Gardening is not a rational act

Gardening is not a rational act is an exhibition curated by Tai Snaith at the C3 Contemporary Art Space at the Abbotsford Convent. She has collected a group of disparate artists whose works in diverse media are brought together meaningfully within the context of a rumination on gardens and their value in the creative process and the broader human experience.

Tai Snaith’s ‘Language of Seeds’ (detail)

The works explore the parallel worlds of the artist in their studio and the gardener in their garden, implying that artists and gardeners are in tune with a universal flow of creativity, that they are both tapping into an intuition about their work. This exhibition brings to light too an awareness amongst gardeners and artists that deeper engagement with the universe via nature is the key to reconnect with your true self.

Conversely, the garden as an extension of the self or ego is also in focus here: the way we cling to gardens in memory to reassure and to reconnect with our sense of self and a past that we believe informs that self. In the exhibition, different artists allude to our pain at a garden’s annihilation (gardens are a most temporary art form), or the loss of a garden we have had to move away from. We can never quite let go of a garden; the memory of a garden is cemented in our sub-conscious so that we dream of gardens at night.

Eugene Howard describes his garden of five years as an artwork, albeit one subject to time and change. His garden was at a rental property and he was required to clear the site when the owners put it on the market. The remnants of this garden appear as mulch (made from once cherished plants), photographs, memories and a sense of loss that characterises other pieces in the exhibition as well.

The paintings by Eleanor Butt were dream fragments of her childhood garden, which she no longer experiences except in her dreams. Chaco Kato’s installation springs from her family’s memories of a tea garden in Japan. Kate Daw’s work, channelling as it does the voice of Marcel Proust, reminds us that revisiting a lost garden is rarely satisfying. He says we must visit the places within our selves where we store our vision of those gardens.

One of Alice Wormald’s paintings on glass from ‘The Border in Colour’ looking back to an earlier period of home gardening

Other artists respond to the beauty of nature as found in a garden as the starting point for their work. David Rosetszky’s captivating double exposure black and white photography, is a haunting portrait of both orchid and person. It reminds the viewer of old myths of transformation of humans into plants. Twigs fat with new buds brutally emerge from the waxwork limbs of her piece, ‘Untitled’, hinting at the garden as a place for metamorphosis and personal growth.

Alice Wormald’s works highlight the very nature of the garden as a place of delight with her beautiful paintings, on glass, of flowers, which capture the texture, colour and pattern that flowers contribute to a garden. While the focus on flowers is a celebration of fecundity and the potential for  reproduction, they also remind us of mortality and the transience of life. Gardens that change despite our wish for permanence is rather wittily explored in Kent Wilson’s On the rocks. Whereas Sean Meilak sees timeless geometry in his creation of pieces of 3 dimensional art, that could easily be found in a renaissance garden rendered as topiary.

In creating a garden there is always a tension between a desire to create something enduring, while wanting to create opportunities for enjoyment of the temporary. We see this in Tai Snaith’s work. Her ceramic vessels are purpose-built display units for seeds she has ascribed various meanings to, in the tradition of flower language. Her work highlights the impermanence of life and where many in our society fear that a sustainable future is not guaranteed.

Sean Meilak’s ‘Study for a Metaphysical Garden’ (detail)

Primal, intuitive, creative, egoistic, emotive: gardening is anything but rational. And this subtle piece of curation is a lovely reminder to re-engage with our gardens, perfectly timed to coincide with the emergence of true spring. The signature quotation of the exhibition is by Margaret Atwood who implores us to stop intellectualising and remember that ‘…what matters is the immersion of the hands in the earth.’

Gardening is not a rational act is an exhibition curated by Tai Snaith at the C3 Contemporary Art Space at the Abbotsford Convent. Thursday 21 September – Sunday 15 October 2017