Planetary Gardening

Planetary Gardening, Photo Access, Canberra, Australia
3 – 26 March 2017
Opening reception: Friday, 3rd March, 6pm – 8pm, Curators Tour: 26 March
– Exhibition opened by Libby Robin, Professor at the Fenner School of Environment and Society The Australian National University, and Affiliated Professor at the National Museum of Australia.

Curated by Ashley Lumb and Laura McLean

Review in the Canberra Times and Sydney Morning Herald


Merilyn Fairskye (AU), Suzanne Treister (UK), Melanie Bonajo (NL), Joe Hamilton (AU), Robyn Stacey (AU), Dornith Doherty (US), Renata Buziak (AU), Janet Laurence (AU), Anais Tondeur (FR)

Through varied applications of photographic processes, Planetary Gardening explores the symbiotic relationships between the cultural and the chemical, the organic and the technological, and the agency of human and non-human actors.

Ever since practices of cultivating and domesticating plants and animals for consumption, trade, and aesthetics began over 12,000 years ago, our planet has been shaped by human activity. Over time this cultivation compulsion has compounded, complexified, accelerated, and expanded, turning in on itself to encompass the whole earth and generating the ‘collective existential mutations’ noted by Felix Guattari, who identifies three ecologies threatened by these mutations – the environment, social relations, and human subjectivity.

Together the works gathered in Planetary Gardening examine the means by which artists have attended and tended to these ecological spheres, through their engagements with material properties and representations of botanical specimens and unnatural landscapes. Read full essay here

Suzanne Treister, HFT The Gardener / Botanical Prints, 2014-15, 20 archival giclee prints, each 29.7 x 42 cm

1-12-03_microsoft-2HFT The Gardener presents the culmination of a project comprising multiple bodies of work by the fictional character Hillel Fischer Traumberg. Traumberg is an algorithmic high-frequency trader (HFT), who experiments with psychoactive drugs, and explores the ethno-pharmacology of over a hundred psychoactive plants.

He uses gematria (Hebrew numerology) to discover the numerological equivalents of the plants’ botanical names with companies in the Financial Times Global 500 Financial Index. He communes with the traditional shamanic users of these plants whose practices include healing, divining the future, entering the spirit world, and exploring the hallucinatory nature of reality. Traumberg develops a fantasy of himself as a techno-shaman, transmuting the spiritual dimensions of the universe and the hallucinogenic nature of capital into new art forms. He becomes an ‘outsider artist’ whose work is collected by oligarchs and bankers, the world of global capital in which he began.

The 20 works in Planetary Gardening present psychoactive plants with gematria numerical equivalents of 1-20 corresponding respectively to the top 20 companies in the FT Global Financial Index. “Having compiled a gematria chart of 92 psychoactive plants, listing their botanical names alongside their global companies equivalents, Traumberg developed an algorithm that would trawl the internet collecting images of the plants which corresponded to each company. Inspired by the botanical illustrations of Ernst Haekel, which he had loved as a child, Traumberg programmed the algorithm to collate and transform these images into works with a similar style and format.” See full list of prints here. Bio

See video here

        Robyn Stacey, Leidenmaster II, from The Collectors Nature 2003, type C print, 95 x 150 cm

As one of Australia’s most acclaimed photographers, Robyn Stacey has been creating spectacular images since the mid-1980s. Her series The Collectors Nature presents us with strange and beautiful specimens that are housed in significant natural collections and often can’t be accessed by the general public due to their delicacy and scientific significance. Stacey arranges these specimens into subtle yet often sumptuous photographic montages that seem to re-enact their original environment and echo the genre of still life painting. Leidenmaster II, for instance, provides a glimpse into the material housed in the National Herbarium of the Netherlands in Leiden. It is one half of a diptych that re-presents the earliest artefact that Stacey has photographed – a book that dates from 1620 and serves as a portable herbarium, a paper database of plants. Breathing new life into such artefacts, insects and botanical specimens, Stacey’s work considers the intersection of science and everyday culture, while asking us to reflect on the evolving nature of archives and collecting. Bio


Merilyn Fairskye, Waste Plant, from Plant Life (Chernobyl), 2010, pigment print, 80 x 120 cm

Thirty years ago Reactor No.4 at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. In the aftermath, people, and radiation were dispersed across the Soviet Union. Over 600,000 “liquidators” participated in the cleanup. 8,000 people still work there to contain the contamination. Merilyn Fairskye’s series Plant Life is a haunting evocation of the aftermath of the explosion at Chernobyl, 25 years on.

