After months of uncertainty, loneliness, and introspection, Eden Unearthed comes at an opportune time of reopening. Australia is now eagerly embarking on finding our ‘new normal’, a concept that terrifies me because-really- when has normal ever been fulfilling? So, before we return to mindless consumption, endless scrolling on social media and 9-5 jobs, an Eden awaits us. Here is a moment to pause and reflect, surrounded by nature and art. What does it mean to reopen? What will we unearth? Answers, and perhaps more questions, can be found in the artworks on display at Eden Gardens.
The brief for the exhibition was to engage with the site. However, the artworks scattered throughout the garden do much more- they honour the environment around them. As I wander the Eden Gardens, the 35 installations tell a unified story that both expresses devastation at the loss of environment, but also moments of healing and hope for our future.
One such example is Seed Bank by Sally Kidall: a ladder and landing platform that floats in the reservoir lake, giving the viewer a fictional access point to Eden’s sacred seed banks. There is something almost sad about this work- the same kind of feeling you get when you see old bomb shelters. A refuge, a solution, for the worst-case scenario- in this case, plant extinction caused by climate change and habitat loss. Seed Bank breathes magic and hope into our dire reality, giving us an entrance into what could be: active preservation, maintaining and nurturing of precious seeds.
This concept of sanctuary and protection is echoed in Saskia Everingham’s moving artwork titled Refuge. Another poignant, deeply hopeful work, Saskia has lovingly created felt bird homes for birds that lost their native homes during the devastating fires of 2019. Delicately hung around a tree, we are invited into a world where native birds are welcomed with open arms and given a safe home. I cannot help but think of people who are also looking for refuge, and how much different the world would be if they too were welcomed and honoured.
As well as revering nature, Eden Unearthed also invites us to see ourselves in relation to it. Further into our journey around the gardens, my partner and I came across artist Elizabeth West’s Sticks and Stones, a spiralling labyrinth constructed with natural materials. We immediately stepped into the spiral with childish excitement- giggling as we began to follow the labyrinth. But the further into the labyrinth, the more I felt an inner peace resonate. Quiet descended. After walking in circles for some time, we stood at the centre in silence, and the gardens and rock forms spun around us. For a moment, I felt part of something bigger.
Another immersive, grounding experience can be found in Being Keepers by Ryoko Kose with Danielle Minett. This work depicts red string, crocheted, knotted, weaving between branches of trees. Viewers are invited to make their own additions, leave their own print on the work. Watching it from afar, I saw people hesitantly drape their own string, smiling at each other, connected by their participation. Connection feels weird right now, after being told for so long to keep apart. Being Keepers creates a gentle space for reuniting, face to face.
I left the exhibition of Eden Unearthed feeling obscurely uplifted and relieved. As an artist in a pandemic, I have been grappling with feelings of being unimportant, unessential. My exhibitions were cancelled, art studios closed to me, government funding cut. Eden Unearthed was monumental in reminding me how truly valuable art is. Despite everything, months of pushbacks and uncertainty, it has opened. What did I unearth? A rare space where we can truly connect, see new possibilities, and imagine new futures.
By: Alix Crowe