Grown artwork blooms for Queensland show

Liz Hobday |

Jamie North’s living sculpture Portal is among those featured in QAGOMA’s summer exhibition Air.
Jamie North’s living sculpture Portal is among those featured in QAGOMA’s summer exhibition Air.

Valuable artworks usually require some looking after, but it’s not often they need a watering schedule and special grow lights.

Jamie North’s installation Portal is made from plants – rusty figs and elkhorn ferns among others, growing on two concrete columns towering three metres high.

It’s a living sculpture that appears to be crumbling as the plants take hold, and one of more than 30 artworks featured in the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art summer blockbuster show, Air.

With LED grow lights designed to descend over the artwork at night, looking after the work shouldn’t be difficult, North told AAP – the main requirements being care and sufficient water.

“I guess if the sculpture is treated as an object without living components, that’s when people encounter problems,” he said.

The exhibition as a whole poses some of the same conundrums as North’s installation: if people do not care for the natural world, how can it survive?

Air is a companion show to QAGOMA’s 2019–20 Water exhibition, and encourages gallery goers to consider ecological and social challenges, by approaching its subject matter from some surprising angles.

It opens with a major new commission by Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno, a constellation of reflective and transparent spheres hung in the Gallery of Modern Art’s central atrium that at times appear to breathe.

A standout work is Hot Spot III by British-Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum, a large globe-shaped cage on which countries are outlined in glowing red neon.

The piece was originally intended to depict a world in political turmoil, but takes on new meaning in a show that addresses ecological crises.

Some of the artworks stemming from these events hit close to home, such as photojournalist Rachel Mounsey’s pictures documenting the 2019 bushfires in the Victorian town of Mallacoota.

Many speak to the critical need to respond to the challenges of climate change, curator Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow told AAP.

“There are a lot of works in the show that speak to that urgency, but also really try to energise a hopefulness around our capacity to innovate,” she said.

Notable Queensland artists D Harding, Charles Page and Jemima Wyman each have work on display, and there’s a series of drawings by the late Lloyd Rees, who was born in Brisbane.

Barlow hopes that despite some of the more confronting aspects of Air, gallery-goers will find a sense of energy and beauty.

“Hopefully people will feel energised and uplifted, but also that some of the serious challenges we face are represented, we’re not closing our eyes to those,” she said.

Days before the gallery opens its doors for the show, small moments of beauty have already begun to happen.

Jamie North’s Portal installation is planted with species native to southeast Queensland, one a common vine that’s usually known as Bower of Beauty.

High up on one of his towering columns, it’s just begun to flower.

Air will open at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) on Saturday November 26, with a program of talks, workshops, film screenings and live performances.