Shot in 2010 Fairskye photographs areas around Chernobyl. By stitching single images into panoramic views of the buildings, vegetation and the earth (which are all still contaminated), she captures evidence of vast emptiness and loss. In Plant Life/playground, a ferris wheel due to open the day after the explosion sits rusting amongst snow and trees, a potent symbol of all that has been lost. Other images show construction cranes still in place. Waste Plant (Chernobyl) depicts a facility that is crucial to the ongoing nuclear safety of Chernobyl—the Interim Spent Fuel Processing Building 2, a nuclear waste storage facility built by French nuclear company Areva in 2007. After a significant part of the storage structure had been built, it was found that there was a major design error in the facility, rendering the building inoperable. It is still awaiting completion. Bio

Renata Buziak, Ipomoea pes-caprae, from Medicinal Plant Cycles, Ipomea pes-caprae, time-lapse stills 2014

Renata’s recent PhD studio research at the Queensland College of Art (QCA) Griffith University, focused on local Australian healing plants significant to the Quandamooka Peoples of Minjerribah/North Stradbroke Island. This research aims to increase awareness of selected plants’ remedial and cultural significance, emphasises the importance of the protocols involved in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the respectful treatment of cultural property, and the productive outcomes of sharing stories; local stories in a global context.

Medicinal Plant Cycles time-lapse videos of healing plants from Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) are created by the biochrome process based on fusion of organic and photographic materials. The videos present the blossoming and movement of fungi and microbes by allowing the plants to transform through the bacterial micro-organic activities that are part of cyclic decay and regeneration. The work refers to plant cycles, cycles of decay and renewal, the cycle of passing on knowledge, the cycle of time, seasons, and the constant flux of natural processes.

Medicinal Plant Cycles draws on natural science, experimental photographic processes, and extensive consultations and discussions with members of the Quandamooka community of Minjerribah. Through this work, Renata hopes to reveal a beauty in decomposition and raise notions of transformative cycles. This focus on Minjerribah medicinal plants aims to promote the recognition, appreciation, and value of local medicinal plants in the context of Aboriginal knowledge and natural science. Bio

See video here

@san_kaido, Fukushima Daisy, 2015, C print, 13 x 18 cm

Following the second biggest nuclear disaster in history, at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011, Twitter user @san_kaido posted a photograph of mutated daisies growing in the region. Though the cause of the mutation was never confirmed, the image has circulated widely online as people seek to understand the consequences of the spread of radioactivity in Japan.

Dornith Doherty, Millennium Seed Bank Research Seedlings and Lochner-Stuppy Test Garden No. 1, No. 3, & No. 4, 2011, digital chromogenic lenticular photographs, each 200 x 91.5cm

dornith-doherty-millennium-seed-bank-research-01-2Since 2008 Dornith Doherty has worked in an ongoing collaboration with renowned biologists the most comprehensive international seed banks in the world: the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Colorado, the Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England; and PlantBank, Threatened Flora Centre, and Kings Park Botanic Gardens in Australia.  In this era of climate change and declining biodiversity, by collecting, researching seed biology, and storing seeds in secure vaults, seed banks play a vital role in ensuring the survival of genetic diversity in wild and agricultural species.

Utilising the archives’ on-site x-ray equipment that is routinely used for viability assessments of accessioned seeds, Doherty documents and subsequently collages the seeds and tissue samples stored in these crucial collections. The amazing visual power of magnified x-ray images, which springs from the technology’s ability to record what is invisible to the human eye, illuminates her considerations not only of the complex philosophical, anthropological, and ecological issues surrounding the role of science and human agency in relation to gene banking, but also of the poetic questions about life and time on a macro and micro scale.

Use of the colour delft/indigo blue evokes references not only to the process of cryogenic preservation, central to the methodology of saving seeds, but also to the intersection of east and west, trade, cultural exchange, and migration. Lenticular animations created from the collages present still-life images of an archive that appears to change colour or move when viewed from different angles. This tension between stillness and change reflects Dornith’s focus on the elusive goal of stopping time in relation to living materials, which at some moment, we may all like to do. Bio

Anais Tondeur, Chernobyl’s Herbarium, 2011-16. Location: Exclusion Zone, Chernobyl, Ukraine; Radiation level: 1.7 Microsieverts per hour. 30 Rayograms, giclee print on rag paper, each 24 x 36cm

linumchernobylherbarium6-2On Saturday, April 26th, 1986, at 1:23:58 a.m. local time, a test in Chernobyl nuclear plant took a disastrous turn. The core of reactor No.4 exploded, emitting a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and drifted across the then Western Soviet Union and Europe. Twenty-nine years after the accident, the thirty kilometers of exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl nuclear plant is now being re-opened and reveals itself as a place for opulent wildlife.

