Plants, built environment, textiles

This is a research project. What I wanted was to give myself some time to work out where I’m going next with my work. I had just finished my PhD, on intra-corporeality and the gestating body, when I formulated this project and wanted to follow some ideas that came out of but were also a departure from my research. Not so much a departure perhaps, but not so narrowly preoccupied with humans and human experience.


Thoughts and activities


I read a book called The Entangled Tree, which my partner had picked up for me from the street library a few months back. It’s a history of the tree as a metaphor for evolution, from Darwin’s initial use of the metaphor through to the discovery of horizontal gene transfer which couldn’t be described using the form of a tree, because it would entail the branches of the tree growing into each other. This does happen sometimes, it’s called inosculation. There are a few examples in the bushland near my house.

I attempted to inosculate two hakea saplings. I don’t think it work, because the trees are too young, and the particular variety of hakea is a poor choice because it is more of a shrub than a tree and grown is a mass of needles, which hide the branches. I think I need older trees, not much older but a bit, and with branches. Shortly after I released this the lockdown started. The nursery started up an online order system. It’s a small independent nursery specializing in native plants and they listed the plants by their scientific names, so a spent a bit of time on the internet, looking up what the different trees the nursery was selling looked like and thinking about if the trees had branches that could inosculate. I ordered two spinning eucalypts and two eucalyptus erythrocorys, but they are still too small to graft.


I proposed a garden of inosculating plants for a small public art project that is being held along Kambri/Sullivan’s Creek next year. One of the things I wrote about in the application was making creative interventions in the city you live in, and the joy of encountering something unusual and creative. I also wrote about making a work that probably wouldn’t look particularly interesting for perhaps five or ten years. I didn’t write about the time scales of different living organisms in relation to each other but this is something I’m interested in as all.


I’ve been reading another book, The People’s Forest. It’s a collection of essays and oral histories about forests in Australia. The authors of the essays generally, I think, share a similar view, that is that forests are important and humans need to do a better job of caring for them, or at least have a responsibility not to completely destroy them. The oral histories actually share this view as well, mostly, even though the people come from much more varied backgrounds than the essayists. Aside from the stories and analysis I am interested in the project itself, a research project undertaken by the author with the National Library of Australia, which involved collecting new oral histories but also drawing on the historical collection, and resulting in a book aimed at a general readership. After (and during) my PhD I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a creative arts researcher and an artist. Especially in terms of what it is that I make. I’d like to write, for example, but I’m not sure how or in what form. One of the things I anticipated for this project was that I’d create an online archive of my investigation, which I haven’t done. I realise I want less time on the computer, not more. That is a conflict I think because so much of the world exists on the internet and being visible online is tied to worthiness, professionalism etc.


A small attempt at weaving with a dianella plant.


I don’t feel that I’ve got anywhere with incorporating built environments into this investigation. The way I imagined approaching this was by printing out images of built environments and drawing on them, and see what happened- pretty simple. It hasn’t happened yet because I don’t have access to a printer during lockdown. I’ve been thinking about built environments in terms of built by humans for humans and recognising the difficulty in thinking about this in a general or theoretical way. It seems like I need some specificity, some parameters, to begin. Perhaps for this project I should choose a specific site as a focus, even if it’s not feasible that I’ll ever be able to make anything at scale for that site. I do find myself caught up in the practicalities and don’t leave enough space to just playfully imagine.

I wonder how what I am thinking about differs from something like landscape architecture, if what I’m actually wanting to do is what a landscape architect does. To work with space and plants as materials.

I went for a walk in the pine forests, the pine plantations, near where my mum lives. It’s the remnants of the plantation that didn’t burn in the 2003 fires. Radiata planted in rows, with blackberries sometimes growing in between. I was with my sister and my child and we found these blue buckets. There must have been a dozen or so, scattered among the trees. They had obviously been there for awhile, they were broken and had filled with soil or water. They were unexpected and mysterious. I think this is often what I want from art, something unexpected and mysterious.

But also, something more, at least from my own work. More involvement with time and process and meaning.

During lockdown my child taught me how to make pottery. I was thinking about places animals live, places animals build for themselves to live in.