Spring 2012 Volume 47 Number 3
Garth Henderson constructive_botanics
c3 Contemporary Art Space, 25April-13May 2012
by Heather Hesterman, Melbourne-based artist, writer and landscape designer
‘The plant never lapses into mere arid functionalism; it fashions and shapes according to logic and suitability, and with its primeval force compels everything to attain the highest artistic form.’ 1 Karl Blossfeldt 1865-1932
Like Blossfeldt, who magnified and photographed plant details, the love of botany and the organic form was also echoed in Garth Henderson’s recent exhibition, constructive_botanics at c3 Contemporary Art Space. With a background in printmaking, photography, digital media, and horticulture, Henderson is well qualified to comment on the natural world. This exhibition, however, examines plant species as partly mathematical constructs and architectural hybrids. These are the flora of the future: manipulated, spliced, abstracted, armoured and self sufficient, with frameworks of internal scaffolding enmeshed as symbiotic cambium.
Visually, this exhibition was an inversion of what was expected. With coloured walls and mono-chromatic prints in stark white frames, references to a natural landscape were created by painting the gallery walls a soft eucalyptus grey/ green. There is a familiarity with this colour. Green creates a sense of calm, of nature and this specific colour also refers to Australia’s iconic trees, the Eucalypts. One could become quite lost within this flat green calmness. It is a clever and necessary device that Henderson employs, juxtaposing the green walls with the intense black and white detail of the large digitally constructed plants. It simultaneously provides a contrast and a spatially contained environment from which to view the prints.
Henderson has generated new constructions working like Dr Frankenstein, in his laboratory sewing body parts together, although Henderson’s new creations are seamlessly evolved and advanced. These are potentially deadly but seductive looking forms. repository 02 (2011) sees a faucet-like flower and pipe-work become a sexual fruiting form, extending from an eerie orb of multiples. Each of the small faucets forms a protective matrix or a prospective flower. This is a repository of seeds that are exact copies of the parent. Clones waiting to fulfil their function, these are futuristic hybrids with unknown capabilities.
Many of Henderson’s plants are prickly. They have exteriors with armours of spines to use for their defence as prospective weapons. Henderson’s interest in cacti originated many years ago when he worked collecting, propagating and growing them at a specialist research nursery in Western Australia. He found the sheer mathematics of each species interesting in terms of the spines’ sophisticated structure. ‘There is great beauty in the plant’s armour and defence mechanisms, and the precision with which they are constructed ’. 2 His digital renderings of the surfaces are well lit, some with the slightest hint of a cool blue light, and are so exquisitely real that you could almost draw blood on the protruding spines.
Henderson has also focused on the dispersal systems that plants use to store and distribute seeds.repository 01_wire (2012) depicts a Banksia form. It is a delicate linear drawing highlighting its peculiar morphology. Its elliptical seed pods bulge heavily until a bushfire facilitates release. It is similar in subject and state to the engraving of Banksia integrifolia by Charles White after Sydney Parkinson’s illustrations. This is one of the original Banksia species collected by Joseph Banks and botanist Dr Daniel Solander, when they accompanied Captain James Cook on the Endeavour voyage 23-30 April 1770. Parkinson’s paintings showed the form of each new species in its magnificence. With reference to the Banksia species and Cook’s voyage, Henderson firmly plants his new cultivars in this historic dirt.
Henderson’s prints are studies of a new engineering, depicting genetic diversity and marvelling the mathematics of nature. These are new interpretations of future botanic species that are spliced with other forms, they are simultaneously alluring and menacing with degrees in between. It is this range of emotional responses that confronts us all in this technologically ‘brave new world’3 and it will be interesting to observe Henderson’s project as it evolves.
Karl Blossfeldt was a German sculptor who was self taught in photography. For several decades he produced detailed photographs of seed heads, flowers and fronds in order to teach his students about the elements of design. The position, placement and magnified detailed structure of each specimen is quite beautiful. Blossfeldt’s reduced black and white palette produced elegant studies directing the viewer to examine each form closely.
Conversation with the artist May 2012
Huxley, Aldous. 1932. Brave New World.