Monday, March 29, 2010

it is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are...


I was reading the lovely blog of Pia Jane Bijkerk this morning and under library found this image and notes here. It sent my thoughts back to the time I finally worked out (aged 30 something)  the name of a  book that had haunted my memories  years after a library teacher read it to my class in primary school. The slimmest of images kept floating back and so the discovery of the book years later was almost a shock, albeit a pleasant one. No wonder it had long haunted my memory... such a poignant tale of things being reborn - all centred around the discovery of the secret garden. Children it would seem need to be saturated in deep story, in stories that can live in them and work their way though their hearts and minds, soulfully, imaginatively.
Nigerian writer Ben Okri, winner of the 1991 Booker prize for literature, wrote in a small text The joys of Story-telling "stories are as ubiquitous as water or air, and as essential. There is not a single person who is not touched by the silent presence of stories".

Another book I must share in case you have not come across it is The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. I was reminded of this book late last year when for the first time visiting the blog Four Season's in a Life of blogosphere friend Egmont Van Dyck. He wrote a wonderful post on this book (click here  for the post and overview!) which allowed me to track down somewhere to read this wonderful fable on the internet in case I could not find my own copy packed away!

This story I then read to an Art class of 12 yr olds girls one afternoon late last year. It was condensed into about 12 A4 pages - so quite a long tale, maybe a reading of about 20 minutes or more. They drew from this reading as the images came to them. Gestural representations of the ideas that seeped into their imaginations. Okri writes of stories "they can be either bacteria or light: they can infect a system, or illuminate a world." In discussing their drawings the girls commented they were fascinated that one person could make such a huge difference - this man who planted trees in the fable had gathered all the seeds( acorns) himself, and over years and years had regenerated forests in France - a country twice deeply marked by war in the 20th century. Not only did the forests come to life but streams and rivers came to life and villages began to flourish and people were enlivened. Giono's fable held great symbolic resonance for many in France, and the light from its story spread across the globe slowly but surely. This writer asked that the story never be sold but remain available for all to read freely! Many people have been inspired by this tale of great nobility to make a similar gesture, even if on a small scale.... a garden plot or abandoned land.

The title of this post also comes from Ben Okri:
                'Its easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read or tell: subtly at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.'
And a last word form Okri:
                'Stories are one of the highest and most invisible forms of human creativity'

Friday, March 26, 2010

This Sunday in Brisbane

Botanic Gardens

This Sunday I'll be joining in the celebrations at the Mt Coot-tha site of Brisbane Botanic Gardens for their 40th anniversary of the commencement date. In 1870 the first Botanic Gardens were estabished in Brisbane on the riverside in the city - a glorious site in many ways but subject to damaging floods since the beginning, and, being located in the city centre expansion would have to take place on a new site it was determined some 40 years ago. Sunday commemorates the official date of commencement on the new Gardens - a lush 52 hectare site 10 minutes from the city.

A program of free events is offered to all who visit this Sunday - click on inserted details below to enlarge for reading and also click on the listing about this event with maps and contact details. The Library is open Sunday in the Administration building so that is well worth a look too!

I will be presenting via a brief talk and mini-exhibition stand on the Homage to the Seed project at the Envirocaf - 'Gardens and Biodiversity' at 11am by Dr Rosemary Murray. I would love to meet with you if you are in Brisbane this weekend and able to come along... in fact there will be paint, brushes, seedpods and a large cloth spread over a table so you can join me with other participants in printing and painting a large banner in homage to the seed! 
 Here you will also be able to find out how you can particpate throughout 2010 in the project if you are interested. More details coming soon on this weblog regarding this.

To read about a lesson offered to school students in the gardens click below to enlarge.

