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Susan Purdy

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DIGGING TO CHINA - A year in the making, New Branches on an Old Tree is the result of a unique collaboration between artist Susan Purdy and Terry Smyth, the curator of plants in the Southern Chinese Collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Purdy and Smyth worked together to create this archive of Asian botany. - Their interests in the representation and seasonal classification of the Collection encompasses a keen aesthetic awareness of the ways the various stems, leaves and blooms suggest and echo calligraphic brush marks, as well as an investigation of the rich symbolic meanings and attributions these plants have acquired over many centuries of Oriental appreciation.
As reflected in the title, New Branches on an Old Tree, was an opportunity to extend upon both the Chinese model of engagement with the garden and the Chinese artistic tradition of flower and bird painting. These new artworks also seek to emphasize and heighten sensory experience and simple pleasure while growing new understanding of the importance of plants to humans.
Through the early European technique of the photogram, where plant pieces are laid directly onto photographic paper, Purdy proposes a dialogue with traditional Chinese painting and has created a resonant inversion of the ‘black mark on white silk’ that characterizes Chinese calligraphic scrolls. This reversal of tones both acknowledges the polarization of East and West and constructs a new place for them to meet.Moreover, Purdy’s utilization of the dark inky tones available with this process parallels Chinese classification of the ‘colours of the ink’, called Mo Se, which defines these tones as: dark black, light black, black, dry black and wet black. - For Purdy, making and exhibiting this work has established a means of active and creative bridging of her mixed Asian and Western ancestry. It extends her artistic vocabulary with botanical knowledge and provides an expansion of the cultural and historical references within which her work is set. The fresh combination of these elements develops a new context for the Southern Chinese Collection.
For Smyth, a talented horticulturalist making a significant contribution to community understanding of Chinese plant bio-diversity, one of the desired results of the exhibition is that the Southern Chinese Collection in Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is more widely understood and valued as a unique and useful asset to the community.
Through our direct experience of nature, this project makes connections between Chinese and Australian cultures in a place where art and horticulture meet. In directing our attention to the values and ideals Chinese culture attaches to plants – including health, wealth, longevity and happiness – New Branches on an Old Tree identifies the hopes of humanity and offers an expansion of our collective knowledge.
Susan Purdy


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