Project dates: 05/05/2021 - 16/05/2021
Groundwork was a participatory creative project that used the gifting of native plants as an opportunity to share the personal and cultural stories that they evoke. Selected for the Botanica 2021 festival at the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, the project sought to build new relationships between participants and Australian native flora to alleviate “plant blindness” and encourage the renewal of cultural perspectives on how we relate to the plants that surround us. In this project, the participant took two plants: one for themselves and one to give to a friend or loved one. This exchange was accompanied by a brief verbal story that recipients were invited to add to as they took their plant gift into the world. The festival was attended by more than 60,000 people, and the group distributed more than 600 plants.
Originating from a native plant nursery in the Gold Coast hinterland, via the Groundwork festival marquee in the City Botanic Gardens, the distribution of 600 plants across the city created a virtual plant network, a massive invisible sculpture that will endure well beyond the lifespan of its participants. The project used the double-layered systems of the social and the botanical to reveal the limitations of neoliberal notions of exchange, in which labour and goods are exchanged according to the imperatives of mutual financial benefit. Instead, our project aimed to foster a different ethos of exchange, one in which plants served not as a trading resource, but a receptacle for stories –n place of a materialist model of exchange in which plants are distributed through a system of atomised transactions – from seed to plantation to retailer to consumer – a system in which each transaction occludes the previous one.
Groundwork explored an alternative genealogy as humans and distinctive local plants were connected through gift-giving and storytelling, eliciting a reflection on memory and understanding. In other words, the process of exchanging plants and stories became an opportunity to share the individual ‘pasts’ that constitute the social present.
The ethos of the project was reflected in the way that we treated the plant and social as a living system. By extension, we would say that social justice is impossible without a rich emotional understanding of the non-human contributions to culture. The opportunity to create a delight-filled relationship between people and plants works toward this engagement. And we found that people seemed to genuinely rejoice in the process of sharing their understandings and memories of plants – a delight that was infectious and uplifting to each of the artists.
A plant is not a passive gift object, but a living subject that requires care. The act of giving a plant is an act of inviting someone to care – there is an ethical contract in the act. Groundwork project highlighted the importance of engaging with others and all living matter through a framework of care, to maintain and repair our world, through acts of solidarity and caring for Country.
Our focus on Australian indigenous plants is a response to our typical disregard, and often lack of knowledge about our plant kin. The project required us to become familiar with native species that were, in many instances, unknown to us. Much ecological and cultural damage has been done since settlement through processes of botanical erasure; and so richly biodiverse communities have been quietly colonised out of existence across Australia.
Gentle, modest projects such as Groundwork seek to rebuild lost cultural understandings of the intricately braided connections we share with native flora. Through re-remembering their histories, cultural importance, aesthetic power and myriad personalities, our aim is to create a moment of shared connection in which plant and human become one.
15-16 May 2021 | About the event
Location | City Botanic Gardens, 147 Alice StreetBrisbane, QLD 4000
Funding / Grants
- MTHF Fund (2021 - 2021)
Brisbane City Council | Botanica 2021 festival
- Armstrong, Keith, Haynes, Rachael, King-Smith, Leah, Pedersen, Courtney, Robb, Charles, Franzmann, Caitlin (2021) Groundwork: Plant Story Exchange (1).
- Turner, Jane, Seevinck, Jen, Krauth, Alinta, Tweeddale, Anna, Sheikh, Hira, Gonsalves, Kavita, Armstrong, Keith, Pedersen, Courtney, Haynes, Rachael, King-Smith, Leah, et al. (2021) Transitioning towards Sustainable Futures: More than human futures: Data Wall Exhibition Transitioning towards Sustainable Futures: School of Design Inaugural Learning & Teaching Symposium in cooperation with QUT Design Lab & More-than-Human Futures Research Group.