Mythologies – Essay

Mythologies of the Discarded                          

The Auburn Botanic Gardens was originally a waste management facility transformed in 1977 into a beautiful space for native animals, birds, leisure and celebration. The history of the site served as a catalyst for the development of the curatorial theme Mythologies of the Discarded. The exhibition presents the work of international and local artists Maria Grazia Tata, Jody Graham, Sepideh Farzam, Jan Cleveringa and Bahman Kermany whose installations are deeply rooted in mythology, our relationship with nature, sustainability and transformation.

Each artist has re-defined their materials and created items of beauty, sacredness and power. The creative process of collecting discarded objects vividly highlights the journey through ancient, primal and visceral spaces, imploring the viewer into a deeper contemplation with nature and technological progress.

Maria Grazia Tata’s fabric installation Great Cronos 1 (earth) and Great Cronos 2 (sky), influenced by the Greek myth of Cronos, god of time and fecundity, specifically speaks about our connection to nature and restoration of balance. The reign of Cronos, last King of the Titans, was considered a golden age of peacefulness, however, the myth also warns of corruption and fear, expressing that the cycle of power must be followed; the son will inevitably replace the father and so on. The process of creating the work mirrors this myth. Tata placed discarded iron objects and tools found around her home in the outskirts of Rome on the fabric and left them exposed to the elements: wind, water, earth and fire for months. She surrenders to deep trust in these elements and holds no attachment to the outcome of the marks left by the rusting iron. Indeed iron in the ancient world was considered a gift from the gods, a sacred metal- therefore the resulting impressions on the fabric are sacrosanct. There is a ritualistic aspect in her intention to focus on the passage of time, decay and the spiritual space between earth and sky.

Jody Graham’s installation Drawn from the Discarded also echoes this element of ritual and decay. Her collection of totemic ‘tools’ created using found materials in natural and urban environments, varying in size and scale, are displayed as a floating cabinet of curiosity directly onto the gallery walls. There is something primal about her work that draws you into the universal truth of our connectedness to everything. Each item is ritualistically bound and re-purposed. Graham successfully transforms the mundane into powerful tools of creation, completing the cycle of birth, death and re-birth in the process.

The cycle of life-death-re-birth is also played out in Sepideh Farzam’s Cocoon and Unborn Babies installation. They are both emotive works, the former created from discarded packaging from the domestic sphere and the later created from clothing she has worn and shoes. These objects are encoded with the memories of specific moments in the artist’s life. Cocoon speaks about spiritual growth, shedding the layers and metaphysically discarding what is longer serving the individual, emerging as other. Unborn Babies touches at the core of the feminie potential to create life, but also the right of all women to choose whether they become mothers or not; and then the tragic reality for those who are unable to have children. Her work references the mythology of the Ancient Persian goddess Anahita- goddess of fertility, fecundity and patron of women. These installations offer glimpses into the archetype of the sacred feminie, her strength and her softness, the power of creation and the importance of choice.

Jan Cleveringa and Bahman Kermany’s work also carry a message about choice in connection to our relationship with nature. Their works have an explicitly political undertone, they speak about our impact on the earth through engaging with discourses on sustainability and the myth of progress.

Jan Cleveringa’s collection of sculptures, Doing the Math, Towers of Antiquity (91 bones) and Breathless made with discarded, and now defunct fluorescent light tubes, marble and wood raises questions about our consumerist behaviour and impact on the environment. His sculptures form an effigy to the nature / nurture debate and our relationship with technology. There is an element of hope in these works as the viewer observes the shifting attitude to a more ‘greener’ way of living through global and cultural awareness of sustainability. Each sculpture acts as a progressive chapter in the book of our technological age, questioning our willingness to change our lifestyle to be of service to the planet before it is too late.

Bahman Kermany infuses Persian myths and motifs in his two installations Kashan and Cylinders to tell the story of progress and sustainability. Kashan is a Persian carpet created with discarded paper train tickets. The symbolism of the carpet has many layers of meaning, as a cultural symbol it speaks about history, society, family and myth of the magical journey. Furthermore, stories around sustainability are highlighted quite explicitly in this work as these redundant items, destined for landfill, cannot be recycled due to the magnetic strip. In contrast, Cylinders is created with 100% recyclable materials. Here he creates a honeycomb structure that connects to the magnitude of our impact on the resources of the planet. The discarded materials are transformed into a beautiful expression of history and our collective responsibility to live in harmony with nature.

The works of these five artists highlight our human experience in these precarious times. We are witnessing an ecological crisis on earth, the balance has tipped and our post-industrial revolution thirst for progress and consumerist habits is depleting our resources rapidly. This exhibition aims to take the viewer on a transformative journey, a journey that mirrors the very site the exhibition is held within. From wasteland to immaculate gardens, from a place of decay to a re-birth, restoring the balance so that mother nature can once again thrive. This is the Mythologies of the Discarded.

October 2017.

Curatorial Essay, Nazanin Marashian