Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What happened to May?

I just noticed my last post was mid April. 

Unheard of for me to take such a long time between posts here at this blog.

I can't even remember April now. I left Brisbane April 24th driving the coast road to Sydney staying a few nights along the way.

Sunday, April 27th I arrived at Plantbank, the brand new architecturally designed Seed Research Facility at the Australian Botanic Gardens, Mt Annan, south-west of Sydney, where I undertook a two week residency.

The new facility houses all aspects of Seed Processing, Seed-banking, Plant Tissue Labs, Offices, workspaces, a Library and Teaching space. Outside is an extensive Nursery and the old Seedbank Facility. And then there are the hectares of the Botanic Gardens which would take ages to get to know. The location is still in part a rural area with suburban sprawl encroaching, and nearby Hume Hwy access takes one to Sydney which is an hour northeast of this Garden.

Seed processing room.

In the centre of the Plantbank building is a large lobby lined with displays and education panels. The room in the image above is the Seed Processing room where new collections are brought in to be sorted and documented before removing to other areas of the building for other processes and storage.

The Seed Vault consists of several refrigerated rooms set at different temperatures below zero, catering to requirements seeds have for storage purposes.

This image was taken in the large open workspace where staff desks are located.I found this to be a great place for the odd quiet conversation during the day, and getting to know people throughout the residency. The seedpods I accumulated at my desk each day started many an interesting exchange.

Something I find so fascinating about working amidst staff like this is one learns a great deal about Plantbank's numerous projects and the stories, research and background of individuals. Seeing a project in all its aspects enables a depth of understanding that is unique. As questions arise one can find someone with a response.

'Callerya megasperma’ , seed pods collected at the Tweed Valley. 

Hearing about collecting trips is also instructive. So much is what is involved in Plant Conservation Science begins to make sense when you see the connection between the in-situ and ex-situ work, seeing what occurs in the Nursery, Gardens, Seedbank and on collecting trips and field work.  

All invaluable work, Plantbank offers various programs for communication with the public, guided tours and so on. De-mystifying the work to new audiences can be crucial given aspects of the work can be all too easily misunderstood. Much confusion exists around Plant Science due to lack of public awareness of processes like gene-banking. Its highly problematic when seed conservation work is lumped in with the worst case scenario of Corporate Seed politics and practices. Education is the only way through false assumptions. 

In light of this miss-mash of misinformation currently existing around Seeds it was gratifying to see the constant flow of visitors at Plantbank and the excellent level of public engagement and education offered.

In the large open room lined with staff desks I set up a workspace across two seeks with excellent storage and benches where I seas able to place seeds I was collecting from around the place.

I spent most evenings working back late... that way I could wander around in the morning taking photos in the garden or looking at various aspects of the work being carried out around the grounds. 

Two weeks was far too brief a time for getting as much done as I'd have liked. I tend to make too many plans and always have to rethink mid-way. For this reason photographs become crucial records... and all one to come back to a topic of interest later.

My plan is to return later this year... that was decided quite early in my stay which took some pressure of the fact of only having two weeks to make the most of the experience. 

The images above are of Parachidendron pruinosem, a small seedpod collected at Bellingen which I found captivating. 

Above is Melaleuca globifera, a Western Australian species I took many images of and also drew. The tree was was a great discovery on a walk one afternoon. I found myself returning again and again to observe this curious form, the way it grew half-way along rather thin stick-like branches, and the little globe itself.

Daphnandra johnsonii ... these fascinating seeds (above) took spectacular photos in the late afternoon sunlight ... capturing these shadows was most compelling.

The work above is a long painting on linen that I worked on in ink and acrylic paint. Based on various plantbank inspirations ... like working with petrie dishes, seeds under the microscope etc.

The Microscopy Room was another source of great inspiration. 

The Microscopy Room offered access to a Micro-imaging computer and an x-ray machine which I was able to use to produce extraordinary images, once I learned the basic processes. I will attempt to work with some of this imagery soon.

This Parachidendron pruinosem pod was quite intriguing ... especially so under the X-ray machine.

This species I must check the name of ... it led to some amazing images as well. The small seeds were contained in centre of the sepals... it looked rather like a flower!

The structure was fascinating the more I enlarged it.

The image below is quite pixilated but reveals details I found very interesting... the veins and circular cell-like detail.

A native grass going outside at Plantbank caught my eye so I ran it through the x-ray machine.

So much beauty in the forms and details. Fascination with the x-ray process grew the longer I played around with the possibilities. Its definitely something I'd like to work on further. Finding I could alter the appearance quite radically by shifting the size and tonal contrast of the subject it dawned on me what might be achieved... as well as the magic of what I was looking at.

Since returning home I've been flat-out working on several projects at once. A deadline for the Biodiversity Conversation Plates below  meant some late nights painting to be ready for the weekend just passed ... the Mayo Arts Festival being held at St Margaret's, Ascot. I had already put aside plates I'd previously painted for the show... but on return home from Plantbank I decided too explore and interpret some of the imagery from the residency on this plate series. 

I could be posting much more about the residency, from the 100's of photos taken, the amazing people I had the opportunity to work with and reflections since.

Life is lived very intensely when on a brief residency. Everything is under the micro-scope so to speak. Every conversation is potential material for further research. I certainly worked long hours and came away feeling really rejuvenated even if a little exhausted as well.

Coming home to a whole series of projects timetabled for the last few weeks I've been heavily involved in preparation and delivering material on seeds and diversity as an artist-in-residence in a local Brisbane school ... Kelvin Grove Secondary College. The '100 FUTURES program with yr 8 started on my return from Sydney, as did a Yr 12 program with Brisbane City Council + KGSC, and this week another Jumpstart program for Yr 6 and 7 student at KGSC kicks off.

Between working on the Biodiversity Plates and these Intensive programs with schools I have been absolutely flat chat and am only just now beginning to catch up and reflect back on Plantbank, write blog posts and so on.

If you go to my Facebook Page or to Instagram you can track the last month in images and posts there.

I hope not to take such a long time between posts in future... but sometimes one has to get on tha wave and ride it  ... and not lose the moment that is requiring 150% concentration.

Best to all who pass by here,