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Inside the creativity of Edna Walling

Published on 25 October 2017
  • Arts and culture
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The current exhibition on display in ArtSpace at RealmThe Creative Legacy of Edna Walling - presents the work of four artists whose work draws its inspiration from the life and design practice of Edna Walling, Australia’s most famous landscape gardener.

The Creative Legacy of Edna Walling is on at Realm until Sunday 12 November.

You can read more about the participating artists and their installations below:

Sam Cox – The Diggers


Sam Cox belongs to the next generation of landscape designers who has continued the philosophies and practices of noted landscape pioneers Edna Walling, Ellis Stones and Gordon Ford.

His installation – The Diggers – attempts to recreate Walling’s hands-on approach to landscape design by integrating both design and construction.

Cox has created a ‘shovel cemetery’ in the Realm foyer where several time-worn shovels, thre of which belonged to Gordon Ford, stand like memorials to the labour and love of landscape design amid native grasses and mulch.

For him, the collection of old, used shovels represents the “tools of the trade” and are a tribute to both Walling and Ford.

Having learned his craft under renowned landscape designer Gordon Ford, Cox says the idea for The Diggers came from a broken wheelbarrow cemetery Ford constructed as the final resting place for his old garden tools.

The Diggers, much like the decaying state of the wheelbarrows, references the connection between us and the tools of our trade, and where time is represented as well,” he says.

The Diggers references the hands-on approach Walling had and visually demonstrates how outdoor labour has influenced my own practice. The legacy of Edna Walling, for me, is hands-on construction and development. I’m hands-on every day.”


Heather Hesterman – BUILT: for Rosa and Twid with love


Inspired by Edna Walling’s ability to foster a sense of community in the landscapes she created, Hesterman enlisted the help of schools, friends and the ceramic community associated with Wyreena Community Arts Centre in a series of pottery workshops for her installation ‘BUILT: for Rosa and Twid with love’ as part of this exhibition.

The end result – 300-plus tiny ceramic pinch pots assembled en masse referencing, in part, the largest of Walling’s vision – the substantial planning and collaborative labour involved in constructing her gardens.

“My installation was created especially for the Creative Legacy of Edna Walling exhibition embodying processes of making and generating an artwork through community participation,” Hesterman says.

“I had people aged from three years to 84 years contributing to BUILT. The title of the project references Walling’s dedication in her autobiography (The Happiest Days of My Life) to Rosamond Dowling and Joan Niewand (Twid) who helped her in building ‘The Chalet’ (Walling’s beachside property) and I felt it was appropriate to acknowledge those two women again and all those who participated,” she says.

“I chose to focus on The Chalet as both Walling and myself have connections to that area along the Great Ocean Road and coastal bushland. I got an opportunity to visit The Chalet to see Walling’s hand-built stonewalls. Unfortunately, they are now crumbling ruins.”

The project is also a memorial to Walling’s legacy, referencing the twin roles of destruction and regeneration that fire has played in this country and in Walling’s own life.

During Hesterman’s research for the project she discovered an anecdote in Walling’s writings, indicating Walling’s joy of witnessing a friend hand build a small pot from clay, firing it and then filling it with a local native plant species, Thomasia petalocalyx (Paper Flower).

Part of that methodology involved Hesterman pit firing the clay pots, a process that burns the clay unpredictably, echoing the effects that fire had on Walling’s life, the bush and many others living along the Great Ocean Road. The Chalet was subsequently burnt in the fires of the 1960s, as were two other residences during Walling’s lifetime.

“Walling’s legacy is characterised by two things that proved remarkably adaptive; her talent for ongoing friendship, working with others to create the whole, and her energy and advocacy for planting indigenous species. In the latter she was an environmental visionary ahead of her time, introducing natives to the built environment as early as the 1950s, and bringing a uniquely Australian aesthetic into being.”

Christopher Köller – Winter Walling


Christopher Köller uses photography and film to capture and document the changes winter brought to the gardens in Winter Walling

Focusing on Mawarra in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges during the winter of 2006, Köller reinterprets the gardens in light of their change, decay and restoration over the years.

Originally known as ‘The Grove’, Mawarra is recognised as perhaps the most famous surviving example of Edna Walling’s design, described by Walling as “a symphony in steps and beautiful trees”, and to which she referred to in many publications as one of her “greatest achievements”.

Unable to capture the beauty of Mawarra in its entirety using a still photograph, Köller instead chose to shoot a video from Walling’s reflective ‘Octagonal pond’, the garden’s centrepiece, giving the viewer a unique 360-degree perspective of the garden’s woodland character dominated by maples, oaks beeches and magnolias that are interconnected by cascading steps and paths.

Striving for neither the ideal nor the tourist view, Köller’s vantage point from Walling’s ‘Octagonal pond’ is one that is unexpectedly beautiful and unusual – a place of light and shadow, distorted colours and shifting perspectives.

Winter Walling forms part of Köller’s Gardens series, produced over a 10-year period, during which he travelled to famous gardens around the world to photograph them in different seasons.

Since 1996, Köller has been using a plastic toy camera – a Diana – and large format colour film to produce strange and unpredictable images in locations, including Mawarra. The technique, he says, distorts the image just enough to carry the viewer into an imaginary world. 

Rebecca Mayo – Potato Throw, 2017

Rebecca Mayo’s installation Potato Throw, 2017 references the regular journeys Walling made between Melbourne and Adelaide, where she often pitched a swag overnight in nearby bushland and bore witness to the repeated destruction of nature strips and roadside vegetation.

“The road trips taken later in her life pre-empted her last book, Country Roads: The Australian Roadside (1952). In it she celebrates the quiet ecologies growing between paddock and road. An intrepid automobile traveller, she worried the new highways criss-crossing the country were too straight and wide. She argued they failed to accommodate and conserve the trees and understory already growing there,” explains Mayo.

Retracing Walling’s route from Melbourne to Adelaide and back, Mayo would stop along the way to throw potatoes onto cloth.

“I drive this road at least once a year, and since the late 1990s I have observed the highway being further widened and redirected. Pauses on my last trip in December 2016 (Melbourne to Adelaide) and back again in January 2017, were punctuated by roadside potato throws.

“Edna used to throw a bucket of potatoes to determine where to plant trees, etc. She thought this random methodology would help create a naturalistic style garden,” Mayo says.

“I took her method and used it in my art practice. Throwing the potatoes established where I would print my image, and therefore where the plant dye would mark the cloth. Further, I used potatoes to make the prints, drawing on her tradition of keeping things simple and using what was to hand,” she says.

Using natural dye methods, the potato printed cloth was dyed with leaves or bark of the species identified by Walling in her photographs of the Western Highway.

The almost playful tent-like structures of the cloth in Mayo’s installation are representative of the natural form Walling worked with and undulation of the landscape in her gardens.

“I tried to install the fabric in the gallery to create different little views and sitelines through the fabric. Walling did this from the windows of the houses she built or designed gardens for. She tried to create views, ‘garden rooms’ I think she called them. She brought the outside in and vice-versa,” she said.

“By reinterpreting Walling’s practices through my own, I hope to celebrate the ways in which her legacy continues to inspire generations of gardeners. And to acknowledge how the slow burn of appreciation for indigenous flora was not unique to Walling. It is something many migrants to Australia experience. She fell in love with Australian flora slowly, through working with and amongst it, until she understood this country as home.

“When we work in a place and with stuff, we begin – through our labour – to care for it. This learnt connection to place is, for me, Edna Walling’s most enduring legacy.”

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