Throughout 2019, we have turned our attention to exploring the many ways that art can be expressed and experienced outside of the Potter’s customary exhibition context. So far we’ve welcomed performance, dance and textiles, and this month we’re turning to the art of nature – or more specifically, the University of Melbourne’s best kept secret, the System Garden.
Established at the Parkville campus in 1956 by Sir Frederick McCoy, the System Garden is one of Australia’s oldest teaching gardens and, along with being a tranquil retreat for staff and students, is still used today by students of the university’s School of BioSciences – which offers studies in areas including Plant Science, Zoology, Marine Biology and Genetics.
Presented as part of the Potter’s Inside Out program, MULCH: Performance Picnic in the System Garden is a chance to enjoy the serene open-air surrounds of the gardens for an immersive afternoon of plant-based art, performance and music.
MULCHis the vision of Melbourne-based performance chemist and curator Lichen Kelp, who will be known to Potter fans after curating a previous System Garden outing as part of the Potter’s 2017 exhibition The Score, which saw her perform under the moniker Kelp D alongside multidisciplinary artist and musician Dylan Martorell and a program of other artists.
“With The Score, Dylan and I worked very closely with the university’s Curator of Horticulture, Tim Uebergang, who manages the System Garden,” Lichen explains. “The collaborative relationship that resulted was really satisfying, which is why I’ve teamed up with Tim again this time.”
After tapping into Tim’s wealth of expertise, Lichen was keen to broaden access to his wisdom for MULCH. “Tim is such an incredible resource and so interesting,” Lichen says. “With this program I wanted to expand the scope and provide other artists with the opportunity to work with Tim and with different plants in the System Garden,” she continues, adding that each of the artists has responded to different elements of the garden with a range of approaches – from the detailed to the conceptual.
Combining her love of adventure, science and art, Lichen’s work explores biology and plant science in new, creative and unexpected ways. She uses chemistry, photography, sculpture and performance to find art – and even music – in organic and botanical elements, engaging audiences on climate change issues along the way.
Performing at MULCH as Kelp D with long-time collaborator Dylan Martorell, Lichen will work with the garden’s botanicals, exploring colour, sound and form. The performance will feature experimental chemical play combined with improvised ikebana arrangements set to a live musical score by Martorell, alongside a performance by dancer Benjamin Hancock.
Joining Kelp D and Benjamin Hancock on the program will be a wonderfully diverse line-up of artists and experts which Lichen has engaged to present a series of site-specific works in conversation with the plants and local ecologies found in the System Garden.
Along with guided garden tours, talks and a tea ceremony, audiences can expect to see chemical reactions, improvised movement, experimental electronics, beekeeping, poetry and perfumery – combining to create a dynamic program of esoteric and scientific investigation.
Among the highlights: architect and bee keeper Nic Dowse (aka Honey Fingers) will create live poetry about the garden’s flowers, perform a tea ceremony using native lemon myrtle grown in the garden, and serve honey straight from the garden’s on-site hives; Sydney-based artist David Haines will create scents inspired by the plants, flowers, soil and grass found in the garden. David will also present a series of works from his exploration of Kirlian photography techniques used to capture the auras of various plant species from the System Garden; while Loren Kronemyer (aka Pony Express) will present a live durational digging performance, working with the living elements of the System Garden.
Says Lichen: “My vision for the afternoon is of people bringing friends and their own delicious food and drinks, and relaxing on a picnic blanket while a range of different experiences and performances roll out around them.”
“Some of the experiences will require very close listening and close participation, while others will be gentler and more observational. The System Garden is still a mystery to a lot of people, but these performances will really bring this beautiful space to life.”
MULCH: Performance Picnic in the System Garden is part of The Potter’s 2019 Inside Out program, generously supported by Peter Jopling AM QC, Andy Zhang and Calvin Huang.