The Plant Room Project (2013)

The Plant Room Exhibition 
Artist Statement:

Plants are living powerhouses that ensure the health of our planet and in turn human well-being; providing intrinsic elements such as water filtration, air quality, climate control, food production, medicinal needs and shelter for our daily lives.

Human activities such as urbanisation, mining and logging, however, threaten plants survival, with an estimated one in every five plant species vulnerable to extinction.

So what would a world without plants look like?  Will humans try to replicate plants or save them, and how will this decision change our world?

The Plant Room explores plants as living powerhouses with reference to species loss; with a focus on five South East Queensland flora species currently listed as endangered.

This work invites you to consider a world without plants and the inherent ecological implications of species loss. 

donna davis

The installation was designed to reflect an 'otherworld' where plants were no longer as abundant on earth as they are today, capturing a glimpse of how humans may try to replicate some of the vital functions plants provide within the biosphere.   

The installation housed five windows which allowed the viewer to see into the Plant Room - each window represented one of the five endangered species and also one of the functions plants play within our world.   A series of blueprints was also created for each system represented within the installation evoking notions of the complexity required to replicate such systems.

Bloom: A Microscopic journey into the flowers of endangered flora

CLICK on the above link to view the stop-frame digital work based on flowers from the Plectranthus habrophyllus and Notelaea ipsviciensis.

Melaleuca irbyana in bud - September 2013
Again thanks to my plant ambassadors out in the field, I have been advised that the Melaleuca irbyana is in bud - this should be a spectacular display once in flower.

Gossia gonoclada in bud - September 2013
Thanks to one of my excellent plant ambassadors from the project, I have been informed that the Gossia has gone into bud, this means that flowering will not be far away now!  This has also been confirmed by SGAP.  

Planchonella eerwah fruiting - September 2013
I visited the Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP) again yesterday to see how the 7 year old Planchonella eerwah was going, it has been fruiting for quite a while - I collected some fallen fruit to undertake some microscopy explorations.  This means that flowering is not far off for this specimen....looking forward to see the flowers in real life.

Visit to the Purga Nature Refuge 
Melaleuca irbyana 
  Images courtesy of the artist.

I went to visit the Purga Nature Refuge this morning, as it holds the largest collection of the Melaleuca irbyana in Ipswich, and perhaps in the country.  The distribution of this species is very limited and now only occurs in isolated patches, accordingly, it is listed as a Critically endangered community under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth).  This reserve is an initiative of the Ipswich City Council, created in 1998 in an effort to protect this species.

The twisted, narled and papery trunks together with the weeping form of the leaves and branches of the M.irbyana creates an amazing display, and walking around the reserve I was overwhelmed with it's haunting beauty.  Such an inspiring place to visit, I found myself reminded of its rarity's importance as a living ecology.

Visit to the Australian National Herbarium

Photo by donna davis.
I recently visited the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra to do some research on the five endangered species that form part of my Plant Room Project.

I spent the morning going through the collection store, and managed to find two of my species in their collection, see below:

       Photos by donna davis.
The Melaleuca irbyana was one species held in their collection;  two specimens I came across were from the QLD Herbarium.  One, from 1956, had a great example of the papery bark from its trunk, the other from 1961 was found in the Amberley district.  (This, sparked my interest to begin research on historic geographic locations and distributions of the species).

With the help of Herbarium staff I was able to get a print out of the historic geographic distribution of each of the specimens held in their collection.  I will be trying to get the same data from the QLD Herbarium upon my return to begin making some investigations into historic vs current distribution for each of my five species.  

   Photos by donna davis
The second specimens found in their collection were from the Gossia gonoclada (Angle Stemmed-Myrtle).  I was intrigued with the age of the first specimen which was listed as found 1863-1865, the specimen was in remarkably good condition for it's age.  This specimen had the previous known name recorded: Austromyrtus (which was later changed to Gossia).

The 1986 specimen was beautifully pressed and displayed, evoking thoughts about how aesthetics are considered by the botanist when pressing, documenting and preserving specimens.

     Photos by donna davis.
I also took the time to visit the Australian Botanic Gardens whilst in Canberra, situated next to the National Herbarium on Black Mountain.  I was impressed with their research centre for visitors which was fully equipped with Magnifying glasses, microscopes, reference books, reference specimens and computer access for the interested visitor!

Threatened plants were labelled in the gardens, the visitor centre was surrounded by threatened plant species.  I really like the idea of raising awareness of rare, threatened and endangered plants - I think that this is a great way to engage the visitors to learn more about native ecologies.

Plant Cloning

Images by donna davis

One of the research components of the "Plant Room" project explores plant cloning: a method that can create many plants from the tissue of just one plant, producing exact copies of the host plant.  An accepted technique in the commercial world: this exploration considers the ecological implications of plant cloning in a world where many flora species are on the decline.

I have been conducting cloning trials (aka micropropagation) on one of the plants that grows in my back yard: Melaleuca irbyana.  The images above show the progress of the Melaleuca irbyana it was very slow in getting started, however, is well on its way now!

Mounting Dry Specimens
I was fortunate to spend the day with staff from the Queensland Herbarium learning the process of mounting, cataloguing and storing dry specimens.  The passionate herbarium staff also passed on their invaluable knowledge about a range of other botanical information which will no doubt be a fantastic resource for my "Plant Room" project.
Photos by donna davis.
Endangered Plant Research
In order to find out more about endangered plants I met staff from the Queensland Herbarium who provided a list of endangered plants from the South East Queensland region.

