In The Shadow Of The Butterfly Bush

The Butterfly (Buddleia) Bush is a difficult plant, regarded as unwelcome. It is a shrub that lives like a weed on waste ground and railway cuttings (and bomb sites) and is symbolic of urban decay when it makes its home in abandoned buildings. It penetrates and destroys masonry and brickwork. Specialist companies are employed to eradicate it.

The Butterfly (Buddleia) Bush is a much valued garden plant, with densely clustered, small, purple, lilac, red, (or sometimes white) flowers. These flowers have great beauty and are welcomed by gardeners for having a delightful honey-like fragrance, which attracts butterflies. The Butterfly Bush may be purchased from garden centres.

People can be difficult, and may be found guilty of unwelcome, anti-social behaviour. They can occupy unloved or abandoned areas, or even wealthy ones, where they harm community well-being through hurtful behaviour. Specialist agencies – police, prisons, security guards, councils and government bodies seek to manage or contain them. Paramilitary groups also enforce their own behaviour codes.

People are much loved by their parents, families, and relatives, and by their friends, friendship groups, and neighbours. Communities have churches, pubs, cafes, schools, clubs, and are rich in local tradition, where people are mutually supportive. Communities may be densely clustered with people of different sexes, skin colours, religious and belief systems, ages, politics, and musical tastes, and a wide variety of colourful clothing may be worn – rose, yellow, pink, blue, green, black, orange, purple, white, or sometimes psychedelic. People are valued by their communities for both their similarities and unique differences, and the deep meaning these bring to human existence.

Gareth McConnell is a photographer-artist. He grew up in the Troubles. He has been both social and anti-social in his life, and now prefers the social. He has great interest in people. McConnell’s highly coloured interpretations of natural human perfection and imperfection can be seen, in all their intensely acute power, in these photographs.

Neal Brown

This work was commissioned by Northern Ireland Alternatives to celebrate 25 years of restorative justice in Northern Ireland.  Northern Ireland Alternatives is a leading restorative justice charity which provides community-based and collaborative approaches to the hurt and harm caused by low level crime and anti-social behaviour.


Press Release:

Gareth McConnell

In The Shadow Of The Butterfly Bush

Northern Ireland Alternatives is pleased to announce an exhibition of photographic art works In The Shadow Of The Butterfly Bush by Gareth McConnell. McConnell is celebrated for working in an unlikely spectrum of subjects that include youth, style and fashion, animals, psychedelia, sectarianism, plants flowers and trees, and addiction and the visual vocabularies of drugs culture. He was born in 1972 in Northern Ireland and grew up during the Troubles. The photographs and exhibition are a special commission by Northern Ireland Alternatives, a charity who work to maintain community and repair social harm in Northern Ireland, through the successful implementation and teaching of restorative justice practices.

McConnell’s In The Shadow Of The Butterfly Bush comprises multiple photographic diptychs, arranged in a choreographed format. Each diptych contains two photographs: one of a person who has been supported by Northern Ireland Alternatives, and one of a Butterfly (Buddleia) Bush. The Butterfly Bush is a common flowering plant and can represent a dichotomy; sometimes viewed as a reviled nuisance weed, symbolising urban and social decay; and sometimes as a greatly welcomed, very attractive and fragrant, garden shrub. McConnell’s depictions of people and butterfly plants give strong emphasis to how identity is subject to the variable relationships of the individual and the group, and explores equivalences and differences between ideas of growth, change, order and confusion, beauty, and hope. The works are highly coloured and technically exciting.

McConnell’s recent projects include a show about flowers and psychedelia at London’s Seen Fifteen gallery in 2022 and a book and Ulster Museum show To The Beat of The Drum in 2021. Other recent book publications include The Horses (2022).  McConnell originated and runs a much admired project imprint called Sorika showcasing his and other artists’ works. His work has been featured and written about in publications such as Aperture, Frieze, and the Guardian, Financial Times and New York Times. He has collaborated with diverse brands such as Chloe, Jo Malone, and Sports Banger.

A text about McConnell’s In The Shadow Of The Butterfly Bush show, by the poet-writer Neal Brown, is attached.