The Impossible Garden

As an outcome of a Leverhulme residency at the Bristol Eye Hospital and BVI (Bristol Vision Institute), University of Bristol, Luke created The Impossible Garden. The exhibition was a set of twelve experimental sculptural artworks, inspired by optical phenomena he explored as part of his residency.

The unique idea of The Impossible Garden came about after Luke applied for the residency together with Cathy Williams, a member of BVI and a Consultant in Paediatric Ophthalmology at Bristol Eye Hospital. As part of the residency, Luke worked with BVI researchers, Bristol Eye Hospital, Botanic Garden and spent time with visually-impaired children to increase his knowledge of visual perception.

Cathy hopes this exhibition will encourage greater public understanding about the many processes involved in “seeing”, because families tell her that lack of understanding is often a barrier to getting support for children with many kinds of visual impairment.

Luke said “As someone who is colour-blind, I’m fascinated by the processes of visual perception. Over the years, many of my artworks have explored the processes and limitations of vision and how the mind interprets the things we’re looking at.”


The Impossible Garden was presented at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden from 13 July – 25 November 2018.

With many of the exhibits it’s what’s happening in the space around each object, that interests me, as well as the journey of information between the object and mind of the viewer.  As an artist I’m keen to explore the edges of perception and to communicate and share my findings with the public” said Luke.


The function and value

  • This was an opportunity for the artist to test out a series of experimental sculptural and optical principles. The Mother and Child sculpture has already led to a larger more ambitious artwork, the Han River Pavilion.
  • Hospital patients, university staff and students were invited to come and visit the gardens with their families. Whether a child, adult, student or trained scientist, everyone can enjoy discovering and contemplating the exhibits in different ways.
  • We hope the exhibition will promote the BVI and the incredible research it carries out.
  • The garden can be used to teach psychology students and to practically test out and measure illusory phenomena.

Here are some examples of Luke’s other artworks that explore perception and utilise unusual visual effects.

Artwork Legacy

Some of the artworks remain on display at the gardens, whilst others have been donated to SGS Pegasus School  a free special school for young people aged 8 to 19 years with autism.

After initially visiting The Impossible Garden, a teacher from the school said “I cried when pupils who do not communicate were expressing delight at the exhibits and also how calm they all were in the garden. We could have stayed there forever!”

Audience Statistics

Over 18,000 people came to see The Impossible Garden, which is 10,000 more than would usually visit at the same time of year. Whilst helping to put the University of Bristol Botanic Garden on the map as a destination and resource for the city, The Impossible Garden has also opened up possibilities for future collaborations with the Bristol Vision Institute and Eye Hospital.

With support from:
University of Bristol –  Arts strategy funding and Bristol Vision Institute.
University of Bristol Botanic Garden
Bristol Eye Hospital
Enchroma – for their glasses used in the display

With Thanks to:
Bristol Eye Hospital – Cathy Williams
Bristol Vision Institute, University of Bristol – Bridget Everett, David Bull, Sarah Rogers, Innes Cuthill, Iain Gilchrist.
University of Bristol Botanic Garden – Nick Wray, Andy and Froggy
Mark Harris – Technician
Vicki Leach – CAD

Downloadable PDF brochure
Here is a downloadable Impossible Garden brochure from the exhibition. Posters highlighting some of the research done by BVI can be found here BVI research posters (PDF, 2,734kB)