Gary Carsley’s recital Purple Reign is part of his ongoing series, ‘Selections from The Collection of The Museum of UnNatural History’. Through his enigmatic avatar, ‘Dorian Gary’, Carsley investigates the multiple readings and histories of R Godfrey Rivers’ Under the Jacaranda 1903 in the Gallery’s Collection.
Carsley also worked with QAGOMA to develop ‘Purple Reign’, a ‘secret garden’ bursting with the iconic purple blooms of the jacaranda tree inspired by Under the jacaranda 1903.
Watch the recital
Related: Jacarandas bloom in Purple Reign
Carsley is an artist, curator and educator whose hybrid approach combines the handmade and readymade by using drawing, painting and photography to create sites where different narratives collide. Since 2002, Carsley’s practice has diversified to include complex spatial environments depicting public gardens and buildings. These elaborately fabricated scenes are researched and selected on the basis that, historically, they were designed to reconstruct views from distant homelands.1 By combining vistas from different locations, his garden scenes symbolise the way European culture has propagated itself in new settings.
Mimicry is central to Carsley’s practice and to the subject matter in his signature ‘draguerreotypes’. The term is a convergence of daguerreotypes — the early photographic method — and drag — embodying or performing another identity — and reflects his process of remaking photographs of parks and gardens using a palette of wood and stone textures. Applied as a substrate to walls and furniture, these meticulously crafted images recall intarsia, an ancient technique that uses different shapes and species of wood to create mosaic-like pictures. These optically mesmerising environments are designed to both materialise and dematerialise objects, and to challenge our perception of what is real and what is fabricated. Carsley routinely transforms IKEA flat-pack furniture using landscape scenery to camouflage their ubiquitous forms against corresponding background images. These vignettes entice viewers to activate spatialised paintings by stepping inside a cupboard or taking a seat at a table. Like the landscape, the artist is also present, but in disguise, with his lip-synching mouth often overlaid onto statues and inanimate objects.
In ‘Purple Reign’ 2018, commissioned for APT9 Kids, Carsley employs his lip-synching technique to animate the jacaranda tree. This surreal secret garden immerses the viewer in a violet monochrome landscape overpopulated by jacarandas. At the heart of the garden is R Godfrey Rivers’s painting Under the jacaranda 1903 from the Queensland Art Gallery Collection. This iconic painting, set within the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, reputedly depicts the first jacaranda grown in Australia. As hinted by Carsley in his title, the jacaranda’s presence and influence has spread far since the first tree was planted in Australia in 1864.2 This once exotic species, originating from South America, has become naturalised, annually carpeting Australia’s eastern coastline in a lilac tide that starts in Queensland in late spring and spreads south into early summer.3 Often mistaken for an Australian native, the jacaranda has not only taken root in our soil, but in our hearts and minds, making its way into art and poetry and festival celebrations.
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The arboreal wonderland of ‘Purple Reign’ is composited from photographs of jacaranda trees from gardens throughout the colonised world. Projections are animated by interactive touchscreens that invite children to align the shapes of extinct animal species, so that the pattern covering the animals’ bodies disappears into the background foliage. These animals are among the many species that have vanished from their habitats, hinting not only at the shared colonial past of these nations, but also at the effects of imperial expansion symbolised by the now pervasive jacaranda. Viewers can re-enact and perform the scene from Under the jacaranda in a stage-like tableau or ‘photogenia’ positioned directly opposite the painting. By taking their picture and posting it online, visitors partake in a new kind of propagation, acknowledging and reshaping this conflicted history.
Related: Under the jacaranda
Gary Carsley’s work invites the viewer in and provides an opportunity to consider our common past — and, by making us active participants, it also encourages us to look to the future.
Laura Mudge is Senior Program Officer, Children’s Art Centre, QAGOMA
1 Zara Stanhope, Perfect for every occasion: photography today [exhibition catalogue], Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, Vic., 2007, p.142.
2 Jessica Hinchliffe, ‘Why Brisbane, not Grafton, is the original jacaranda capital of Australia’, ABC Radio Brisbane, 31 October 2017, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-31/why-brisbane-not-grafton-is-the-jacarandacapital/9103110>, viewed July 2018.
3 Helen Curran, ‘The dream tree: Jacaranda, Sydney icon’, Sydney Living Museums, <https://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/dream-treejacaranda-sydney-icon>, viewed July 2018.
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APT9 has been assisted by our Founding Supporter Queensland Government and Principal Partner the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments.
‘Purple Reign’ has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
Feature image: Gary Carsley’s recital Purple Reign
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