‘Nature is an enigmatic object, an object that is not absolutely an object, it is not absolutely in front of us. It is our ground, ... it bears us.’ 1
The stars twinkle, the sun beams. We squint towards the glare of the sun and gaze out towards the incomprehensible distance that is starlight. Our gaze connects us to that distant place.
In the original series of the TV show Star Trek, the transporter of the Starship Enterprise sends human beings and other living creatures from one place to another, in a glimmering hum of light and invisible forces. In this sci-fi realm, sub-atomic particles are beamed across space and, perhaps, time.
The beam in this exhibition is constructed from more mundane materials – paper, ink and thread. It is a spiraling floor-to-ceiling structure that suggests the Enterprise’s transporter. The images imprinted on its paper parts describe plant life that is in danger of being transported to that heavenly sphere that is extinction.
These rare plants are stilled, immobile on the surface of the paper that makes up this transporter, reminding us of that unpleasant insect-trap of old, the sticky spiraling flypaper. Like the doomed insect, these specimens are going nowhere. Each thread with its associated captives moves constantly, slowly changing position in this imitation science experiment that resembles a strange atmospheric measuring device.
I saw specimens of these endangered and vulnerable Victorian plants preserved in the collection of the Herbarium of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. The collection records the names of the plants, where they were found, and the collectors.
The Calendenia robinsonii (Frankston spider orchid) specimen was collected by an A. J. Tadjell in September 1929, in Frankston, on the south side of The Pines on Warrawee Court. It was growing in red sandy-loam derived from Baxter sandstone.
The site is now destroyed for housing development. This orchid is listed as threatened under the Flora & Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, and is endangered in Victoria. It is ‘at risk of disappearing from the wild state if present land use and other casual factors continue to operate.’2
On 30 October 1883, F. Reader found a specimen of Nicotiana suaveolens (Native Tobacco plant). In beautiful copperplate script, the collector noted the locality of the find as Studley Park, Melbourne. This plant is considered rare in Victoria these days, as there are relatively few known populations.
‘Biological diversity or biodiversity refers to the variety of life forms: the different plants, animals and microorganisms, the genes they contain, and the ecosystems they form. This living wealth is the product of hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary history ... The process of evolution means that the pool of living diversity is dynamic; it increases when new genetic variation is produced, a new species is created or a novel ecosystem formed; it decreases when the genetic variation within a species decreases, a species becomes extinct or an ecosystem complex is lost. The concept emphasizes the interrelated nature of the living world and its processes.’3
This collection of cut paper images is tenuously linked with thread to form a moving network. As the shapes revolve (as that heavenly sphere, the moon, revolves around the earth) the images appear in full, then in part, then disappear. Without the dynamic, ever-changing relationships that constitute biodiversity, life doesn’t survive. This form is built to mimic biodiversity. These structures suggest independence and dependency; visibility, observation and disappearance.
These transportations are so subtle, that at first you don’t notice anything changing. But then we realize, remembering the frogs that were once ubiquitous, that what we now observe is their absence. Perhaps with plants, we didn’t notice them in the first place. Now something we have never even seen has already gone, while others are vulnerable.
The threads that bind the elements of the beam also form other works. A row of double sided images create what could be an Avenue of Honour.4 Rather than deceased persons, these images, constructed from fragments, represent endangered and vulnerable plants. Stitches trace the activity that fixes these images to their ground. These persistent gestures hold fragments and ground together, demonstrating their interdependence.
The threads that are used to make these works are from my mother’s vast collection of sewing materials, a precious part of my inheritance from her. Their use has now passed on to me, and, as I work with them to string these works together, I wonder who will use them when I’m done.
These works allude to invisible and unseen forces, hinting at the constant movements and adjustments of a system in flux, in a nexus of themes – mourning and climate change; science, nature and biodiversity; community and relationships.
Marian Crawford is Course Coordinator of Printmedia Program, Monash Art & Design, Monash University
1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty cited in Paul Virilio, Art as Far As The Eye Can See, Oxford and New York, Berg, 2007, page 17-18
2. Department of Sustainability and Environment (2005) Advisory List of Rare Or Threatened Plants in Victoria – 2005. Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, East Melbourne, Victoria, page 4
3. ‘Biodiversity and its value’, Biodiversity series, Paper no. 1, Biodiversity Unit , Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1993, ISBN 0 642 19904 3, seen at http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/publications/ series/paper1/what.html [17 April 2009]
4. Avenue of Honour is the term given to a memorial avenue of trees, with each tree symbolising a person.
TECHNO PARK STUDIOS PRODUCE AT THE OPENING 9 MAY 2009