2020 THE YEAR OF THE UNPRECEDENTED
Dr Adrienne Hunt and Louise Fowler-Smith
Arboreal Narratives 2020 showcases works by sixteen artists from the Tree Veneration Society Inc. – an environmentally – focused artist collective that honours the beauty, power and the importance of trees (https://treevenerationsociety.com). Each of the works featured in this 2020 multidisciplinary exhibition at Sheffer Gallery, Sydney, draws on the lived experience of these contemporary artists since last year’s exhibition and seeks to invite reflection on the current status of our natural world, and the world of our future. Read More
* ARBOREAL NARRATIVES 2020 DIGITAL CATALOGUE *
Artist: Kassandra Bossell
Kintsugi (金継ぎ, “golden joinery”) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with gold. By repairing these bass relief bird sculpts using the kintsugi process, I aim to conjure a metaphor for our ‘broken’ ecosystems.
Birds are among many species who maintain interdependent relations with trees and are subsequently affected by deforestation. Their extinction rates may trigger what environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht has called solastalgia, an emotional or existential distress caused by environmental change. Instead of letting this emotional state lead to inaction, humans can act to value the damaged environment and transform it to make something treasured.
My use of kintsugi is a call to maintain the rage and fight for our dwindling ecosystems.
Artist: Paula Broom
Title: Tree Guardian
I am a Sydney-based artist working in expanded photo media. I explore the intersection of art, environment and health, both autobiographical and collective, especially with regards to trees and the health benefits they provide human societies.
Covid-19 has brought the health and psychological benefits of nature sharply into focus, whilst demonstrating what can happen when we ignore biophysical risks. On top of that, the recent bushfire season in Australia, and the current one unfolding right now in California, have left some with a heightened sense of urgency that our socioeconomic systems recognise and respect nature and its many life-sustaining benefits. We need to make a fundamental shift in perspective from our “business as usual approach” that is driving climate change. A failure to address this, I fear, will result in not only the continuing extinction of millions of non human species, but also the extinction of humankind itself.
My sculpture, entitled Tree Guardian, is a recognition of the importance of trees to the continuation of life on the planet. Made almost entirely from tree parts – sticks and leaves – its message seems even more starkly relevant this year. Its leaves hand sewn together with white cotton and fashioned into a pair of wings, the installation is given life only when the audience interacts with it, and its true purpose unfolds. Viewers are encouraged to take a “selfie” in front of the leaf wings, as though they are their own wings, and post the photos to Instagram using the hashtag #treeguardian.
Merely by participating, the audience undertakes an unspoken pledge to plant trees, grow trees and protect trees.
It is my hope that people who undertake this pledge will really take it to heart and endeavour to plant more trees or, at the very least, to protect them into the future.
Artist: Jean Burke
Title: Mangroves in Barramatta country
Mangroves are marvellous. When I first met them I became an explorer in gumboots, a scientist with metre string, an artist of their curving branches. I learnt that mangroves are good citizens of the estuary, on the borders between land and water, salt and freshwater, sheltering new-born creatures.
In this hand-painted collagraph print, the complexity of mangrove environments is shown in layers, with roots going into and emerging from mud and river, breathing through air and water. There are embossed eels in the lowest layer of the artwork, who begin their lives in these amazing ecosystems.
In Barramatta country, around Parramatta, mangrove forests are safe breeding places for fish and eels. First Nations people exhort us to value, respect and care for country and all its trees and creatures. Barramatta itself is named after eels (barra) and headwaters (matta)
Artist: Melinda Clyne
Title: Ironbark Resurrection
This ‘icon of resilience’ was created in response to the sight of the bush recovery, since the devastating inferno last summer. Whilst documenting the changes in a badly charred forested gully, I noticed that seemingly lifeless trees sprouted an orange/pink- tinged, green ‘fuzz’ along their lower trunks, as tender shiny new leaves emerged from deep within the burnt bark. These ironbark eucalypts were showing incredible signs of recovery, and when backlit by the setting sun, they emanated a spell-binding glow which I captured through photos. These became the reference material for this work which attempts to capture those moments in a sculptural dimension. It includes a piece of ironbark wood that was spared the fire, collected from the gully on my regenerative farming property near Goulburn.
Medium: cast acrylic (artist- cut and -molded), aerosol enamel and acrylic, found ironbark fragment.
