I was delighted to be invited to launch Unearthed, the first ever garden festival at Eden Gardens in Sydney. It’s amazing to think that it was only 4 months ago that Simon Ainsworth first contacted me with an idea for a festival of sculpture at Eden Gardens along the lines of the International Garden Festival at Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire. An ambitious goal, as the Chaumont-sur-Loire festival has been running for almost 25 years and attracts over 400,000 visitors!
But, when you walk around these beautiful gardens and this extraordinary Unearthed exhibition, you will see that Simon’s ambition was not so far-fetched.
Gardens are increasingly becoming places that are being (re)imagined as art galleries, as places where we can encounter art, not simply as an adjunct to the garden, but as transforming and transformed by the garden environment. Just in our small part of the world, the popular success of exhibitions such as Sculpture at Barangaroo in August, Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi (October to November), HarbourSculpture at Woolwich in March, and Sculpture in the Gardens at Mudgee (early October) point to the fecundity of the idea of the “garden as gallery”.
Part of what makes the “garden as gallery” so interesting follows from the fact that sculptural, three-dimensional work is an art of the actual encounter. The context, the way we sometimes literally “run across” objects and installations, is crucial to their meaning, to the way they speak to us. And in the age of the ubiquitous screen, where everything can be seen anywhere, and a mobile phone is equivalent to a big screen, and nothing has a specific context or location, the encounter with artworks by walking, by moving around and through a landscape, where there are surprises and chance conjunctions, where one view gives way to another, is an important part of why this work, in this environment, enchants and engages.
And what we see here in Eden Unearthed lives up to the best of contemporary art in the garden. The works, often beautiful, sometimes whimsical, and always enchanting and stimulating, engage with Eden Gardens’ rich resources of spaces, nooks, cliffs and ‘rooms’, using plinths made from trees, rocks, walls and water. The flow is both ways, the gardens and spaces allow the works of art to be enlivened and made rich with meaning, while the works support an idea of the garden as green, living, fluid and complex.
They show us that a garden can be the ideal setting for intriguing, quirky, beautiful, and at times, imposing works of contemporary sculpture.
Many people have made this exhibition and festival work: Simon and Anna Ainsworth had the vision and drive; Meredith Kirton curated the exhibition and thought-through the spaces and liaised with artists; Allan Giddy and Trevor Weekes, two of Australia’s most innovative and thoughtful sculptors and installation artists and I were on the selection panel; and there’s the careful installation by staff at Eden Gardens. And, of course, crucially, the artists, who are both established artists and students, some from University of NSW Art & Design, who worked so well with the brief.
Come and enjoy!