May 13 - June 9, 2007
Olive Pink Botanic Garden
Alice Springs, NT

arly last year we were invited to take part in Shifting Ground, a curated program of site-specific, temporary public artworks held in Alice Springs and featuring artists from across Australia and overseas.

For this event we spent three weeks working as artists-in-residence at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, investigating the layered histories of the site and its potential as a catalyst for dialogue and exchange. The project culminated in a solo exhibition, They talk of ‘disphorrea’, consisting of a site-specific installation and collection of works on paper:

They talk of ‘disphorrea’
(Erythrina vespertilio, Hakea divaricata, Eremophila freelingii, Santalum acuminatum, Capparis spinosa var. nummularia, Senna artemesiodes ssp artemesiodes, Acacia aneura, Cenchrus ciliaris, Rumex vesicarius)

25 solar etched intaglio prints with hand-written text
Ink on paper
107 x 172mm


Site-specific installation
Re-used information board, trestle legs, fold-up chairs, fold-up tables, light boxes, suitcase, printmaker’s press, pinboards, books, pencils, paper, photographs, drawings, solar etchings, plant specimens, found objects

Dimensions variable

View of exhibition showing works on paper
Opposite view of exhibition showing installation

he work was structured around an informal study of eight different plants found within the Garden, all of which held some significance for the Garden’s historic founder, anthropologist and amateur botanist Miss Olive Pink. The lingering traces of this controversial figure, who was socially ostracised for her passionate views in support of Indigenous Australians and Central Australian native flora, are a recurring motif within the work, linking contemporary debates about the effects of colonisation with critical voices of an earlier time.

Our chosen plants formed the basis of a series of conversations held with members of the local community, and led to the production of a set of works on paper involving botanical illustration, solar etching, and hand-written excerpts of those conversations. The finished works evoke a range of different understandings of and relationships to place, and bring into public discourse the contestation underlying how our natural environment is managed, valued and storied.

view more prints

Rumex vesicarius
solar etching and ink on paper
25 x 17 cm

Capparis spinosa var.nummularia
solar etching and ink on paper
25 x 17 cm

uring our time making the work, we inhabited the Garden quite literally, transforming this public space into both a makeshift studio for our collaborative artistic practice and a temporary home. The material traces of this process (gleaned ad hoc from the local community) were then incorporated into the exhibition in the form of a sculptural installation that reflected on our presence within the site, and on the institutions and methodologies of science, anthropology and the visual arts.

Purchase of Works

To purchase any of the 25 works on paper from this exhibition, each produced by hand in an edition of ten, please visit the Workshop.

Installation detail
Installation detail

Installation detail

A note on the title

The title of this work comes from a letter written in 1932 by Olive Pink to a friend, in which she calls for her colleagues to take a more honest and pragmatic look at the situation of Aboriginal Australians. ‘Disphorrea’ was a pseudo-scientific term popular at the time, used to describe the phenomenon of a tribe’s loss of ‘its sense of self’, to which anthropologists were attributing many of the hardships experienced by Indigenous people. In this letter, Miss Pink claims that such abstract justifications naturalised the violence of the colonisation process in Australia, masking the real causes of Aboriginal disadvantage such as alcohol, venereal disease, and abuse by white settlers. Such determination to bring into public discourse the realities of colonisation and the ongoing contestation of land in this country was a point of inspiration throughout the making of this work.

Thank yous

We must acknowledge the invaluable support and assistance we received from everyone in Alice Springs: Kieren Sanderson of Shifting Ground, Art Land Culture and Watch This Space gallery for the opportunity to participate in such a unique event; Colleen O’Malley and Alex Nelson at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, without whom this work would have been impossible; all the participants who generously gave of their time and knowledge to talk with us about plants; Steve Anderson & Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Suzi Lyon, Mike Gillam and everyone else who lent us either technical advice or useful objects; all those who offered us a roof to sleep under; and everyone involved in Shifting Ground who made us feel so at home and among friends.