Purlieus

11 AUG. - 28 AUG. 2017

Skinroom Gallery, Hamilton, NZ 

REVIEW (EXCERPT) - CO-EXISTENCE

Published on Eyecontact, 25 Sept. 2017

By Ellie Lee-Duncan

The delicate watercolours of plants and flowers in Tyler-Dunshea’s Purlieus captured me instantly. They are devoid of backgrounds, which at once focuses one’s attention solely on the details of each plant, but displaces them from a spatial context. Rather than sharp definition of their linear elements, the softness of the works creates a hazy indistinctness, which seems to be partially from the wet-on-wet technique that she utilised.

This botanical arrangement of flowers has roots in scientific observation, categorised into meticulous arrangements. They are also segmented with slits of negative space, mimicking tape marks such as one may find within a book of pressed specimens. These conventions transform the plants into objects of scientific examination. However, the lack of linear detail resists this interrogative gaze, preserving something mysterious about them.

The first, largest work we encounter is Rhabdothamnus Solandri Cuttings collected in 1826. The plant was named after the naturalist Daniel Solander, who was a member of Cook’s voyages to Aotearoa. In her research on him Tyler-Dunshea read The Endeavour Journal of Sir Joseph Banks, who worked alongside Solander.

Banks and Solander were witnesses to a murder of a Tangata Whenua chief by their men, who died on the 8th October 1769. He was the first recorded death of a Maaori individual described in this journal. Banks and Solander, so careful in studying and naming plants, left this man unnamed. Instead, he was described only briefly, with more attention recorded to the weave of his korowai than his personhood.

The painting, therefore, layers the beauty of an appropriated and repainted image with the reality of the structural injustice of colonisation and the indifference of the recorders. Tyler-Dunshea discussed the overlaying tensions of the plants; “Plants harbour certain histories—they move throughout the world in the same way that people do… However, objectively they’re just plants, and it’s people who choose to project ideas onto them.” (1).

Florrilegia are books of pressed plants which catalogued all the noteworthy species on an estate, specifically ‘exotic’ or rare plants. Creating florilegia was a practice commissioned only by the wealthy and elite, as a form of sophisticated bragging of plant ownership. As such, even these ‘natural’ archives of individuals’ estates and gardens were complicit (if tacit) in histories of colonial violence and land confiscation throughout the British Empire. The plants would be removed from their site, from their original place in the biosphere and their larger native ecosystem to the unnatural, inhospitable estates of the British elite, pressed between the bleached, papyrus-like pages of the family Florilegium.

Tyler-Dunshea’s series of works Environ #1-5 are painted florilegium compositions, inspired by postcolonial methodology and work towards recontextualising plants within their uncultivated natural niche. She sources her subjects within her property at Titirangi, near an area of bush reserve. One work, Environ #2, featured nasturtium, drooping spleenwort, totara, and babies’ tears. As such, these plants have largely grown wildly, and are assembled in these compositions as evidence of the operation of natural systems, not despite it.

(1) Conversation with the artist. 

Installation images by Lucie Smeriglio.

 

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