Lemonade: Letters to Art


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Furari Flores (Stealing Flowers)

UniSQ Art Gallery, Toowoomba
18 January-16 February 2024
— Leonie Hart
Digital yellow blooms of wattle and green wattle leaves appear collaged, geometric and symmetrical against a black background.
Cara-Ann Simpson, regeneratio spei sub floribus aureis (a rebirth of hope under golden flowers), 2022, pigment print on Canson baryta photographique rag, 120 x 120 cm, Plant: Acacia macradenia (zigzag wattle). Courtesy of the artist.

Furari Flores (Stealing Flowers) is a multisensory arts project celebrating the wonder of plants. The series explores the themes of environmental art, data visualisation, technology, geometry and meditation. Enter a world of multisensory botanical magic and join me on a journey of deep listening, Earth admiration and plant love.”—Cara-Ann Simpson.

Entering Furari Flores (Stealing Flowers) is like walking into the belly of the bush, our senses activated by a diverse body of work. Photographic images layered with spectrographs lead us through the gallery while 3D-printed vessels and customised scents invite us to hover and pause. Simpson’s textile work induces a womb-like experience and soft sounds of the bush respond to her video installations. Through this multisensory and multidisciplinary approach, Simpson brings the land to us.

The cycle of life and death creates our natural environment’s haunting beauty. Recognising this, Simpson describes Furari Flores as a “vanitas series of one-on-one plant interviews.” Spending time with Simpson, learning about her journey with chronic illness, it is clear that she is well acquainted with the fragility of life. Her extreme loss of physical and mental faculties, as well as her sense of self, meant enduring a long, arduous and ongoing recovery process. During physiotherapy walks in a hospital garden and while finding solace on her family farm, nature’s outstretched hand offered her a path to regeneration. Moreover, given the artist’s deep reverence for the land, it is not surprising that it became the catalyst for this project. 

Native Australian leaves are digitally arranged into a wreath, pink flowers sit at the middle and light radiates from the collage. The wreath sits against a black background.
Cara-Ann Simpson, scuto protectoris nostri coronati (nam Eddie) (crowned with the shield of our protector (for Eddie)), 2022, pigment print on Canson baryta photographique rag, 120 x 120 cm, Plant: Eucalyptus sideroxylon Rosea (pink-flowering iron bark). Courtesy of the artist.

Simpson has brought a variety of media together to realise her project. Pigment prints comprised of photographic stacks of native flora encircle the gallery. Each photographed plant is layered in dialogue with its own unique spectrograph, the latter taken from recordings of Simpson pronouncing their Latin species name. As you move closer to the images, you see how Simpson’s digital manipulation of the photographs appears to make the plants quiver; ghost-like, they are suspended in time. Some of the smaller works are composed in such a way that their accompanying spectrograph stands in as a portal, the sound waves recede into the background almost as if they are illuminating a path for the viewer to follow. Alternatively, the larger works in the series remind me of ancient figures, Simpson’s unique compositions evokes tribal headdresses and protective cloaks. When I look at regeneratio spei sub floribus aureis and scuto protectoris nostri coronati (nam Eddie) I imagine a Samurai putting on his kabuto (helmet) as it drips with wattle blossoms and an Amazonian queen preparing for battle with her mantle of flowering ironbark. 

The sensory experience of the exhibition continues with scent installations. Simpson has reconstructed the scents of acacia pollen, lantana camara, hovea lorata, and the phenomenal scent known as petrichor (the smell of rain hitting the earth). Each are contextualised with a corresponding 3D-printed geometric structure. Petrichor, for example, is hidden within a geological, extraterrestrial landscape. Interestingly, the chemical reaction that produces this smell is site-specific. The variation that Simpson recreates was influenced by the existence of red soil on her family farm. A microscopic view of acacia pollen, which closely resembles honeycomb, has been 3D-printed and holds the heady smell of wattle. Evicatively, Simpson says that the scent of wattle “changes the atmosphere of the bush; [she follows her] nose until she finds the blossoms.”

Accommodating those more tactile-minded viewers, Simpson has embraced textile art, applying her unique imagery to a range of products. Curtain drops of recycled microfibres hang in each window and have been employed to create a private area in a side gallery. This space provides a lounging area with a lush New Zealand wool rug and cushion pile, making the artist’s desire for sensory engagement clear. Simpson’s invitation to get low in the gallery space, to lean back on the ‘floor’ of the bush, allows for a moment of respite from everyday movement; asking us to stop, listen, observe.

The transitioning of photospectrography into a video series extends Simpson’s practice. These works are hypnotic and poignant, and their making was a natural progression for the artist, who acknowledges that the movement into this new medium transformed where the project was heading. “Plants are not static,” she says, “the videos acknowledge [their] life and power.” As you find your way to the end of the exhibition, Simpson’s dancing spectrographs respond to the unique sounds of the Australian bush; the crunching of the forest floor and bird calls can be heard throughout the gallery. For Simpson, playing with the senses, exploring how sensory engagement occurs, and “how [the senses can] mix and interchange” underpins the project. This is especially clear in Simpson’s synaesthetic spectrographs: visual representations of what is uniquely aural. 

Listening to Simpson speak, you realise that her love for the land extends to a gratitude for the privilege of access. From the artist’s observation of, and interaction with, the land, Furari Flores draws further connections between the viewer and its subject matter, priorisiting accessibility in an exciting way. Living with a disability and moving through an experience of chronic illness has expanded Simpson’s artistic thinking, prompting her to consider how her work affects others. “Art is not a neat and tidy package” says Simpson, in turn her multidisciplinary approach provides multiple threads for the audience to pull on. 

Embracing a changed future and harnessing her artistic practice, Simpson has found a path to recovery and healing whilst clearing a trail for others to do the same. To that end, Furari Flores pulses with vitality, and as audiences we witness the ‘spiritus’ of the project. The term, so favoured by the artist, has the dual meaning of spirit and breath, and as we move through the gallery we see that the spiritus of her subject matter and the artist has been found.

Furari Flores (Stealing Flowers) is assisted by the Australian Government through Creative Australia, its arts funding and advisory body, and the Regional Arts Fund, provided through Regional Art Australia, administered in Queensland by Flying Arts Alliance. Furari Flores is supported by Creative Partnerships Australia through the Australian Cultural Fund and is supported by the University of Southern Queensland. 

Convinced that Art and Visual Culture have a critical involvement in reflecting and driving society, art historian Leonie Hart is passionate about starting conversations about art that are more accessible to the broader public. Just don’t ask her to name her favourite period, artwork or artist . . . it’s too hard!