The Botanic Gardens here offer many programs for education to all ages through out the year. From May I will be setting up a timetable of workshops in the Gardens. Its been an astoundingly stimulating and busy two months settling in to the Residency and with a solo show coming up next month - details soon -  the calendar for workshops has been organised to take that into account.
Any inquiries to sophiemunns at iinet dot net dot au . I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Marianne North: an extraordinary artist visits Queensland circa 1880

Marian North (1830-1890) was born in Hastings England and travelled constantly with her father, an MP for Hastings, from 1855 after her mother died - resolving to paint the flora of distant countries after his death in 1860. A gallery for her work was built at Kew Gardens, London - opening in 1882. She travelled to Australia in 1880, apparently on the urging of family friend Charles Darwin. She was caught up in a most fascinating time in Botanical history and found herself with modest but substantial enough funds to do the extensive travel she became so well-known for through her Gallery that still stands and is a very popular destination for visitors. A remarkable life indeed!

Inside the Marianne North Gallery. Copyright © RBG Kew

This gallery interior hints at the massive collection of over 800 works she made in her lifetime. I came across her work on the site under collections, specifically Art images.
It should be noted: she was far more likely to paint plant specimen in their natural context rather than to take a plant sample away from its habitat and then render it scientifically and clinically on a white page. By all accounts her work never suffered scientific inaccuracy even if she was working in situ in all kinds of climatic and geographical locations. This is cause for some serious thought - the work was relied on for its usefulness and accuracy in an age when cameras were not available for documentation and research purposes.

'Foliage, Flowers, and Fruit of a Queensland Tree, and Black Coc. Copyright © RBGKew

'Foliage, Flowers, and Fruit of a Qld Tree and Black Cockatoo'.
Oil on Board Notes: this bird alone has a beak strong enough to crack open the nut of the Macadamia tree. 

No. 767. 'Study of the Bunya-Bunya'.. Copyright © RBGKew

No 767. 'Study of the bunya-bunya.'
Click on title for notes by artist on this tree, its importance to indigeneous people, the seeds etc. On an earlier post I referred also to similar notes about cultural significance of this species. Read also about Bon-yi season here on the Homage to the Seed blog archives.

'Nest of the Coachman's Whip Bird, in a Bunya-Bunya, Queensland'. Copyright © RBGKew

'Nest of the coachman's whip Bird, in a Bunya-Bunya, Queensland.
Oil on Board. Notes: The trees were full of these hanging nests of the Psophodes crepitans, made of the freshest green moss, and ornamented with the feathers of the common red and blue parrots.

'View in the Botanic Garden, Brisbane, Queensland. Marianne Nort. Copyright © RBGKew

'View of the Botanic garden, Brisbane, Queensland.
Oil on board. Flowers of the Large Water Lily Nymphaea gigantea - water lily peculiar to Australia.

"Flowers of Angel's Trumpet"
Brugmansia arborea 
by Marianne NorthMarianne North at her easel near 
Grahamstown in South Africa 1882

For a brief but interesting account  of her life go to plant - an interesting site with background into the early days of plant exploration - ancient Egypt, Babylon, Paradelos and China up to the 20th century. The Golden Age of Botany is referred to - perhaps a useful outline for a overview.

Visit for further information about the gallery named in her honour and other work in her collection. If you click on Collections at the top of the website you can investigate the extraordinary range of collections of all kinds related to Botany. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

starting seeds

Images from a post titled small measures with Ashley: starting seeds indoors found at Design Sponge March 12th, 2010. From the northern hemisphere comes a simple idea thats been doing the rounds for quite some time - using recycled newspaper to create a seedling pot that gets planted straight in the ground when the seed has been raised. Listening with interest to a discussion on what can be employed for this very purpose the other day here is one very simple affordable answer and the how-to instructions - click above on highlighted name 'design sponge'.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Herbarium

these images with text above are from a 25 page pdf you can download by clicking on the highlghted text below!

