|Bev Thomas, Rivers of Time 15cmx15cm.|
Monday, November 6, 2017
|Rozalie Sherwood, Tree of Life 2017|
|Susan Hey, The Trees Gift 2017|
|Susan Pfanner, Nest 2017 Photo by Sue Aylen|
|Susan Pfanner, Nest 2017|
|Valerie Kirk, Round and Around 2017|
|Deb Faeyrglenn detail of Underground Conversations, 2017 - ANBG Exhibition|
|Deborah Faeyrglenn, Underground Conversations 2017|
|Monique van Nieuwland, Wasted 2017|
|Janet Long, Gratitude for Trees 2017|
|Nancy Tingey, 'Creepers' 2017|
|Beverly Moxon, Cicada 2017|
|Cheryl Jobsz, detail of Habitat 2017|
|Ann McMahon, Citronella 1 2017|
|Ann McMahon, Citronella 2 2017|
|Katherine White, Memory of Trees, 2017|
The Memory of Trees - Katherine White
|Janet Meaney, Upside Down 2017|
|Janet Meaney, performance 2017|
|Janet Meaney, performance 2017|
It is my great pleasure to launch this exhibition. Trees: As above, so below.
We’re finding out a lot more about trees lately. Scientists have shown that trees communicate with each other via underground fungal networks, that they can adapt to threats, work together, and even recognise one human from another. But some of us already knew this. Artists and writers and tree-people have always known it, felt it, and explored it in their work. Still, it is nice to be proven right.
There is as much tree below ground as above it. Their roots stretch downwards and outwards, away from the light and towards rock, soil and water, drawing life out of earth. While trees appear silent and still, their growth too slow to observe, except by marking their changes over time, they are always moving beneath the surface. Water cycles up and nutrients circulate down. The tree is earth and the earth is tree.
With its roots in the soil and crown in the sky, it makes sense that in many mythologies, a cosmic tree was the backbone of the earth, the trunk passing through the world and crown stretched out over the heavens, hung with stars.
Perhaps the wisdom of trees comes from the ground itself, from being so deeply anchored to country. Connected, as they are, to the greater machinations of the earth – the slow-moving bedrock of seasons, years, ages, millennia. To a tree, the daily affairs of humans must seem peripheral at best.
But there is more to us than meets the eye, too. Things going on below the surface, in our brains, the receptors on our skin, in every cell. There is our physical self, and the things we feel sure of: our jobs, houses and families, our electricity bills, what’s on the news and in our fridges. And then there is the rest: the mysterious, the felt, the intuited, the imagined, the dreamt and the remembered.
When Janet contacted me about launching this exhibition, I was working overseas, and trying to have a break from my email and from commitments that keep my away from my desk. But the mention of trees and the botanical gardens got my attention. One of the lovely things about being published and focusing on trees and birds, and even going so far as to call myself a treewoman, as I have in Understory, has been the synergies that seem to line up, with other writers and artists, and projects, and the people that come along to events like this.
I’ve always envied visual artists, the chance to work with tangible materials, to make something you can see, that people can respond to more immediately and walk around and talk together about. My second book, Nest is about a bird artist who builds a nest for herself. A piece that wouldn’t be out of place in this exhibition.
When my own creative juices are running low, I do two things: I take a long walk in nature, usually a forest. I need that. To rejuvenate. And I go to a gallery – and wander through an exhibition. Something new. Or a new take on something old. It doesn’t matter. It fills me up again, shifts my perspective, just a little, and gets me thinking, imagining, creating again. With Trees. As above, so below, I can do both. The gallery is outdoors. I can walk among trees and see a range of works and installations from a group of very talented artists working in different mediums. Applying their imaginations to a theme with a variety of results.
Works like this are particularly important at the moment. They help close the gap between us and the natural world, reminding us that although many of us have become a bit estranged from it, locked up in apartments and offices and cars, we are part of nature, we are only animals that have developed some skills at the expense of others, and – in my view – have already squandered many of the riches on this planet. And it will cost us, not just in the loss of species and diversity among the flora and fauna that we define ourselves by, but in our own quality of life – and even our own existence. After all, this is our habitat, too.
Eco-critic, Lawrence Buell, in his book The Environmental Imagination, argues that it is a lack of imagination that has brought us to the brink of environmental disaster. And so, it makes sense that it is imagination that will lead us out of it. Allowing us to reimagine our relationships with the natural world, and to conceptualise more sustainable futures.
Traditional cultures don’t draw a line between nature and culture, human and nonhuman. It is artificial. A construct of science, of Christianity, and of capitalism – it is convenient isn’t it, to conceive of ourselves at the top of the food chain and everything else a resource to be consumed, eaten, and experimented on. And to take no responsibility for the wellbeing of other creatures, of our environment. The study of ecology has shown us the ways in which everything is connected, a delicate interconnected set of ecosystems, which we are very much a part of. Human actions impact on these ecosystems.
And they impact on us. We’ve known this for a long time. Artworks and writing which foregrounds nature and highlights this connectedness are called ecological – it’s not new but it’s still a little revolutionary, challenging the dominant way of thinking.
So as you walk among these works today – which are in themselves ecological, working together, with the environment, to communicate with each other and with you – maybe try and see the world without that division between us and them for a moment. Imagine yourself a little more tree, your roots extending deep into the earth, and tapping into what you know and feel but might be afraid to believe. Taking up a little of the wisdom and calm we could all do with to enrich our lives. The art of taking the long view.
So, congratulations to all of the artists involved. It is my great pleasure to pronounce this exhibition, Trees: As above, So below – officially launched.
Inga Simpson 14 October 2017