Letting Mara In: Installing the Garden of Bad Flowers

Over lunch during the install of Gabrielle de Vietri’s work, Garden of Bad Flowers, one helper commented that we are courting trouble at the Farm by bringing hundreds of bad little seedlings into our care. The installation is inspired by numerous 18th and 19th century publications that go by the name The Language of Flowers, is a garden that focuses on plants with negative symbolic meanings. The garden presents an opportunity for visitors to investigate the plants’ rich histories and their contemporary resonance. The implication of our concerned worker was that life at the Farm, shared with hundreds of bad flowers, could end up like a sequel to Little Shop of Horrors, but one wherein the plants consume us emotionally rather than physically. Gabrielle’s response to this concern was quite reassuring. Perhaps this was because, after two days of hard labour, she didn’t want me to turn around and ask her to rethink the work’s location once more. Nevertheless, she argued that by inviting the bad in, we somehow are able to better confront and manage the threatening implications of the flowers. She likened it to “letting Mara in”. Mara, Buddhism’s version of Satan, is a spirit that tried to tempt Buddha. By inviting Mara in we are better poised to contend with the spirit’s demonic powers. And so it was, that with an openness to unwanted affects and with the help of a small army of volunteers that we welcomed Garden of Bad Flowers to the Farm in late March of 2014. We are having the first of several Open Garden events on Sunday 13th April, this will allow other people to come and experience the work. Here are some images from the two-day install.

Day 1 and there were only 4 of us. We worked hard, were sore for days afterwards, but we resolved not to do any more work until there were many more hands on deck.

Day 1: 3 people work very hard, wishing there were at least 3 more.

Day 1: 3 people work very hard, wishing there were at least 3 more.

13 cubic metres of soil dumped on driveway

13 cubic metres of soil dumped on driveway

One of three giant drive-way blocking piles of soil

One of three giant, driveway-blocking piles of soil

After moving two boxes into place, and clearing a path through the soil, we called it a day. And we were relieved on Day 2 when about 12 people showed up to help. The boxes, made of recycled hardwood, needed an army to move into place, and as well as it was fun meeting new people and sharing the experience with an impromptu team of gardeners, the adage that “many hands make light work” had never felt more relevant.

Day 2: Many hands make light work

Day 2: Many hands make light work

CMJ wheeling a barrow

CMJ wheeling a barrow

Lunch!

Lunch!

Group shot!

Group shot!

Gabrielle and Will lunching!

Gabrielle and Will lunching!

A storm comes to eat the city at the end of the day

A storm comes to eat the city at the end of the day

It also comes to eat us!

It also comes to eat us!

The storm passes and Will gets back to work.

The storm passes and Will gets back to work.

and, in the dying light, so to does Gabrielle.

and, in the dying light, so to does Gabrielle.

This installation was initially intended for exhibition in the 19th Biennale of Sydney on Cockatoo Island. There it would have sat in the remains of an old sandstone cottage. The work is now at Earlwood Farm because of a complicated set of circumstances involving Art events, corporate sponsorship, mandatory detention and an individual’s politics and agency. That is to say, de Vietri was one of the two artists that remained boycotted from the Sydney Biennale due to the founding Sponsor’s, Transfield, $1.2bn worth of contracts with the Federal Government to manage offshore detention centres. The Boycott story is long and complicated–you can read about it here, here and here, and a bunch of other places if you care to ask Dr Google–but the nub of the issue with regards to the Garden of Bad Flowers is that although Transfield and the Biennale of Sydney had parted ways, Gabrielle de Vietri remained boycotted. Maria White has written an compelling piece on this for the CoFA publication Framework called “Time to Look at the Art”; which argues that, in the wake of the break-up between the BOS and Transfield, the Biennale quickly tried to distance themselves from the politics of the situation by cancelling public forum on the issues and claiming it was now “time to look at the art”, as if art and politics can be separated. For White, de Vietri’s “desire to remove herself completely from the Biennale is clear, making her involvement with the Boycott and her politics inextricable from the work itself”. Keeping the work political. I like this reading and I hope that lots of people come and visit us at the farm and experience the work first hand.

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