thomas m wilson

The System of Nature: An Art Exhibition at the University of Western Australia

September 22nd, 2007

 Last night I went to an art exhibition at the Lawrence Wilson at UWA which I enjoyed, called ‘The System of Nature’.  If you’re living in Perth then this exhibition is worth a look.  My friend Holly Story invited me along, and she has a number of works in the exhibition, works which, like many of the pieces in the show, comment on the scientific urge to catalogue and organize.  One of the most interesting pieces is by Gregory Pryor, and is a number of European herbarium catalogue slips with dried specimens of Western Australian flora lying on them.  Pryor hasn’t just laid out these slips, but has placed a rusty old ball and chain over the top of them all, with the names of Aboriginal prisoners along the chain.  The urge to imprison and coerce through the act of naming by colonial newcomers is vividly suggested through this overlaying of human history on natural history.

Another interesting piece is by Janet Laurence and is called Cellular Gardens.  It is a number of Western Australian plants growing in small dishes of soil on long metallic bases, within glass cells.  Laurence reflects that it is evocative of the care and support that our fragile environment needs to survive, but I took it another way.  I immediately thought of the way in which human hubris thinks it possible to take species out of their biological context and have them live in fragmented, artificially supported environments.  The work made me reflect on the impossibility of ever truly doing what Laurence does in this art work.  The ecological matrix that ever species originates in can never be done away with.  That goes for us bipedal mammals as well as little banksia plants.

The System of Nature is on till 7 November at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery.