How come a pile of pebbles and a bunch of sticks are winning awards at Eden Unearthed: Art in the Gardens? The winner of the 2023 Eden Gardens Art Award with her work Fill , Melissa Cate Christ, is certainly delighted to receive the $10,000 prize, but the average punter might ask, is it finished? Add to this that the Sustainability Award went to a cluster of black sticks and the student award to a swing made of bread … what’s going on? What has happened to garden art … where are the statues?!
When Eden Unearthed: Art in the Gardens was conceived by Eden Gardens’ owner Simon Ainsworth and the then Associate Dean of UNSW Art & Design Graham Forsyth, the idea was for this art show to be a complete departure from the typical ‘sculpture garden’. It was to inspire and present thought-provoking works that would be happened upon by people who don’t normally go to art galleries, leading them into new areas of conversation and contemplation. Eden Unearthed remains true to that intention: it’s site specific and/or site responsive, and engages with the Three Pillars of Sustainability – social, economic and environmental – which, according to the United Nations, a society or business must balance in order to achieve long-term sustainability. Fill is an installation work that invites the public to engage with it, to be playful, to question what a garden is … and at the end of its 6-month showing, it will be recycled back into the garden centre. It has already caused quite a ruckus with the wildlife, with the Eastern Water Dragons seeming to view it as a potential egg-laying site while the Brush Turkeys are wondering about the size and materiality of this mound! As a bonus, you can even take a little of Fill home with you – by filling up a bag with pebbles and making a $10 donation to Father Chris Riley’s Youth Off The Streets, which Eden Gardens supports through The Eden Foundation.
Allan Giddy, Director of The Environmental Research Initiative for Art (ERIA), UNSW A&D, has been an Eden Unearthed judge since its inception. He reflected on the unanimously voted winning installation saying “The work is a process, as was the winner of the Helen Lempriere Prize in Sculpture by the Sea 2023. It seems we are not alone!” He added, “We assessed the works on their engagement with their context and audience, in addition to traditional visual analysis of aesthetic merit. Process art dates back many years through the Fluxus movement, and action art to Dada, so it’s not a new thing. What seems to be new (and present here) is a reengagement with context and environment without recourse to a rigid manifesto. In this work I see an understanding of physical site in both its formal structure and its social purpose. As an added extra the work has immediately entered the social structure of fauna on site, becoming a site of exchange. It is not only able to change (and not just decay), but designed to invite and embrace change. During its installation the work stoked much discussion about manual labour, volume, space, site and use. So, although visually it may not give people what they expect from more traditional art, if they can relax with the idea of it and with the flexibility of this methodology, there is a lot to gain. I’ll go one step further, I think it’s more interesting in the long term if change is embraced in both art and life.”
One of the things that makes this exhibition unique, aside from the art, is the chance to walk around and hear from the artists themselves, through short film clips created by visual storyteller Brian Rapsey. The artists touch on what inspired them, and their thought processes and challenges.
For images of the winners and their works, download here.