Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Point Walter Walk

Route taken 2014, in green - Map available at Fremantle Arts Centre until 29th Jan, 2015 

Saturday 15th October, 2014
Hügel visited Fremantle in 1833, only four years after it was founded. His first impressions of Australia, viewed from the deck of HMS Aligator were less than complimentary. My own descent from the sky a different entry point to Hügel’s sea level arrival. Perhaps they searched the horizon for landmarks, while for me the suburbs and landmarks of the West Coast gradually revealed themselves. Time spent trawling through satellite maps online helping me to navigate and understand this bird’s eye view.

Wednesday 27th November, 1833 p.21
Naturally we were all on deck to greet New Holland. Not one of the officers had been at Swan River before… Cheated of their expectations, they all gazed in silence at the land towards which the frigate was speeding so majestically over the foaming billows. I myself was especially disappointed. Coming from the steamy skies of India, I expected to find here, at Lat. 32°, Syria’s cloudless skies, or at least the clear skies of Greece. I had confidently looked forward to meadows of unmatched green, to trees and shrubs covered in flowers and fruit in the early southern summer, the entire country a picture of Nature untouched by Man.

East Freo - backyard bore

Saturday 15th October, 2014
The loop to Point Walter took me along the Canning Highway. Perhaps because it was the start of the day, and the sun was not absolutely overhead, and it was Saturday, the traffic and bitumen was not as hot and bothersome as I had anticipated.
At a certain point along the highway the lanes of traffic are separated by a long thin stand of Casuarinas. I love Casuarinas—they remind me of the garden I grew up in, the round seedpods with their textured surface a foot massage on my young feet. One of my children calls them ‘Lego’ trees, referring to the way in which the scale-leaves slot inside each other.

Casuarinas dividing the Canning Highway

Bird Sanctuary with Perth in the background

Later, when walking along the foreshore where a glorious marine park provides refuge for local and migratory birds, I read a didactic panel explaining how the Casuarinas are slowly being cleared to make way for the indigenous habitat. Native, but not to this place, the casuarina’s suckering growth holds back the understory, so important to nesting birds. Nevertheless I understand the urge to plant these stately windbreaks. And I recall the Casuarina cunninghamiana growing beside the Macquarie River in NSW—less plentiful today than when Hügel walked their in 1834.
More signage along the way explains how various community and council groups are actively restoring this section of the Swan River making it a pleasant amble full of hope.

Footpath leading to Point Walter - shoe cleaning equipment at each end, to combat Die back.

Melaleuca hugelii

Return loop with water tower

I paused at the Point, walking round the head for a little way before returning to eat a very early lunch and charge my GPS/phone in the café. The west side of the Point was a steeper and rockier incline down to the Swan. Walking back to Fremantle the view of the great red lifting equipment on the docks provided a landmark as I walked on—for Hügel the ocean, river mouth and sandbanks and dunes would have stood in their place. 

Fremantle Harbour

Retaining wall beneath the Round House - M. hugelii hanging on

Thursday 28th November, 1833 p.29
I roamed the countryside till nine o’clock, finding ever more new plant species. The sun was scorching and the wind extremely unpleasant, blowing the sand into my face with such force that my mouth and eyes hurt. Capt. Lambert had announced that he would come for breakfast, so I returned to the inn at 9 o’clock. I spent just enough time there to savour the pleasure, long missed, of coffee with cream, fresh bread and butter. Then I made my way once more into the scrub, fully equipped with all the apparatus of a botanist and naturalist. So as to take everything I needed, I had engaged a man who was also able to serve me as a guide, so that I could find my back as soon as I wanted. I now set off in the direction of the hills and by evening I had covered a considerable distance in the direction of Canning River without actually reaching it. I found many a beautiful spot and as great a diversity of plants as I could have wished. Under a clump of Banksia grandis I partook of a piece of very ordinary cheese I had brought with me and a glass of brandy and then continued on my way till evening, and finally arrived back at the Swan River from another direction, very wearing from wading through deep sand and clambering over sharp limestone rocks.

Point Walter Sand Bar - photo credit: Tim Pearn

Thursday, 30 October 2014

From the Herbarium to the Bundesgarten - 1790 to 2014

Bundesgarten Greenhouse - Belvedere

Today I was up and out the door early on the 7:20 train to Vienna in order to visit the Australian Plant Collection at the Bundesgarten in Vienna. Before arriving in Vienna I had wondered if such a collection might exist. This was in light of von Huegel’s famous garden in Hietzing where he grew many plants both before and after his travels to Australia and Cashmere.

