The Tropical Mountain Plant Science Project: Australian Tropical Herbarium
"Many species of plants of Australia's tropical mountaintops are found nowhere else on Earth, and are threatened by climate change - urgent precautionary conservation action is required. Conservation in their natural habitat (in-situ) is untenable for these species as climate change is rapidly eliminating this habitat. Therefore the primary aim of this project is to build a viable, secure ex-situ conservation 'reserve' in well managed Botanic Garden collections."
Prof. Darren Crayn, Director, Australian Tropical Herbarium
2019 - 2022 Artist in Residence
Australian Tropical Herbarium , Cairns
A five year project that will collect, propagate and safeguard up to 20 species of climate-threatened mountaintop flora, to avert their extinction in the Wet Tropics.
As artist on the Mountain Flora Project I will be gathering images, data and inspiration to create a body of work that creatively documents the mission whilst also voices the plight of vulnerable mountain-top flora in the Wet Tropics, North Queensland.
PROJECT BACKGROUND: Art/Science Residency
Key Collaborators: Dr Sandra Abell, Principal Scientist, Wet Tropics Management Authority + Prof. Darren Crayn, Director, Australian Tropical Herbarium
I feel very fortunate to have been invited to become artist in resident on this important project; and as a result I have had the privilege of being included on collection field trips, visit labs and propagation greenhouses in a number of locations that are working together on this collaborative mission.
The Mountain Fora project will collect propagate and safeguard up to 20 species of climate-threatened tropical mountaintop flora, to avert their extinction. As an artist who explores ecological connections this residency presents a significant opportunity to continue to investigate and build upon my previous work; whilst providing a rare chance to be part of a new era of conservation, Plan-B. This project also coincides with the publication of the Wet Tropics Climate Adaptation Plan 2019.
The project will involve both laboratory and field work with key collaborators Dr Sandra Abell, Principal Scientist, Wet Tropics Management Authority and Prof. Darren Crayn, Director, Australian Tropical Herbarium. Field work will be carried out in the mountaintops in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area to collect plant and seed material. Laboratory work will investigate genetic diversity and micro-climate requirements of the material collected in preparation for propagation at the Australian National Botanic Gardens and distribution to participating botanic gardens along the East Coast where they will be grown in conservation collections and used in research and education. The aim is to secure the most severely threatened tropical mountaintop species in well managed, living collections with micro-climates as close as possible to their original habitat.
This residency will allow me to work in both the field and lab with a diverse team of science professionals, gaining a deep insight into the processes required to ensure species survival with respect to climate change. This in-turn will generate deep connections, insight and inspiration, stimulating multi-disciplinary future thinking paradigms from which to consider the complex issue of climate induces species loss and displacement; whilst simultaneously acting as a strong catalyst to form my creative investigations.
PROJECT UPDATE: Queensland State Archives Creative in Residence (20 May - 30 September 2019)
The Queensland State Archives Creative in Residence (QSA CiR) program will provide the opportunity for me to undertake research on the project with respect to both historical and current data; coupling the archives research within the framework of 'The Mountain Flora' project. This will allow me to add a rich layer of political and social data to real-time data gathered during field and lab work.
In order to capture a deep resonance and understanding of the predicament of the threatened mountain-top flora I would like to voice their plight, with reference to historical socio-policital data gathered from the archive together with current policy and projects that surround world heritage conservation and climate change: using the archive records as a catalyst to create new works that compare past, present and possible predicted futures for these intrinsic players within our ecosystem.
I respectfully acknowledge the traditional custodians and ancestors of the modern nation of Australia, and recognise that their cultural and spiritual identity continues to this day.
The Australian Tropical Herbarium is working in partnership with the Traditional Owners of the northern Wet Tropics region, the Western Yalanji and Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, on the Tropical Mountain Flora project. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging and acknowledge their ongoing spiritual relationship with the country on which we work.
The Mountain Flora Project is a collaboration between the Australian Tropical Herbarium, the Australian National botanic Gardens, Western Yalanji traditional Owners, the Wet Tropics Management Authority, the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, the Brisbane Botanic Gardens and the The Cairns botanic Gardens. Funded by the Ian Potter Foundation and Wet Tropics Management Authority.
Archives research is made possible by the Queensland State Archives through the Creative in Residence Program 2019.
'TRANSplant [seeking refuge]' is presenting as part of the Queensland State Library's 'Entwined:Plants & People' exhibition which runs from June to November 2021.
'TRANSplant [becoming Kin]', is presenting as part of Experimenta Life Forms: international Triennial of Media Art, touring Australia from 2021-2023
To learn more about this exhibition and the artwork visit: experimenta.org/artworks/transplant/
Queensland State Archive - 'Tropical Treasures' Exhibition 27 February to 24 March 2020
Being selected to be the 2019 Creative in Residence at the Queensland State Archive enabled me to add a rich layer of historical and social narratives to real-time data gathered during the Mountain Flora rescue mission; comparing past, present and possible imagined futures of endangered flora endemic to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. I spent time with the archive conservation team to learn about some of the processes in record conservation and was inspired to draw analogies between collection and conservation practices within human-made and natural spaces. The resulting works incorporate elements of both archival process and ecological history over time.
My visits into the tropical cloud rainforests were so emotionally charged – torn between the feeling of the ecological majesty and the sadness of climate predictions that indicate enveloping clouds will begin to rise; and therefore species, which depend on these moisture rich atmospheric conditions, may not survive the change.
An immediate analogy I drew was the idea of climate control: slight changes in temperature can adversely affect documents allowing them to become more vulnerable to irreversible damage – similarly the Mountain Flora is susceptible to slight changes in climatic conditions which too, makes these species vulnerable to extinction.
These thoughts were distilling in my mind during my QSA research, I was searching for records of Queensland flora history; I was searching for flora family trees. Unlike, genealogical research however, I couldn’t search birth, death, marriage or immigration records, I was searching through anthropogenic associations.
This led me to consider anthropogenic hierarchy, the vulnerable mountain flora, environmental history and possible ecological futures. Will there be a time where all species will be considered of equal hierarchy where all species may be recorded and valued; given the same rights to life and living conditions? This became the concept for the work TRANSPlant [becoming Kin].
Conceptually, the works explore ideas about climate induced displacement and what this may mean in the broader context of human impact and survival; drawing analogies between flora and human species.
Ultimately, I wanted to give a voice to these flora species; inviting reflection and conversation about the circumstances surrounding their current plight, and how we value and conserve natural ecosystems today, using history as a guide.
Tropical Treasures exhibition at Queensland State Archives: Feb-March 2020. See above artwork slideshow for examples of some of the works on display.