Review: Strange Garden

Ballarat Art Gallery is currently exhibiting the Vollard Suite by Picasso. It is immediately Picasso, same shapes, same women, same same, but as etchings.

Picasso Vollard Suite Art Gallery Ballarat

You say Picasso

Yes, I saw them, but I lingered over the cardboard wonders of artist Eliza-Jane Gilchrist. These organic shapes were part three-dimensional Doctor Zeuss decor, part summer-dried phantasms of this region’s flora.

They were plant-like, but also animal-like, simple but Triffids weird.

I was struck by how much I wanted to see through them, locate them in an environment. I was thinking about how alive they seemed. But cardboard was alive. Afterwards, on the train on my way home, I realised how wrong I was. Strange Garden was strange precisely because of how dead it was. Brown, elongated tubes, blackened spikes, florets extinguished mid-flowering, dessicated, still and seeming sharp.

If this was a garden, then it is an extinct one. A museum, or perhaps a drought garden. Perhaps this is life in stasis, and these dried up shapes are waiting for the break in the weather to cast their seed pods, like the yellow, sunbleached towering thistles along the rail line.

I was going to read and write on the train, but this exhibition had me watching out the train window for resemblances. Dead grey trees with jagged branching arms poking through new growth, prickly pear, weeds and dry grasslands.

Everything outside reminded my of this strange garden, dry or dead, spiky, vaguely threatening but also somehow just as it is meant to be.

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