The cold weather has arrived, while the temperature is still mild compared to what is in store later in the winter, it is still a chilling constrast to the sunshine at the start of last week. I met Herr. Michael Knaack at the Garden, and one of the first things he told me was how the cloud lying over Vienna can last for upwards of a month, without a shard of sunshine peeking through. Certainly that could get you down, but I was hoping it would be good lighting for the photos I was about to snap.

Little written records exist regarding the history of the plants growing in this collection. The various gardeners have passed skills and stories down through the generations. Hr. Knaack recounted the interesting story of South African Africa Ericas and how, after locating the plants in Vienna, the horticulturists from South Africa requested to visit the Belvedere Gardens to learn how to successfully propagate these extinct plants. Michael Knaack clearly enjoyed telling the story of the visiting scientists gathered around the terracotta pots with panes of glass as lids.

Propagating Ericas

This collection of plants—originally belonging to the Hapsburgs—has been kept alive through the Napoleonic wars, the Hapsburg fall and WWI and II. Perhaps within another culture the collection would have been more carefully documented and consequently culled and modified over time, but this collection of potted Southern Hemisphere plants are kept alive and new generations of plants propagated, simply, it seems because the collection exists. The pots move in and out of the green houses each year, from summer to winter. Different plants have taken to this transition from southern to northern seasons better than others. Hr. Knaack suggests that some plants have adjusted to the new climate and flower and grow in the warmer months, while many of the banksias insist upon flowering when they are returned to the green houses for the winter, after lying dormant for the duration of the European summer. I imagine there must be numerous plants who never took to the new climate.

Michael Knaack kindly allowed me to visit the collection a second time. After ten weeks in Austria it seems that Huegel has bookended the trip… at the beginning with the visit to the Herbarium, and now this visit to the Bundesgarten.

It is only in the last week—perhaps as my time here draws to a close or perhaps because the weather has finally turned—that I have felt homesick. I am dying to be back with my family, A prickly substitute, the plants with their spiky leaves and woody flowers and foliage, provided an interim sense of home-ness that makes my homecoming feel nearer to hand.

Huegel’s Journal dwells on his homesickness relatively frequently, and I have mentioned some of these entries before. His descriptions of the Fremantle hills taking him back to his garden in Hietzing, the green hills of Tasmania and so on. My experience of Austria has not been a re-enactment like my walks in Australia perhaps are, but more of a reversal — a bending of time and space, a folding back to Huegel in Austria and Huegel in Australia.

But I am also reminded of  a passage from his journal, written shortly after he arrived in Western Australia­—was it on this walk that he came across Melaleuca Huegelii, and could this Type specimen be the great-great grandmother of the plant in the black pot at the Belvedere?

Sunday 8th December
This morning I only went for a short walk round Fremantle. I had been particularly attracted to the great diversity of the plant family (Labiatae) which covered the whole of the plain with  its variegated flowers. So far I had not been able to find any seeds but which to identify them. This was the purpose of today’s walk and I found what I was looking for and discovered that my unknown flowers belonged to the genus Prostanthera[1]. I found enough seeds of every species to encourage me to hope that they will germinate in Hietzing­–a splendid acquisition for our gardeners.

[1] Not Prostanthera. Possibly Westringia, Hemiandra or Hemigenia.

Melaleuca huegelii Type Specimen, photo credit NHM, Wien

Melaleuca huegelii - noticed on my second visit to the Bundesgarten

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Schloss Buchberg - A magical visit to a castle full of site specific art

Captions will follow, once I have my catalogue back and I can refer to all the (mainly Austrian) artists by name.

On Friday Stephanie organised a special visit to a private collection not far from Krems. Her interest in the collection was piqued by a scale model of a Dan Graham site-specific work exhibited recently at MUMOK in Vienna. A newspaper article about the collection steeled her resolve, and Alice and I were lucky enough to join the adventure.

We disembarked from the one-carriage train at a tiny platform. Stephanie said, ‘We are in the middle of nowhere’.  Of course, everything is relative; there were houses and stone walls, and then a welcoming figure, standing at the gates of a long tree lined driveway.

