Currently I am artist in residence at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre, Canberra. Tuggeranong is collection of eighteen suburbs and is one of eight districts of Canberra. The first houses were built in the mid 1970s, so that by now the gardens of the area are quite well established.
I arrived to set up my working space at the Arts Centre with preconceived ideas. I thought I’d be prepared and was thinking along the lines of fragility of the environment, fragility of nature and fragility of gardens. In my first load of materials I included soluble fabric from which I was going to make lace to emphasise the notion of fragility. The first weeks of the residency, the region suffered record number of days over 40°. I did not venture very far from the air-conditioned comfort of my working space.
I also wanted to work with an image of a print called The Daughter of the Picts (ca 1585) by Jacques Moyne de Morgues. It a female warrior. Her body is covered in flowers and she is set in a somewhat domesticated landscape. I saw this in an exhibition Slavery in the Cabinet of Curiosities: Hans Sloane's Atlantic World(2007), at the British Museum. However, it wasn’t until I worked with artist eX di Medici that I discovered that the decoration was tattoos. For two years I have been wanting to work with this image.
Part of the residency is to work with members of the community so having an idea about a project was necessary. Having such an image as the basis seemed like a good staring point.
I was not really familiar with the area. Admittedly the arts centre was really the only destination to which I ventured. In the last month or so, my drives and walks around the suburbs revealed something else.
Unlike the older established suburbs of inner Canberra, which have more exotic plants and trees, in Tuggeranong the emphasis has been on native vegetation. This was an emerging trend when the Tuggeranong was being carved up and planned by the government agency the NCDC.
But gardens take a long time to establish. As well as being subject to fashion, people bring to their gardens their own memories, they grow their memories. There are a multitude of reasons as to why we have particular plants in our gardens. Plants are given as gifts or exchanged. They are bought on a whim when we visit fetes or visited nurseries. Perhaps they were already established when we moved in to the dwelling, we live in. Often, we but plants for a specific purpose – to shade the house or for its edibility. Or because the plants survive the climate and soil.
I found in Tuggeranong that the plants, at least in the front (public) garden that they are hardy plants, rather than fragile. The weather presented each evening on the ABC news, shows the recorded meteorological statistics of Canberra’s airport and Tuggeranong. Tuggeranong is often a little cooler in winter and warmer in summer. The suburb where I live, below a hill, seems to be in a rain shadow. The rest of Canberra, and in particular Tuggeranong, seems to get more rain. Rain clouds managed to skirt the area. This summer there is surprising greenery on the hills around Tuggeranong.
One morning at 7.30, after dropping a family member off at the Canberra Hospital which was on the way to Tuggeranong, I ended up walking around the lake. I was surprised at the picturesque vistas that opened up as I walked along the paths. The water was very still. One interesting aspect of the lake is that there are houses built a very short distance from the shore of the lake. Canberra was designed very democratically: no houses were built above a certain contour (no hill top houses with panoramic views) nor on the artificial lakes. It was surprising to see some back gardens with no road between them and the lake. Many have beautiful gardens that spill over the fences. I noted that these were hardy plants but seemed to have a surprising amount of colour for the summer months.
On other cooler days my walks in the suburbs dark olive greens were the prevailing colour with hardy plants such as grevilleas and oleanders. There has been an orange flowering vine, which I want to call a trumpet vine, but more research is required.
So, my work has become much more heavily embroidered on the machine as I respond to the gardens I see. I have been able to work uninterrupted for weeks now, but the work is still in progress. The residency finishes at the end of the month. I will come away with the project with lots of new ideas and can extend some of the work I have already been pursuing.