Artist: Margaret England
Title: The Last Leaf of the Old World (detail)
This assemblage of found objects refers to the story of Noah and the Ark, when the dove brings the first leaf of the new world, a sign of hope and survival.
Now the trees’ burning and drowning leaves are giving us signs of dire warning.
As the Austrian artist Hundertwasser said in 1991, “Only if you love the tree like yourself you will survive.”
Artist: Amanda Farquharson
Arboreal environment on the NSW east coast woodlands was devastatingly impacted with firestorms early 2020.
This was followed by extreme flooding that disgorged charred trees and remnants to sea, uprooting seaweed, sponges & shells, deposited each tide to the turbulent shores.
Regular marine encounters with logs in the waves and curious arboreal forms ashore, lead to my amassing a collection of these charred tree elements- a sculptural resource in venerating trees.
Artist: Louise Fowler-Smith
Title: Critically Endangered
Australia has been named as one of the worlds worst performers on biodiversity. There has been an increase in de-forestation and businesses such as mining, logging and development have won, at the expense of our natural unique environment.
According to the Department of Environment and Heritage, more than 60 Australian plant species are now thought to be extinct, and over 1180 are threatened. Clearing for agriculture and urban development, hard hoofed animals such as cattle and sheep, altered fire and grazing patterns, changed drought and flood patterns, and the introduction of weeds, feral animals and diseases have affected the survival of many plant species.
Scientists state that plants account for 70% of Australia’s national threatened species list with 1,318 varieties considered critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. According to The Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel, 471 plant species were identified as needing urgent management intervention to support recovery from the 2019-20 bushfires. The plants span a variety of vegetation types and include rainforest trees and shrubs and plants from subalpine vegetation. Some of these plants, that were already threatened before the fires, are now at risk of extinction.
Extinction. Exterminated, dead, gone forever.
Scientists have called the situation that is affecting Australian threatened plants and animals a national disgrace and that we are experiencing an environmental crisis. We have the ability to save species from extinction, but we fail.
In this exhibition I have included two sculptures of plants that have been listed as critically endangered.
1) Caladenia patersonii var. hastata : CRITICALLY ENDANGERED due to the construction of an aluminium smelter on its only known location in Victoria.
2) Ricinocarpos gloria-medii: Glory of the Centre. CRITICALLY ENDANGERED due to wildfires.
Artist: Dr Jan Garben
Title: The Fine Line
Natural history drawing demands dedication. The artist must closely observe their subject matter, taking time to appreciate and learn its structure and habit. Careful drawing requires sustained focus and patience, allowing time for contemplation and meditation. The quest for faithful representation becomes an act of veneration.
In this spirit, I’ve drawn a scribbly gum, growing where suburbia meets native bush at Sydney’s fringe. Its charred and hollowed heart is a legacy of bushfires past, revealing damage so severe it’s a wonder it survived. Yet it thrives, the result of millennia of evolution, able to both withstand the destructive force of fire and embrace its regenerative potential. It embodies the fine line between destruction and survival, fragility and resilience, the precarious balance common to all ecosystems and their constituents. For now, for this tree, the needle tips towards the side of life.
We know this balance is shifting, with more frequent and ferocious fires due to human-driven climate change, and our insatiable encroach. We look to the future with trepidation.
This drawing is to honour and cherish a scarred, but so-far resilient survivor, and to memorialize this poignant moment in history.
Artist: Elizabeth Anne Gervay
Title: Transformation and Renewal
“And when all that was left was ashes, she would again clothe herself in flame. Rising from the dust of her past to rekindle the spark of her future. She was a Phoenix, her own salvation; rebirthed, renewed, resurrected.”
Material : An exposed tree trunk
Dimensions: 1.8m (h) x 45cm X45cm
Artist: Jane Green
Part of a larger body of tree works in clay, ‘1:46:37.29’ is a timed moment of focus, where trees lost from our natural world are memorialised.
Artist: Jade Gunn
Title: What you do not change, you choose
2020 has demanded from many that we surrender our illusions of control and embrace an unfamiliar presence of self.
Isolated from the norm, a rare opportunity for collective reflection has manifested across the globe, calling for a deeper exploration of the demands we place upon ourselves and our natural environment.
My art practice strives to explore the realm of the possible and celebrate the ephemeral and unknown; to create awareness around our freedom to change and to question the narratives that hold us in place.
