The Botanical: Beauty and Peril

AGWA Eva Fernandez, Anigozanthos flavidus, 2011Drawing from the renowned Janet Holmes à Court Collection and the State Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Western Australia presents The Botanical: Beauty and Peril – a vivid, involving and sometimes disturbing journey through the diverse representation of the natural world by Australian artists.

From wildflower rooms to bush fire photography, the show both celebrates the natural beauty of landscapes and flora, while raising bracing issues about environmental destruction and the land rights of Australia’s First Peoples.

The exhibition draws from the Gallery’s extensive collection of wildflower depictions by Annie Dorrington and Margaret Forrest and features key works of WA’s forests such as Revel Cooper’s paintings of karri trees and Bella Kelly’s south-west landscape.

In dialogue with these ‘Arcadia’ works are contemporary works such as Rebecca Dagnall’s Paradise #5, Eva Fernandez’s Flora Obscura series, Conor O’Brien’s compelling photographic work Bushfire and Danie Mellor’s Paradise Garden (Different Country, Same Story).

Together, the works present the duality of our relationship with the botanical world. Iconic works by Western Australian and Australian artists including William Robinson, Howard Taylor, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Fred Williams traverse both sides of the subject, asking us all to pause and consider the consequences of our actions and the imperfect balance between beauty and peril.

A new commission, a panoramic time-based media work by Sohan Ariel Hayes explores how nature and culture have often been perceived as elements that bend to the will of technology and the forces of capital.

Taking sections of the Robert Dale panorama A Descriptive Account of the Panoramic View of King George’s Sound Hayes’ reimagining of this well-known work brings the panorama to life using weather elements to rearrange figures and re-cast memories, presenting a roll-call of species lost and a picturing of species to come.

By turns immersive, moving and inspiring, the exhibition is designed to stimulate conversations about our botanical world and how we live in it, live with it, and sustain it. A program of public events and participatory experiences has been developed for the exhibition, inviting Western Australians of all ages to get involved and share their views and experiences of nature.

“The threat to our natural environment alarms us all, and this exhibition of works I have collected over many decades illustrates dramatically how the Arcadian paradise of Australia, often portrayed by artists, is imperilled by the actions of humans,” said Janet Holmes à Court, Chairman of the Art Gallery of WA Board.

“I am thrilled to realise this special collaboration with AGWA and I’m sure audiences will be struck with wonder but also pause to think about the issues raised by contemporary artists who compellingly expose the dark side of the magical botanical realm.”

The Botanical: Beauty and Peril
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth Cultural Centre, Perth
Exhibition continues to 4 November 2019
Free admission

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Image: Eva Fernandez, Anigozanthos flavidus, 2011. Archival inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Pearl paper (laminated),100 x 150 cm, edition AP/6. © the artist, Janet Holmes à Court Collection.