The Bogner Collection (Kunstraum Buchberg) came about when, in 1965, Mrs Gertraud Bogner’s father-in-law bought the adjoining woods, and in doing so, was forced to purchase the castle as well. The aristocratic family, forced to sell for financial reasons, auctioned the contents of the castle separately. The remaining shell eventually became a blank canvas (or in fact, a richly inscribed and complex space, both historically and architecturally) in which the Bogner’s facilitated numerous site-specific works. Rather than renovating the whole building (which is enormous) the Bogner’s were able to address rooms and spaces one at a time, depending on the ideas and intentions of each artist. This project was begun in the 1980’s and continues today.

The spaces defy classification, the wooden floors reminiscent of the 8th Biennale of Sydney’s [1]location on the docks on one hand, and then on the other, the remnants of ornate plasterwork and Austrian kitsch returning me quickly to the present location, its history palpable. As we know, Australia’s history is tens of thousands of years old, but our daily experience of concrete, architectural permanent structures spans less the 300 years. Inevitably, the architecture in Europe, pushes and pulls me between my experience now, and the wonder of what went before. This happens in Australia too, but in a different way.

This castle, part Renaissance, part Baroque, built on a curve of a river, emerging (not quite seamlessly) from a rocky outcrop, attends to history and place; the contemporary art within, on and spilling from its walls are the fruits of over 30 years of collaboration and conversation between the Bogner’s and their artist friends.

Cracks in walls, the artists’ practice, the dreamy location in Lower Austria, and of course the people involved, all influence each other. The experience of walking through this building is dreamy and magical. An idea turned into form, surprisingly free of ego or front, considering the labour and time involved in such a long term venture.

The collection is not open to the public, but anyone can contact the Bogner’s to arrange a visit. Mrs Bogner first showed us around the space, particularly discussing several of the outdoor works. Then she left us to explore the castle alone. There were some works, including a room with documentation and maquettes that were not strictly ‘site-specific’. However, most works were created for a particular room, stairwell or closet. Some works took over 5 years to be realised (if at all).
Dan Graham’s outdoor ‘glass house’ continues to fascinate and preoccupy me. Mrs Bogner described the walled garden where the work now sits, as being filled with trees and overgrown when Graham visited the castle. However, he was sure this was the location for the work.
It is made of 25% reflective glass. The wet morning filled the outdoor room with condensation, the reflections and views through the glass merged softly, dreamily confusing perception and reality. The glass structure is an equilateral triangle; it sits atop another identically shaped pond, its points crossing the sides of the triangle. A perfect Star of David. I wondered to myself—this could not be a coincidence—and sure enough Mrs Bogner explained that when Dan Graham visited Austria he was struck by the absence of Jewish symbolism on a continent still so recently coming to terms with the Holocaust. Yet at every turn he saw Catholic buildings and imagery.

I didn’t research the Bogner Collection prior to visiting Schloss Buchberg. Often this can be a bad idea, a little research can enrich and inform an experience. On this occasion I am glad I went without preconception. It is rare to find a place where one is filled with such wonder and joy. I kept thinking that my daughter Romy would love this place so much—nooks and crannies, old structures, art interventions, colour, playfulness—truly a place where the imagination can soar.

[1] The Readymade Boomerang, 1990

Dan Graham, Star of David, 1996

Dan Graham, Star of David, 1996

Dan Graham, Star of David, 1996

Dan Graham, Star of David, 1996

Laubengang fuer Gertraud und Dieter Bogner 2001 durch Heimo Zobernig wiederhergestellt

Laubengang fuer Gertraud und Dieter Bogner 2001 durch Heimo Zobernig wiederhergestellt

A shed snake skin on the wall above the pergola.

Entering the Schloss courtyard

Views along the River Kamp

A merry go round, one of the few pieces left in the Schloss by the previous owners. 
Atelier for artist friends to use

Correspondence, plans, maquettes

Often maquettes are made of each room prior to creating the work.


actual room

tiny window looking out to sound work in the courtyard

The private chapel

Dora Maurer, Quasi Bild, 1983

Dora Maurer, Quasi Bild, 1983 and Stephanie

Dora Maurer, Quasi Bild, 1983

Robert Schad, 1986

Francois Marillet

Francois Marillet

Dan Graham, Star of David, 1996

Dan Graham, Star of David, 1996

Dan Graham, Star of David, 1996

Dan Graham, Star of David, 1996

Dan Graham, Star of David, 1996

Stephanie, Dan Graham and archway
Auf wiedersehen!