This is a statement I wrote for my solo exhibition, Arboretum in 2016.
plural ar·bo·retums or ar·bo·re·taplay \-ˈrē-tə\
“a place where trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes”
This exhibition is a visual presentation of a lifelong obsession with trees. Since I was little I have been captivated by the labyrinthine constellations of tree canopies around me. This fascination has never led to a scientific study of trees and plant life, but rather an aesthetic and almost spiritual appreciation. As an artists who works within the realm of the fantastical, I have taken imaginary liberties with my depiction of the natural world. The species of fynbos and trees showed in this exhibition really exist (you can see them all in Kirstenbosch, which is also an arboretum) but I have blurred the lines between humanity and the kingdom of plants.
Forests and plant life have always held an important place in humanity’s psyche and this can be seen in the way arboreal themes are featured in religions and myths dating back to archaic civilisations. Many cultures (especially early ‘pagan’ religions) included tree inspired motifs and symbols in their liturgical practices and texts. The figure of the earth mother, Gaia is also a recurring figure in legends, myths and religions and worship of this deity pre-dates the great monotheisms. Contemporary fascination with trees and nature is also prominently manifested in Jungian psychoanalytic practise, where holistic well-being is often allegorised in a tree diagram. These examples are mere pinpricks in the rich history of tree-culture and my exhibition taps into this rich past which can act as a source of limitless creative inspiration.
Many of the fynbos characters here have humanoid features and facial expression. At first this may seem an unnecessary anthropomorphic addition to already beautiful creations. However, in my imaginary Arboretum there are human figures with tree trunk skeletal structures sprouting cornucopias of verdant growth from their scalps. There are also the natural fauna of the Cape which are portrayed as hybrid botanical beings and a motley assortment of quirky fynbos faerie sprites. What I hope to convey by this fusion of the humanoid and herbal, and the mammalian with the botanical is the manner in which we all add up to one homogenous organism: we consist of the self-same matter, visualized metaphorically as fynbos.
This is related to the second important concept of this exhibition namely; that of conservation. If one aspect of the fragile system I have portrayed is damaged, other elements are consequently also damaged. This is especially topical due to the environmental crises we are headed to due to an insatiable appetite for ‘progresses and industrialisation’. There is much we can learn of patience, diligence and care-giving by examining the natural world surrounding this beautiful city.