Welcome to the jungle

Sound artist Dave Thomson submerged himself in the sounds of Alex Wilkie Reserve. 231383_01 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

As you enter the scented eucalyptus archway, you could be forgiven that Walker Street Gallery has turned jungle.

City of Greater Dandenong’s multi-sensory exhibition Flora takes you into the world of plants – but not in the usual way.

On the floor is Katie West’s ‘One Square Metre’ installation of Greater Dandenong’s indigenous grasses and plants. A reminder of what grows around us.

Out the back is a dark room wafting in lemon-scented gum and a moody soundscape.

A place to slow down. A synthesis of birdsong and surreal sound that are another world from the buses bustling outside the gallery.

Sound artist Dave Thomson submerged in Alex Wilkie Reserve in Springvale South over days, dawns and nights to record his four-channel “nest of sound” Lost Few.

Each time of day had a different sound. The frogs and insects take over at night, while birds rule the day.

“There on my own, it was quite a beautiful experience.

“I wanted to highlight what happens when you stop and you’re still, and you listen. We miss so much of that.”

It was a challenge to filter out the thunderous highway traffic near the reserve, he said.

“It used to be part of a massive bushland, now it’s a 1.8 hectare reserve. It forced me to take my time in there.”

Thomson is hosting a dawn walk to talk through the sound-recording process at Alex Wilkie Reserve on 11 April.

During Covid lockdown, photographer Ali Choudry started collecting grasses, leaves and wildflowers on his daily walks with his partner through a Hawthorn park.

An award-winning portraiture artist, Choudry started noticing the finer details and strands of plants.

He captured their forms, colours and varieties using a scanner – a kind of 3-D digital flower press or stenography.

The 60 images are merged with Choudry’s written musings in a display book. Each of them were like “emblems”, each with their own story.

“Even after I stopped working on the project I was still very aware and looking at the flowers while out and about.”

In startling contrast are the robust treescapes by oil painter Baden Croft.

“My interest in the natural environment and its unpredictability translates directly into the

somewhat chaotic way in which I paint,” Croft said.

Other artists include Artists of Ampilatwatja, Merran Esson, Tashara Roberts and Georgia Szmerling.

Flora curator Esther Gyorki said the exhibition had been timed to coincide with 2020’s International Year of Plant Health. But like many things, it was delayed due to Covid lockdowns.

“I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to come back and reopen the gallery in December.”

At the same time, artist Natalie Artis exhibits Community Bouquet – described as a “breathing portrait of local suburbs” – at the adjoining Connection Arts Space.

Flora also branches out to Heritage Hill Museum for a massive open-entry exhibition of more than 150 installations, paintings, photographs and sculptures.

Set in beauteous historic gardens, Benga House also hosts a selection of artwork from the ‘Painting on the Hill’ art competition held in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Four students from Holmesglen College floristry have filled the Garnar Lane display boxes with contemporary floral displays.

The effect becomes an optical illusion for passers-by behind Dandenong Library.

Flora runs until May 1, 2021. Details: www.greaterdandenong.vic.gov.au/flora