Planetary Gardening at photoaccess

Exhibition curated by Ashley Lumb and Laura McLean

This curated group exhibition is a mixed bag of artworks in various media – which is not necessarily a good or bad thing.

First a few thoughts on attending such exhibitions – photography exhibitions that is. I attend such exhibitions to see photography – in whatever form of the medium the artist presents. I think contemporary photography is very strong. There are some fantastic works being created.

I am not a video fan unless it is really engaging and, for the purposes of an exhibition, not too long. I have long believed that artwork in any exhibition should engage you and cause you to pause – for a minute or two as a minimum if the engagement works. I resist time based works such as videos that demand that you stay with it for an extended time – anything over a couple of minutes unless it is quickly judged to be exceptional – which most are not.

The other trouble of have with too many exhibitions of photography is that many artists who practice under the banner of photography  are practising in allied media such as photo-media, contemporary art and video –and as such are creating works that belong elsewhere – not in a photography exhibition. (more on this theme at a later date)

So back to this exhibition. First their own words:

Through varied photographic processes, Planetary Gardening examines symbiotic relationships between the cultural and the chemical, the organic and the technological, and the agency of human and non-human actors.

Bringing together the work of ten mid-career and established artists working nationally and internationally, the works explore how artists have tended to the ecologies of the environment, society, and subjectivity, and considers the effects of our collective cultivation compulsions in shaping our planet and ourselves. View the exhibition catalogue

Artists: Melanie Bonajo, Renata Buziak, Dornith Doherty, Merilyn Fairskye, Joe Hamilton, Janet Laurence, @san_kaido, Robyn Stacey, Anaïs Tondeur, Suzanne Treister. Curated by Ashley Lumb and Laura McLean

There are photographs, there are also a couple of graphical works, some collage, and several videos – and one large projection of a website.

I read the exhibition catalogue several times. I found it fairly easy to read and was very pleased to see that there was not too much of the current academic obfuscation. The catalogue did guide me with some background information, but in some cases it did not assist much at all.

This first photo is sweet – until you realise what it is. A flower, apparently mutated after the Fukushima meltdown. A very succinct message – and a simple photograph.

The 2003 Robyn Stacey bears all the hallmarks of scientific intrigue that we have come to like with so much of her work. Beautiful. Strangely I thought that this particular print looked a bit dull – not sure about that.

The work below by Dornith Doherty is fascinating as you examine the x-rays of seeds from the seed bank – something we may one need. While the message is very important, the collage is somewhat limited in its beauty as a photographic collage.

One outstanding work is that by Anaïs Tondeur – being a series of photograms of radioactive herbarium specimens. Their beauty is obvious and the power of what they represents adds to the engagement. Wonderful.

Suzanne Treister’s series have a strong graphical impact but I was still not sure what the work was about. I looked elsewhere and found this:

Psychoactive plants with gematria numerical equivalents of 1-20 corresponding respectively to the top 20 companies in the FT Global Financial Index. Having compiled a gematria chart of 92 psychoactive plants, listing their botanical names alongside their global companies equivalents, Traumberg developed an algorithm that would trawl the internet collecting images of the plants which corresponded to each company. Inspired by the botanical illustrations of Ernst Haekel, which he had loved as a child, Traumberg programmed the algorithm to collate and transform these images into works with a similar style and format.

For more, have a look at this website.

Merilyn Fairskye’s well known series based on a visit to Chernobyl and her images such as this one of a new structure. I have the benefit of seeing the full series elsewhere so this was a revisit of her work. I hope visitors understand this single photograph. I consider that Merilyn Fairskye has produced a powerful and beautiful set of images.

The image below is from a 35 minute video… I was not prepared to see it through so withhold any comment.

I have viewed the video by Janet Laurence- and her theme of threats posed by our species to the natural world. Her video is beautiful to watch. Sorry to gripe a little but as before when I saw this work, I think the sound was not necessary as the visuals are simply beautiful and once you know what the work is about – its impact is strong. Very Nice!

There are several others works in this exhibition and I leave it to visitors to make up their own minds about their success.

Overall this is a well curated exhibition and one that I hope the local photography community and colleagues will support it by getting along to spend time with these artworks. The issues addressed are serious.

Let us not forget how hard it is for independent curators to bring such a variety of works together being drawn from international and national artists – without the usual institutional support.

From what I know about their work, these two women are rising stars. Bring it on!

My final word – definitely worth the visit.

This exhibition, Planetary Gardening, curated by Ashley Lumb and Laura McLean at photoaccess (Canberra) is on until 26 March 2017

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