PROJECT SPACE SPARE ROOM / 2 July to 22 July 2010
Essay by Dr Caroline Durré
Poetry by Lisa Gorton
In collaboration with Prof David M Watson
The artists work with 2 and 3 dimensional forms, printmaking processes and found materials to interface between science, art and culture. Regeneration explores contemporary and historical engagements with ecology and the natural world.
This will be a regenerative activity; it will be a therapy for all of the problems we are standing before... I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. Joseph Beuys 7000 Oaks 1982
Regeneration grows out of two artists' engagement with the critical relationships between human culture and natural systems. Rebecca Mayo and Marian Crawford share a deep concern for the ways that natural science, social science, ecology and art can illuminate each other. Both artists find that plant forms and images are fertile ground for speculation; both try to visualise and express non-hierarchical models - the rhizome, the web or net, the parasite, cyclical time - overlooked in the relentless drive to produce and consume that characterises the contemporary relationship with the natural world.
A sticky mistletoe seed, perhaps spread by a bird, has put suckers into a host tree, and now a tangle of interlaced branches has germinated from this 'haustorium'. Mayo proposes that family history can be re-imagined as 'family mistletoe' rather than 'family tree'. In this inversion, female members of the family are to patrilineal, hierarchical genealogy as the subtle parasitism of the mistletoe is to the infected tree.
Plants germinate in a boundless profusion of forms. This abundance, and in particular the extravagant distinctness of Australian endemics, is Crawford's source material. Her specimens include rare and threatened species held in the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, where Australian collections dating to 1853 are stored and studied. As visual investigator the artist records minutiae of plant structure, with a deeply rooted desire to pay homage to their disregarded beauty.
Recent research suggests that, rather than killing its host, mistletoe co-exists in a relationship of 'non-destructive consumption'. They are 'keystone plants... whose impact on their community or ecosystem is disproportionately large relative to their abundance.' 1 This fascinating plant is being rehabilitated, from destroyer of forests to an indicator of diverse and healthy ecosystems.
Crawford works from the principle that things examined closely, whether by scientist or artist, will blossom with knowledge and beauty. Her hanging discs mimic the eye of the telescope or the lens of the microscope. Her miniaturist observations, of etchings hand-coloured with gouache, are sewn together in complex interlocking designs that are rooted in the biodiversity that they celebrate.
Just as the life-affirming activities of women are rarely celebrated in the family archives, so the mistletoe plant benefits the forest, its fruit and flowers feeding insects and birds, its tangled branches sheltering nesting animals. Mayo pays homage to six female members of her family line, dating back to the 1830s, each represented by a model who wears a recreated garment. Each dress has a subtle quirk, distinguishing these women whose fruitful improvisation kept their families clothed and clean and fed and nursed.
With threads inherited from her mother's sewing basket, Crawford weaves many microscopic observations into intricate strata held in tension and suspension. Multiplicity is essential to biodiversity; she models the scattered remnants of plant communities, the forests, grasslands and heathlands that were Australia's inheritance.
Mayo has harvested the chemical constituents of mistletoe leaves as dyes and silkscreen inks, generating colours from burnt orange to acid green. These have been used to dye the garments of her ancestors in the female line, using motifs drawn from the structure of the mistletoe flowers and leaves.
Discs of paper hang like ripe fruit, ready for harvest, in Crawford's Black sun. They turn in the breeze, betraying subtle, invisible movements of air, modelling a living system in a state of constant change. They wax and wane like the moon; their shadows double this rhythm. This sensuous abundance celebrates the natural world in all its particularity and fragility.
Decay and regeneration
Mayo's mistletoe branches are swaddled in recycled wool, in a tender act of mourning and remembrance for the female lineage that sustains her. In Crawford's wall works, white space is a reminder of gaps in knowledge, a negative space that can never be replenished if species and ecosystems are extinct.
Leaves, twigs and fruits fall as leaf litter to accumulate on the forest floor, a seedbed for regeneration. Each organic molecule cycles through its expression as a living thing, at the end of its span to return to fertile decay; so the work of Rebecca Mayo and Marian Crawford resonates as an image of plant ecologies and human societies in complex relationships of interdependence.
Dr Caroline Durré
Melbourne artist and lecturer in the Faculty of Art & Design, Monash University.
1 D M Watson. (2009) 'Parasitic plants as facilitators: more Dryad than Dracula?' Journal of Ecology 97:1151-9
for Rebecca Mayo
A subtler haunting, as mistletoe
subdues its leaf to the host, possessed
by what it feeds on - Still
its lopsided chandelier flourishes
on the stricken branch where selfdefeating
pride, dignity's withdrawn
sad smile, furnish no room.
Upon necessity's crooked vaulting -
that drawn-out bewilderment
called making do - it offers up
its ripe berry, its indigestible seed.
Rebecca Mayo: www.rebeccamayo.com
Kirsty Argyle, Mark Brooks, Libby Chow, Caroline Durré, Lisa Gorton, Zoe Phillips, Dave Watson, Dave, Aphra and Romola.