It is time for another fantastic guest post! As always, happy reading.
Hello! I’m Rachelle, a Museum & Heritage Studies student and long-time floral enthusiast. When I learned that the State Library of New South Wales was combining two of my favourite things and mounting the exhibition ‘Planting Dreams’, I was immediately enthused. I came to the exhibition expecting to indulge both my love of history and all things botanic, but what I found was a thoughtful, inclusive and comprehensive mapping of the natural world in relation to Australia’s social history.
As I said, the exhibition was highly comprehensive and covered a broad range of topics, so I’ll keep my synopsis brief and give the highlights. The most significant aspect of Planting Dreams, for me, was the interweaving of Indigenous viewpoints and stories of colonial tension. At no point did this feel ‘tacked on’, but rather thoughtfully integrated into the exhibition despite the focus on colonial Australian history. Additionally, the scope of the exhibition was impressive, managing to integrate personal relationships with nature, the role of plants during wartime, the impact of digital technologies on our interaction with the natural world, poetry and art, and colonialism. One aspect that was completely absent from the exhibition, which I felt should have been included, was sustainability and conservation.
In relation to digital technology, Planting Dreams integrated a number of multi-media aspects, perhaps as a way to reference the influence of new media on gardening today. Beautiful scenes from spectacular gardens across Australia were shown in large scale on flat screens, and audio devices were located throughout the gallery that, when pulled from the wall and placed against the ear, played sound grabs from interviews with curators, historians, and Indigenous people.
Although these technologies were integrated well into the exhibition, they could have been used more effectively and creatively. While the digital screens added depth to the photographs it would have been nice to see movement on the screens, such as rustling leaves or a running stream, and hear nature sounds, like birds calling or water trickling. I think it was a missed opportunity that could have added a whole new immersive dimension to the exhibition.
In contrast, an aspect of the exhibition that was executed wonderfully was the opportunity it provided for visitors to engage on different levels depending on their level of interest and the time available to them, while still covering the main themes. The text throughout ranged from short quotes in very large front to text which became incrementally longer, with greater detail, so that visitors could choose how much information they wanted to consume. There was also thinking activities for children peppered throughout the displays. Different learning styles and preferences were accommodated, including tactile learners.
The main activity in the exhibition was a ‘garden’ collectively created by visitors. Individuals were invited to sit at a table with craft supplies and follow the instructions to make a paper flower and help the garden grow. This space is time-lapse photographed to document the flowering of the garden over time, so when this is released see if you can spot me sit down, attempt to follow the instructions and make a flower, then give up half way through and move on.
Overall, Planting Dreams was a beautiful exploration of how humans interact in different ways to the natural world around us and how botanic history can in many ways be synonymous with our social history.
This post was written by Rachelle Ayoub. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to Rachelle for a wonderful and engaging post! It sounds like a fascinating exhibition that covers so many interesting themes. After reading your review, I am excited to see how these themes interact and intertwine with each other in the exhibition space. Planting Dreams closes 15 January 2017.
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