Mundaring art show ventures into forest

Perdita Phillips' Karri Kings (detail)


Canopy — Into the Forest

Mundaring Arts Centre


In light of the recent UNESCO World Heritage Committee rejection of the Federal Government's bid to reverse the world heritage listing of part of the Tasmanian wilderness, a timely exhibition is on display at Mundaring Arts Centre.

Canopy - Into the Forest is a group show featuring painting, sculpture and photography from 16 leading WA artists.

The title carries a dual meaning as both above (canopy) and within (into the forest). This suggests a key tension between a limited view of the surface and delving more deeply into the layers beneath.

As the curators Peggy Lyon and Ashley Yihsin Chang note, the show reflects this by teasing out the conflict "between what we as a community need to do for our own long-term survival (look after the land and its unique ecosystems) and what we as individuals want to do for our own short-term pleasure or gain".

The artists were invited to make artwork referencing the "the natural and cultural legacy we have inherited" in Australia as a colonised country. While the legacy of indigenous populations is intimate knowledge of living within the country and the meanings contained therein, colonial legacy is more about taking from the land for the purposes of settlement and industry.

A work by Perdita Phillips features a booklet of photographs of the timber town of Pemberton with locations pictured in the past and re-photographed by Phillips in the present. Above this is a mixed- media image of the giant karri log once displayed in Kings Park with onlookers dwarfed by its scale. With these juxtapositions, Phillips asks us to consider the passing of time and the contradiction of the celebration of the natural world in the face of its destruction.

"If the trees had looked more like machinery, would we have treated them any differently?" Peter Dailey asks this question in reference to his sculpture titled Lungs. It is a forest of green poles with machine-like structures reminiscent of dust mill extractors. The tension between nature and artifice is both artistically and symbolically played out as we catch ourselves marvelling at the beauty of such delicate machine-like forms.

Other works present a more spiritual connection to the land. Alan Muller paints the South West before settlement as a rich, verdant and misty scene blessed by a rainbow.

Human control and containment of the natural world is represented in a painting by Clare McFarlane. Titled Caladenia, it portrays a spider orchid against a background of William Morris-like patterned wallpaper. The decorative aesthetic paired with the beautiful but monstrously spiky flower gives this painting both a compelling and unsettling edge.

Nalda Searles displays slippers densely coated in sandalwood shavings below a singlet covered with banksia applique. This texturally rich installation references the history of her father, who took part in clearing the Wheatbelt and then turned to working with a wood lathe from which the shavings are acquired.

The artworks in this show address a number of issues of importance to the wilderness of WA: the clearing of wilderness, the need to hold on to what remains, the Eurocentric romanticisation of the bush, visions of the past as against the present and the impact of settlement.

Canopy — Into the Forest runs until June 8.