Groundwork was a participatory creative project, staged as part of the Botanica Festival, Brisbane Botanical Gardens on May 15-16, 2021, with the Festival attracting over 20,000 people per day. The project involved the distribution of 300 native plants to the public from a tent in a public thoroughfare of the festival. On the day of the performance each member of the public was invited to choose from a selection of eight native plants. They were then given two plants in exchange for a story or anecdote related in some way to that plant. Each plant came with a tag that described its characteristics, cultural history, indigenous links and a leading prompt for the shared story. The text of the plant tags were prepared by artist Caitlin Franzmann. Plants included Brisbane Laurel, Native Hibiscus and Native Ginger. The instriuction to the receiver of the gift is that they would keep one plant and give the other to a friend – whilst also gifting them a further story. In these ways the project sought to build rich new relationships between participants and Australian native flora, with the intention of both alleviating “plant blindness” and encouraging the renewal of cultural perspectives on how we relate to the plants that surround us. The event was run collaboratively by Charles Robb, Courtney Pedersen, Keith Armstrong and Rachael Haynes, receiving a strong response from the public - resulting in a constant queue over the five hour performance.
Groundwork therefore used the gifting of native plants as an opportunity to share the personal and cultural stories that they evoke. The project sought to build rich new relationships between participants and Australian native flora to alleviate “plant blindness” and encourage the renewal of cultural perspectives on how we relate to the plants that surround us.
Botanica Festival, Brisbane Botanical Gardens, May 15-16, 2021. Curated by Lubi Thomas.
Groundwork is a collaborative project with Charles Robb, Courtney Pedersen, Leah King-Smith, Keith Armstrong, Rachael Haynes. This is the group’s first collaborative art project.
Funding was competitively secured from the QUT ‘More Than Human Futures’ Research Group and the show was curated by Lubi Thomas. Its production was funded by Botanica, who are themselves facilitated by Brisbane City Council.
Groundwork extends upon my interest in socially engaged art practices that engage with critical ecological concepts. A recent focus on Australian indigenous plants in my work is a response to our typical disregard, and often lack of knowledge about our plant kin. Much ecological and cultural damage has been done since settlement through processes of ecological erasure; and so richly biodiverse communities have been quietly colonised out of existence across Australia. Gentle, modest projects such as Groundwork seek to re-build lost cultural understandings of the intricately braided connections we share with native flora. Through re-remembering plants’ histories, cultural importance, aesthetic power and myriad personalities – the artwork asked whether new forms of practice might allow us to better sense how much our two species are as one.