Botanica | Blurring Boundaries

On Friday evening, I found myself wandering around the city fringes into the lush green parklands of the City Botanic Gardens to experience Botanica. With the promise of illuminated artworks, foodtrucks, live music and giant roving puppets my evening plans were underway.

On arrival, the park was buzzing with visitors, and keen to find out more I joined the guided tour. The tour took us on an exploratory journey through the gardens to learn more about the artists and their works. The program brought together 16 artists from around Australia with diverse works on display in the gardens for Festival 2018, part of the Commonwealth Games cultural celebrations.

It was interesting to find out that many of the artists did not actually define themselves as ‘artists’. Rather, they had come to art from other disciplines such as science and architecture. This blurring of boundaries seems to fit with the evolving nature of our society, Tony Dunne, Head of Interaction Design at The Royal College of Art says: “New hybrids of design are emerging. People don’t fit into neat categories, they’re a mixture of artists, engineers, designers, thinkers.”1

One such ‘artist’ is David Harris, he is from a science research and journalistic background and now works primarily with light and sound installations. His work, Waving Back uses motion sensors and temporarily grafted branches to allow the tree to interact with us – by playfully waving back.

Hairy Eyrie, a small mysterious structure created from palm fronds is the work of architect and artist Zania Wright. Zania feels strongly about using locally sourced materials to generate a sense of place and belonging and she worked alongside the Botanical gardens staff to source the materials for her construction.

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Hairy Eyrie

Many of the pieces invited us to put aside notions of ‘look but don’t touch’ to instead participate and play. One of my favourite works was Flourish.of.Tents by public artist Georgina Humphries, a soft sculpture hand-created from discarded festival tents! Children romped, played, and rolled on the picnic blankets and play shapes while gazing up at the brightly coloured ‘flags’ fluttering above.

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Flourish.of.Tents

Next to the parks lily ponds paper-cut artist Pamela See invited us to become co-creators of her work by crafting lilies our of paper. These lilies were then scattered on the lawn to make a flower-filled ‘common’ adding our contribution to the work Common Wealth.

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Common Wealth

Reflecting in the pond waters Bastions of Light by Skunk Control tempted us to imagine where these other-worldly flowers might have come from. What new stories could be created as the flowers stored their (solar) energy during the day to softly emitted it at night? The eel and the moorhen swimming past seemed to have already accepted these new visitors as part of the pond.

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Bastions of Light

These site-specific works used vastly different approaches to working with the environment. Mona Ryder and Kerrie Poliness grew directly into the garden choosing their medium of grass and flowers. The whims of nature meant that the flowers had to be replaced due to heat damage, and the grass continued to grow despite the clean lines of Field Drawing #1. Projection artist Craig Walsh used light to simply hover upon his chosen site – a magnificent fig tree. Josh Wilkinson and collective Unqualified Design Studios work Star Landing is a playful sci-fi projection onto Morning Star a permanent sculpture in the park.

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Field Drawing #1

Other works highlighted the City Botanic Gardens historical significance as one of Brisbane’s first location for farming, plant collection, and leisure. Priscilla Bracks and Gavin Sade, Trophy Specimen is a work of hybrid creatures alluding to the past history of this site as a Zoo. Natalie Billings app Unearthed is a map-based journey which uncovered some of the gardens hidden history.

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Trophy Specimen

It is heartening to see this exhibition take place in Brisbane which has not had a significant outdoor temporary art offering on the cultural calendar. Botanica invites us to wander through the park and discover new conversations between art and nature. With the site as a catalyst for ideas and experimentation this ephemeral program successfully blurred the boundaries.

Botanica ends on Sunday 15th April 2018.

By Kerry Turnbull

Feature image:  Skunk Control, Bastions of Light, 2018.  Mixed media installation.

  1. Kevin Smith (2015) Digital Blur: Creative Practice at the Boundaries of Architecture, Design and Art edited by Paul Rodgers and Michael Smyth, The Design Journal, 15:1, 133-135, DOI: 10.2752/175630612X13192035508660
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