For a commercial garden centre to assume the role of provocateur on matters of ecological sustainability is one thing, but it is more extraordinary again for it to stage – and privately fund – an ephemeral art event in six months of every year, cultivating social, economic and environmental sustainability values within the community. Eden Unearthed is a unique cultural space where artists engaged with nature and ecology can propagate an ethics of care.
As a new Unearthed artist, I’ve found the process inspiring and rewarding. From artist walk-through early in the proposal stage, I felt a deep desire to respond to the site and exhibition brief. The offer of a realistic stipend to help fund the work gives artists wings to push their practice in materiality and scale. This tangible investment in art and artist is transformative and has led to an exhibition greater than the sum of its parts.
Important issues are raised at Eden Unearthed. Previous yearshave addressed water shortages, devastating fires and habitat loss, whereas the 2022 exhibition occurs during our highest ever recorded rainfall, introducing different social and environmental impacts to worry through as a community.
I was struck by the quiet figure of artist Ella McGaw sitting in the rain with her endangered animal of beeswax and handmade paper, racing to install before the wax could cool.The poetry of the moment vivid as she worked against time and the elements, on art destined to perish in the elements. Then perishing gives way to reciprocity when we learn of the seeds embedded within the paper. Reciprocity is also the conceptual and material approach of Clare James, who skilfully made natural pigments from her garden to colour the superb paper mural hanging from the bridge, inviting non-human garden life to explore, inhabit and consume over time. Such resonant encounters between art and world are contextually relevant, nuanced and poignant.
Transformation of artwork and world through time is a powerful narrative weaving through many works. Human time is entangled with ecological time suggesting an urgency to change and be changed. Saskia Everingham’s affective small figures peering over the bridge recall the devastation of flooding, while calling for us to learn from nature to grow deep roots to hold fast through life’s currents. Resilience and regeneration are also eloquently raised in Wendy Joyce’s eco-printed mural and Aaron Marsden’s Regeneration.
With transformation themes come works of hope and gratitude, including Alison Thompson’s playful crocheted flowers and the colourful figures of The Garden Dwellers, both greeting visitors near the entrance. A bright yellow bandaged branch bouquet in the remembrance garden celebrates life while acknowledging loss. Acceptance is also present in Doug Schofield’s messy gardens paintings, reminding us of the beauty of imperfection, as well as JayantoTan’s ricepaper waterfalls which address identity and healing through time.
Discovery and hidden meanings are explored in Ainslie Murray’s The Rocks, while visitors may explore the garden space more literally to discover Basilios Papaioannou’s ibises. Gemma McKenzie-Booth’s wonderful Sporangia nods to the abundance of nature’s knowledges known and in future found.
The rise of site-specific and site responsive art reveals the sentiment of our current era, where public spaces become nurseries of prosocial influence, against a backdrop of increasingly frequent human and environmental crises. Here artists can uniquely engage with place and issues, reaching audiences of the everyday – shoppers, gardeners, and open-hearted humans in real life settings – where their worrying at problems can inspire and provocate. That Eden Unearthed champions this emergent cultural narrative is meaningful, and the quality of artworks speaks to the mark it makes.
By: Kristy Gordon
Cloudspace, by Kristy Gordon. Image by Jack Mounsey
Kristy Gordon is an artist and researcher investigating slow aesthetics through expanded drawing. Her work demonstrates attention and care through repetitive mark-making processes, translating experiences of nature into mindful creative practice. She is a current PhD candidate at UNSW Art & Design.