This years’ Eden Unearthed public exhibition brings together a range of artists, working in several artistic disciplines. Of course, it is perhaps rarer to find an artist today whose practice encompasses only one medium, and perhaps this is why Eden Unearthed, though ostensibly an exhibition of public sculptures, crosses the vast territories of artistic practice. In fact it offers somewhat of a mixed bag of artistic expression.
The exhibition briefing asked for works that would seek to engage Eden Gardens as a site. The selected works respond in a range of different ways Some rely on a perhaps more pure site specificity – such as Linda Sok’s Tunnels, which responds to the markings of the Scribbly Gum Moth. Other artists have taken the site as a provocation and created highly conceptual work that takes the viewer beyond the gardens, into other realms of interest.
One such artist is Harry Copas, whose work seeks to address a range of topics. Perhaps foremost among these issues is how we might find new ways of recycling and repurposing our waste. Copas’ Compositive is a living artwork; he has collected a large amount of abandoned paintings and drawings from his university and put them into a worm farm. This waste then becomes some of the most fertile and useful soil one can use. This is one aspect of Copas’ work; labour and stubborn European notions of beauty in domestic gardening practices are two other important themes that are addressed in his relational garden artwork.
A number of works seek to address the pressing issue of water shortages, a topic of particular prominence in New South Wales. Both Natasha Abram and Marta Ferracin have produced works that muse on the materiality of water (Ferracin) and the state of precarity that low water levels have created (Abram).
Ferracin’s work, Forget Me Not, is composed of three wires strung above the Eden Gardens reservoir; from each wire water drips into the reservoir. The dripping is a literal engagement with the theme, it acts both as the performance of rain, and as a direct metaphor for the ‘impact’ that water, as a resource, has on our lives.
Abrams’ work, Caution: Subject to Draught, utilises the imagery of water level measures and signage. In placing these familiar signposts away from water sources, Abram conjures the river systems that are suffering from critically low – or non-existent – water levels, where they might otherwise be out of mind.
Elizabeth Wests’ Rapid, also broaches the issue of the often problematic way in which we interact with water sources. Wests’ plastic river, which leads to the site reservoir, signifies the damaging presence of plastics in natural water ways. As with Ferracin, West addresses this issue by working with the material directly. The plastic both references itself, and seeks to perform the presence of running water.
For each artist Eden Gardens has meant something different. For perhaps a majority of the work included in the show, a dialogue with Eden as a sort of natural environment has been a key theme. As much as the site offers an abundance of plant life, it remains also a nursery, and a place of business equally. In this sense it speaks both to ones appreciation of the natural environment, and of the way in which we human beings interact with and re-created natural landscapes. But this is a fitting duality; it allows the environmental art to situate itself in a site that presents images of various natural environments, but also allows the measure of control an artist might need to present an enduring site-specific work. In this respect, the garden itself might offer occasion for thought as well.
By Jack Poppert.