May 15 – 31, 2008
Magnet House
Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Melbourne, VIC

n Plein Air
began its life as the Open Office project in early 2007 when it was awarded a Next Wave Kickstart grant. It was then developed into a residency and exhibition that took place as part of the 2008 Next Wave Festival.

The exhibition took the form of a living installation with elements of sculpture, drawing, printmaking and performance, located in and around the Old Observatory’s Magnet House - a tiny heritage building on the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

Originally used to store instruments for measuring changes in the earth’s magnetic field, Magnet House was temporarily transformed into a hybrid exhibition space and mobile artists’ studio, open to the interactions and contributions of the visiting public. From this base we made regular expeditions into the Gardens, taking components of our roaming studio with us to investigate its shifting landscape (from swampy marshland to carefully manicured pleasure ground) and the tangled colonial histories of its plants.

En Plein Air

Suitcases, golf buggy frame, parasol, rug, cushions, etching press, solar plates, racquet stretching frame, glass, ink, watercolours, paper, map, books, folding tables, desktop, trestle legs, train guard’s lamp, solar-powered radio, flight computers, ladies' portable compass, thermos, library filing cabinet and trays, glass bottles, telescope, projector tripod, lamps, plants, boxes, various found objects, dried plant specimens, Wardian case

Dimensions variable

e continued to work on-site throughout the exhibition, adding to a growing archive of works on paper that combined scientific illustration, watercolour, solar etching and fragments of transcribed historical research. These works were archived in a dismembered library filing cabinet that visitors could look through over a cup of tea.

Our research was particularly concerned with the movement of plants across the globe in the early 19th Century, and how these lines of movement intersected at the Gardens. Infiltrating the ‘working’ installation was a fugitive Wardian Case, the first portable greenhouse that enabled the successful transmission of living plants from one colony to another and to and from the seat of Empire. This and other hijacked archaic objects around the room performed genuine functional roles, as well as provoking conversations that leapt nimbly from botanical science, early colonial navigation and dispossession and discovery, to the place of contemporary art practice in this slippery space.

This project was supported by Next Wave, Arts Victoria, City of Melbourne, Arts NSW, the Sidney Myer Fund and Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

The studio staying close to home, on Observatory Lawn (just outside Magnet House)

The installation occupying Magnet House

Unidentified grass species planted in train guard's lamp, with Unexplored watercolour & solar etching on paper; on library filing cabinet

Wardian Case,
portable kitchen & portable studio

Filing trays on suitcase 'coffee-tables'

The great Screw Pine in the Palm Stove
Solar etching & watercolour on paper, in filing tray
13 x 15 cm

Portable studio (detail) on Hopetoun Lawn

Travelling botanical reference library,
making itself at home

Tessa's (indoor) botanical illustration desk

Makeshift portable office furniture

Keg, Texta and Mickie Quick perusing the archives

A Gardens visitor inspecting the works on paper