I then began research to establish which plants on the list were located in Ipswich and the surrounding areas.  I decided to select (5) five plant species to become the focus of my artworks for The Plant Room project.

The five endangered species I decided to select for the project are:

1. Plectranthus habrophyllus
2. Notelaea ipsviciensis (Cooneana Olive)
3. Planchonella eerwah (Shiny leaved condoo, Black plum, Wild Apple
4. Gossia gonoclada (Angle-stemmed myrtle)
5. Melaleuca irbyana (Swamp tea-tree)

Visual Research - Dry Specimens
In order to get an idea of what each plant looked like I began my research at the Queensland Herbarium, who allowed me to access to their vast collection of dry specimens.  I set myself up with camera, notepad and visual diary and then began searching for the (5) plants that were to be the focus of my project.

I was given a tour and an overview of the specimen filing system in order to locate each species: each flora specimen is filed alphabetically according to Family name then genus + species.

Each species was stored in a container, which held a number of specimens of the same species inside.   Individual specimens were presented on a herbarium sheet and enclosed in a manila folder within the container.  I was impressed with the quantity, quality and history of the specimens, with some dating back to 1912! 
The specimens came from a variety of locations, time periods and collectors.  The herbarium sheet for each specimen provided a great deal of information for my research and reference, such as:

Visual reference:
 1. Section of the plant - pressed and dried
 2. Plant material such as: flower, fruit, seed, bark

         1. Date collected
         2. Collector
         3. Geographic location
         4. Habitat
         5. Description
         6. Name of plant

Text research

The dry specimen research sparked my interest to understand the process by which plants are classified.  The Queensland Herbarium and Mt Cootha Botanic Gardens have extensive reference and resource libraries - so I was able to research the science of plant classification - Plant Taxonomy.  

I found that the leaf of each plant plays a large part in its classification, and that there are many points by which to catagorise leaves, such as:

1. Leaf shape
2. Leaf arrangement: phyllotaxy - arrangement of leaves on the stem
3. Leaf margin: shape of the edge of the leaf
4. Leaf venation: pattern of veins in the leaf
The leaves had me very intrigued – the aesthetics and intricacies of the shape, margin and venation first caught my attention and so I found myself wanting to examine the leaf structure of each of the (5) selected specimens at both macro and micro levels.


   Microscopy images by donna davis.

After discovering many facts about the plants in the project - I wanted to explore the Plant Room flora with microscopy.  The microscopic world of plants is amazing - every time I make up a new slide it evokes my curiosity.  Images above show just some of the amazing micro world of plants:

(a) Top Left - Leaf vein
(b) Top Right - Stomata
(c) Bottom Left - Stomata 
(d) Bottom Right - Leaf hairs on surface of Plecthranthus habrophyllus
From these early investigations I have decided to put together a digital projection – to show the micro world in large format!  Still in development …… more to come!

The Millennium Seed Bank
The Brisbane Botanic Gardens Conservation Seed Bank, was established in 2004 under the auspice and financial support of the Millennium Seed Bank Project, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and in partnership with 'Seeds for Life'. 

Senior Botanic Officer and Seed Bank Manager, Phillip Cameron provided an informative tour of the Seed Bank which collects Queensland native taxa under the MSB project.  Phillip took me through the seed saving process and also the associated germination trial process which accompanies this project.

January 2013

I have been selected as the Artist-in-Residence at the Mount Cootha Botanic Gardens for 2013 - and will be in the gardens each Tuesday.

My residency will allow me to research and conceptually develop a new body of work entitled The Plant Room: Nature's powerhouse.

The body of work created during my residency will explore the unique, rare and endangered flora of South East Queensland (SEQ) with a particular focus on the Ipswich area; examining the decline of native flora species and reflecting on the importance of these living organisms that support all life on Earth. 

I believe that visual art is a powerful catalyst to raise environmental awareness, promote conservation and empower individual stewardship of our ecology.  Accordingly, throughout the residency I will conduct public art/botany workshops that explore the hidden beauty of plants; engaging visitors to see the unseen micro and macro life of plants.

Artist Statement

Inspired by the natural world I choose to work with things found within the landscape both natural and human made: Working across mediums I use assemblage, installation and digital media to capture and create sites of ecological observation.

My arts practice explores the nexus between art and science, with a particular interest in the fields of botany and ecology.  My interest in the 19th century fascination with capturing, collecting and displaying the natural world is also reflected in my works. 

The residency at the Mt Cootha Botanic Gardens will allow me to research and develop a new body of work entitled The Plant Room: Nature’s powerhouse. My work will explore the unique, rare and endangered flora of South East Queensland (SEQ) with a particular focus on Ipswich and surrounds.  The resulting work will examine the decline of our native flora species, reflecting on the importance of these living organisms that support all life on Earth.

As an artist I am intrigued with the idea of connection, and how our connections in both natural and social realms informs our everyday discourse. With this in mind I am looking forward to revealing and exploring new connections with the silent world of plants during my residency, which in turn, will inform my works. 

Throughout the residency I will conduct public art/botany workshops that explore the hidden world of plants; inviting participants to create works inspired by the unseen micro and macro life of plants.

The body of work created during my residency will culminate in an exhibition entitled The Plant Room, an installation work that will document the silent struggle of plants; our living powerhouses, essential for life on Earth.