The Herbarium of specimens from the exclusion zone is based on the research undertaken on plant genetics by Martin Hajduch in the Institute of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology at Slovak Academy of Sciences. He looks at traumas endured by the flora in these areas of high radiation holding a particular interest in the Lineacea specie. Seeds of this specie have been planted in the irradiated dirt near the meltdown site to test the impact of the radiation on the flora.

The imprints of the specimens are caught through a photogram process, a technique that mirrors the effect of the extreme exposure of light that the atomic bomb emits on an explosion, evident in the imprinted shadows left on the land after the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The photogram technique uses light as a source to record and archive trauma on the specie just as the atomic explosions have illuminated and scarred the mind. With this series of plant imprints, Tondeur interrogates the scars of a tragedy, the traces of an invisible substance. Bio

Janet Laurence, Resuscitation Garden (for an ailing plant), 2011, digital video, 5:35 mins

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-9-31-10-pmThe Resuscitation Garden is a medicinal garden that plays between the clinical and the romantic. It creates a space of interconnection and care suggesting a hospital or intensive care unit for plants. A transparent mesh structure echoing a botanical glasshouse and a museological scientific vitrine, filled with both medicinal plants for their healing as well as ailing and dead plants (representing our threatened planet). All are inter connected to medicinal equipment and laboratory scientific vessels, various fluids and solids, creating a space of revival and resuscitation. The work amplifies and imagines the invisible processes and psychological state of plants as indicators of the well-being of our planet. We are confronted with their being and plight in which we are so interconnected and dependent.

The work clearly addresses environmental sustainability, fragility and the need for awareness and healing. Collapsing science into a poetical and play that poses the possibility of art as a healing medium. At the same time within this crowded context, a tiny sanctuary invites entry wonder and participation. Bio

See video here

Melanie Bonajo Night Soil / Fake Paradise, from Matrix Botanics, digital video, 2015, 12:00 mins

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-9-37-35-pmCan ayahuasca, a psychedelic brew of various plant extracts, have the same significance for our day as LSD had for the 1960s? The ‘medicine’ has its roots in an indigenous Amazon tradition, but the mind-expanding drink is presently used all over the world. People prize the mental vistas that are opened up by ayahuasca, the ‘vine of the soul’. The drink is consumed during a (group) ceremony, often under the guidance of a shaman. Music enhances the communal and personal experience, and influences the mental trip. It is the ritual around it that contributes to the meaning of the spiritual experience. Different variants of this ritual occur in different cultures.

Melanie Bonajo asks how citizens could influence this ritual. What can we learn from plants? How can we care for our society? The video contains personal stories and devotes special attention to the feminine voice that traditionally has been neglected in psychedelic research and popular culture. Bio

See video here

Joe Hamilton, Indirect Flights, 2015, interactive collage website

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-9-50-23-pmOver the course of a year, Melbourne-based visual artist Joe Hamilton built a digital work called Indirect Flights, which grew out of a three-month residency with The Moving Museum, a roving art residency and group exhibition platform. The project, which fashions parallels between geographical and digital topographies, began in 2014 when Hamilton spent several months criss-crossing various landscapes in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Hamilton recorded his own visual material during his travels and combined it with collected found imagery he discovered online. Working from these raw materials, he began crafting various digital collage works. For the latest iteration of Indirect Flights, Hamilton takes his meticulously layered collage work online as an interactive artwork. Similar to his Hyper Geography (2011) and Regular Division (2014) videos, Hamilton fashions a digital layer cake of satellite images, photographs, organic textures such as brushstrokes, and raw materials like rocks and chain link fence, forming it into an endless, navigable loop with something close to three-dimensionality.

This illusion of depth is helped along because Hamilton makes the layers move at different speeds through the parallax scrolling effect. All of this is then set to J.G. Biberkopf’s sound design, which features sonic textures from jet engines to in-flight announcement bells, footsteps, rain, fire and what sound like video games and various analogue and digital machines. Bio

See the project here

We would like to thank the following sponsors for their generous support, without which this exhibition wouldn’t be possible: Bay Photo (San Francisco), Emergent Designs (Sydney), Civic Pro Frame (Canberra), Instyle Plant Hire (Canberra), and Hotel Kurrajong (Canberra).