Donna Davis, QMS member and Brisbane Botanic Gardens artist-in-residence for 2013-14, recently held her Beyond the Seed exhibition at the Richard Randall Studio, Mt Cootha Botanic Gardens. The mixed media installation creatively explored the complex symbiotic relationships between native plants and fungi.
Donna uses a mixed range of materials and media to represent connections and relationships within the natural world in a way which evokes curiosity and reflection. She believes that the art/science field provides a powerful catalyst to challenge our discourse, raise environmental awareness and promote the conservation of our ecology; by providing new ways of 'seeing' and creating new 'connections' in the mind of the viewer.
Beyond the Seed was a continuation of her 2013 residency project, The Plant Room. This time she investigated the hidden connections beneath our feet that impact the soil, and in turn, seed germination and plant health. It was a visual and tactile exploration of the fascinating world of fungi, with their mycelium networks and mycorrhizal associations that provide vital nutrient exchange between fungi and plants.
The exhibition featured large-scale, soft sculptures of fungus species which grow in similar conditions to the native plants that were the focus of The Plant Room. Boletellus emodensis, Amanita pyramidfera, Amanita luteolovelata, and Clavaria miniata have each been thoughtfully and carefully recreated in a manner which best represents key aspects of those particular species. To someone who knows a bit about our local fungi, the species are instantly recognisable – for example: the classic pyramidal warts of the Amanita pyramidfera and the wonderful shaggy cap and golden pores of Boletellus emodensis. Donna's choice of fabrics for these soft sculptures alludes perfectly to the colours and textures of the fungi they represent. The immediate impulse is to touch the sculptures and explore their structure and, on doing so (yes, you can touch them!), some of the complexity of the fungus organism is revealed.
The free-standing sculptures filled the central display area of the intimate gallery area. The exhibition also included large-format digital images projected on one wall in a continuous loop. Donna created these digital images by merging and manipulating photographs of small, highly detailed sculptures she had crafted from resin and other materials.
A tube of woven copper wire (Viking Knitting) features in a number of the digital works in the exhibition. Donna uses a technique she describes as ‘digital crochet’, where she digitally replicates, resizes and positions images of the tube to form an intricate design strongly suggestive of a plant root or fungal mycelium system. A large, printed image of this complex structure was hung in pride of place on the main exhibition wall.
Also mounted on one of the walls was a series of four sculptural elements representing native plant seeds. As with all of Donna's creations, this piece was made primarily from recycled materials.
Donna is an imaginative and highly skilled artist. Her works are carefully designed and crafted, with many layers of research, experimentation and development behind them. This results in pieces which I find to be a successful and thought provoking fusion of art and science.
I think Beyond the Seed can best be summed up, however, by the simple and honest reactions of an elderly lady and a young child who entered the gallery just as I was leaving. At first they were hesitant, curious, unsure. This quickly turned to exclamations of wonder and smiles of delight.
The Beyond the Seed exhibition ran from March 21-29 and has now been demounted from the Richard Randall Studio. Hopefully this installation will have a few more exhibition opportunities over the coming year.
Donna will soon be starting on a new project with the working title: "Ipswich Fungi". This project will involve regular visits to the Purga Nature Refuge, home of the endangered Swamp Tea-tree, to document the fungi that grow in and around this species. The physical documentation she collects will be passed onto the Qld Mycological Society and Qld Herbarium and the visual stimulus and research will form part of a concept development for a new body of artworks. So watch this space!
Donna's website and blog.
Update Nov 2015
We are all delighted that Donna Davis has won Donna Davis the Sunshine Coast Environment Art Award 2015