looking at my own real terrarium that we were gifted by a friend on my bookshelf as I answer this question. Terrariums remind me of a place where time is slower. This idea flows through all of my work. I’m attempting to capture things in their most alive state, almost like a photograph. It will permanently exist in the moment in which it is taken, it is both happy and sad at the same time. I find this daily contradiction of life and age fascinating. We are always moving forwards, and leaving little fragments behind.

Can you walk me through your creative process from beginning to end result?

It starts with loads of drawing, scribblings mainly. I’ve always found it hard to stick to one sketch book so all my drawings are sprawled across about 6 different books and loose bits of paper. Which is sometimes annoying when I want to go back and find a specific sketch. I’ll then narrow it into a more concrete direction. Everything is hand drawn onto the fabrics, then cut, sewn and stuffed. Then built up and sewn together. At the same time I’m designing the backboard and perspex pieces on an Ipad for cutting. Because the pieces are hand drawn, I almost see them as drawings; certainly somewhere between drawing and sculpture. So once everything is sewn and stuffed, it’s then pressed and finalised and I work with fabricators to cut the backboards and the perspex. The works are meticulously composed to look alive. The composition takes a long time to get the push and pull of the balance right. It’s a meditative process and requires a lot of patience and precision which I want the audience to get a sense of when they see the works in the physical world. As good as digital is, my works really do behave differently in the real world on the wall. The experience of depth and texture can sometimes be lost in a photograph.

Do you have any specific rituals or practices that help you tap into the inspiration for these pieces?

I like to be around people, sometimes just in a coffee shop, bus or a pub. I find that being around people and just experiencing how they do things is really inspirational. Ritual wise, I like to do the most difficult task first thing in the morning and if I’ve set myself a task for the day I have to do it even if it takes all day and night. When I’m sewing, which is a long process, particularly hand sewing, it becomes really meditative as well as challenging and enduring. I just sew for hours listening to music or with something on in the background, it’s definitely a special space where a lot happens mentally.

Alright Ant, as you know, I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first is. What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

I can’t choose a favourite, but I’ll pick 4 films that stick with me.
1. Eraserhead (1977) – David Lynch
2. The Wicker Man (1973) – Robin Hardy (not the Nicholas Cage one….)
3. Memento (2000) – Christopher Nolan
4. The Shining (1980) -Stanley Kubrick

The second is. What song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now? 

Help Yourself To Me – Madrugada
I’m Scum – Idles
Pero Te Amo / But I Love You – Reverend Beat Man, Izobel Garcia
Wild God – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

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