  This excellent 'how-to' guide is available on the University of Melbourne Herbarium: School of Botany website under 'make your own Herbarium Specimen'. This comprehensive guideline will provide you with all you need to know about this exacting process. If you get enthused to try this dont forget to collect and save seeds whilst on your mission. Together this could make a memorable gift for someone! Just remember to check the viability of any seeds you collect and the precise location where they will be planted as australian natives, for example, like to be planted in their natural bio-geographical region. I'm told by experienced green fingers if you get the right species for the location then the plants will thrive magnificently. There are guidebooks available for various regions that will point you towards good specimen to collect and plant and also help you to avoid weeds posing as attractive plants in some cases!
Good collecting!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

WAYS OF SEEING - a visit to dear ada

       In the previous post I referred to the fact there are a great many approaches to Botanical subject matter in the Visual Arts. In the field of Scientific Botanical Illustration there is and no doubt always will be variation and invention, even in this most classical of arenas.
Ways of seeing indeed!
I thought I would highlight the curious and imagination directions of some artists working with botanical subjects in this post. However, I am going to start with several simple drawings from the children who came to my studio last year by way of introduction to / immersion in the multi-dimensional world where art meets botany.

The first work is by 7 year old Tom - perhaps worth clicking to enlarge this image - Tom was asked to draw something he liked and he jumped up and ran to the garden and came back with these camellias and nasturtium and a shell. I was intrigued to observe the careful layout of items that preoccupied him for a time then the extraordinary series of little texta images he created on the top right hand side of the page. He was totally engaged and only at the end did he look up, grow concerned and proceed to apologise for the smallness of the drawings, not that I was bothered by this. When it was time to go home he carefully carried the entire arrangement with drawing home as is here - his mother realising it was quite precious to him made sure it arrived home safely.
This entire procedure really fascinated me and it struck me that there was something quite powerful in this ritual that all of us could learn from. To see the deep absorbtion and the importance of composition, the artfulness in that alone was affecting.

Here in 12 year old Phoebe's work she collected leaves outside then observed and recorded the unique colours and features with care, painting each individually in a small notebook before the final invention - pasting them on a single stalk. On the one hand a simple process, but in another way, I saw her really take her time to appreciate the uniqueness of what she was looking at ... and I liked the whimsical and perhaps nonsensical twist at the end. It effectively draws attention to the uniqueness of each -  a curious way of completing her work.

Now I am taking you to the weblog Dear Ada (click on title to open) for a quick viewing of artists listed under botanical - garden in her categories. I would like to give the links to each individual artist here but that would take hours... so do visit the Dear Ada botanical link I have provided above and when you are free to trawl take a look at the links to the various artists. Apologies for not providing the details for wach artist here. The list starts with the extraordinarily talented Australian artist Fiona Hall and takes you to different parts of the globe, mediums and processes and styles of working. I hope you are intrigued and delighted as much as I was to survey the enormous variety in ways of seeing.

1. Fiona Hall

2. Ruth Van Haren Noman

3. Ellen Goldschmidt

4. Qiang Huang
Demo at salado 1

5. Bill Beckley

6.  John Baird

7. Sonnenschein Eliezer

8. Neil Jones
Pea swipe

9. David Hockney
Picture 36
10. Hugo Guinness

11. Not Known or identified
Mystery 3

12.  Joyce Tennyson

13. Dam and Karislund Glas

14.  Maarten Kolk
15.  Linda Broadfoot

16. Malin Bjorklund
17. Scrapbook Floriegium

18. Daniel Williams

19.  Pamela Di Mauro
20.  Benjamin Long

21.  Dirk Mueggenburg

22. Gustav Oskar Andersson malme

23.  David Pearson
24. Karl Blossfeldt

25. Olga Seem

26.alain gerard clement

27.  Chris Hellman

28. Ric Heitzman

29. Becky Suss

30.  Alice Stevenson

31. Judy Pfaff

32. Julie Blyfield

33.  Allan Ballie

34. Nancy Blum

35. Anna Atkins

36.  Rudolf Blaschka

37. Camilla Penti

38. Jennifer Scott

39. John Buck

40.  Ernest Ciavano 

41.Ninagawa Mika
 I think you will agree this is an extraordinary range of works... and yet just the tip of the iceberg so to speak.  Thanks to Dear Ada for the peek into this fabulous array of wonderful artists and their work.  
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