Artist: Hobart Hughes
This work began on the Greek island of Kefalonia. The video follows the path up the mountain of Enous to a sacrificial site that had been in use since before the bronze age. I became interested in the idea of time and sacrifice. It struck me that sacrifice is about time and being able to affect a future time by an action in the present. Where better to project than the top of a mountain. I wanted to render the sense of the passage of a sacred procession as a point of view of someone from ancient times witnessing the forest and becoming at one with the vibrant spring life of the mountain.
The underlying subject of the video are the Kefalonian pine trees that cover the top of the mountain. For centuries, these tree has been plundered by a succession of civilizations. Venice is built on Kefalonisan pine trees as were the ships of all the great Greek city states because their resistance to rot. The trees are revered and fiercely protected as you cannot take any wood off the mountain. In the animation, I used sand eroded from the mountain to render the opening sequences in, amongst other scenes, which individual grains of sand can be seen forming trees forming and dying.
I made a sacrificial sculpture from dead wood I found on the mountain that is seen in the video which I left at the site and is, for all I know, still there. I choose to represent a goat in the animation and in sculpture as the fate of the Kefalonian pine trees are indeed linked to goats. There are at present large herds of goats on the mountain eating newly shooting pine trees. No new trees are growing. I saw that offering a sculpture back to the mountain was my way of trying to affect perceptions of the relative value of goats to an ancient forest that once gone is gone for all time.
The music is sung by a Japanese collaborator Kasan whom I asked to go to a forest and record a vocal impression (along with battery powered keyboard) of how she would feel if this forest was dying.
Artist: Dr Adrienne Hunt
Title: Hanging on by a thread
Acrylic painting on board 460mm x 600mm
This painting is one of a series of iconic trees of Australia, each suggesting the physical human form and at the same time, evoking elements of our human struggle and engagement with ‘nature’.
The scribbly gum (Eucalyptus haemastoma) is the subject of this painting. The ‘scribbly’ is named for the raised scribbled lines on the outside of the smooth silvery grey bark – made by moth larva tunnelling between the bark layers. Scribbly gums have an amazing ability to survive harsh conditions and fire, and are typically seen as being supported in life by a mere remnant of outer trunk. Their mysterious embossed scribbles serve as messages of inspiration, from them to us, for our troubled 2020 –
Artist: Liz Perfect
Title: Charcoal Trees
Charcoal Tree 1
This detail is one of a series of silkscreens on paper.
I wanted to portray the extent of the summer fires and the change they brought to our landscape around Bell in the Blue Mountains National Park, where thousands of hectares were burnt.
This series of burnt trees derived from frottages, taken by pressing paper onto charcoaled bark, leaving both marks and impressions. I developed the images with silkscreen to include the precursor – fire, and to further involve the viewer in this forest’s trauma.
Quite quickly the burnt eucalypts that survived either shed their bark or showed new grow. Festoons of new leaves, both green and red, rapidly appeared, wrapping around the remaining branchless trunks. Small clumps of flowers, baby banksias and other trees started to sprout up in the dead leaves beneath them
This sudden burgeoning should not however cloud the memory of this catastrophic event.
Artist: Sally Reinhardt
Title: Woody Pear
This Woody Pear seed pod comes from the tree Xylomelum pyriforme .Several of these trees grow on the rocky sandstone ridge to the south behind where we live.
They were burned when the terrible Gospers Mountain Fire ripped through this area last December 2019, and are testament to the extraordinary powers of survival that some Australian native plants have.
The hard seed pods of the Woody Pear Tree are beautifully shaped little things, with a velvety surface and a big smiling mouth with two paper thin winged seeds inside.The seeds in this Woody Pear have already flown away.
I’m attempting to document the life cycle of the tree, from the flowering stage in September to when the Woody Pear develops and remains on the branch, for maybe many seasons… perhaps waiting for a bush fire to make the pear burst open and release its seeds.
Artist: Miho Watanabe
Title: Awareness of Between-ness: Memory and Time -Street Trees from England
This work is a part of the research to discover the ‘between-ness’ between memory and time.
I came across these trees in the UK in September 2019.
I am grateful to have encountered the strength of these trees and their message to ‘just live’.
In the first half of 2020, the pandemic began and I was on lockdown in my home in Sydney.
These trees were there only five months ago, and it surely should still be there in England, but somehow it felt further away and longer ago in time. It was a moment of discovery. My visual memory did not take decades to fall into a similar atmosphere as my childhood memories; it could happen over a period as short as five months. Nothing is permanent, as the Buddhists say.