ARTISTS Catherine Bagnall and Julian Bishop, Regan Gentry, Courtney Lucas, Bruce E. Philips, Justine Walker CURATOR Abby Cunnane
This show borrows its title from a 1973 book whose introduction describes it as ‘a fascinating account of the physical, emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man’.
Recognising that our everyday interaction with nature is largely staged, the artists in The Secret Life of Plants critique the ‘naturalness’ of flora and fauna. Transforming the familiar into the strange, they undermine the benign characterisation of nature, offering the potential for alternate narratives.
In Catherine Bagnall and Julian Bishop’s video Nightwalking the Rockburn (2005), the native bush of Fiordland seems to have a secret life ‘only accessible by candlelight’.
Taken in Whanganui’s indoor Winter Gardens, Courtney Lucas’s photo Cave (2006) depicts a ferrocrete tunnel surrounded by floral arrangements.
Regan Gentry’s Oh Dear (2006) was conceived as part of a four-month artist residency, the William Hodges Fellowship, furthering his investigation into the material and associative qualities of gorse.
In Bruce E. Phillips’s watercolours, plants—including a poppy (from which opiates can be derived) and ‘magic’ mushrooms (a hallucinogen)—sprout from techno-gadgets. Phillips links drugs’ addictive qualities and ‘cool factor’ with the compulsion to conform to advertising and social pressure to buy the latest things.
Justine Walker is interested in idealised beauty. Her photo, Phalaenopsis, Hybrid, City Girl 3 (2006), is an acutely detailed extreme-closeup of an artificial orchid. By making it an edition of one, Walker turns the mass-produced photo into a unique object.