Laura Wills and Louise Flaherty: Plant Notes
Santos Museum of Economic Botany

Plant Notes, the result of the 2020 Guildhouse Collections Project with the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium of South Australia, is a celebration of native flora and highlights our relationship to plants. Artists Laura Wills and Louise Flaherty have created a body of work which focusses on precarious and threatened species, bringing them to our attention in order to create a deeper connection to nature.

The project allowed Wills and Flaherty the opportunity to explore the Botanic Garden’s extensive historical, scientific and living collections, as well as carry out research within the SA Seed Conservation Centre. On display at the beautiful Santos Museum of Economic Botany, their works are presented on the external panels of the display cabinets among the permanent collection. Each panel consists of three works relating to a particular plant.

Awarded Vulnerable Cress, Laura Wills. Photo: Grant Hancock

“It was really hard to select the plants to include in the exhibition because there are 4000 native plant species in South Australia and 1000 are deemed threatened or vulnerable,” says Flaherty.

“I felt overwhelmed at the enormity of it and how we could possibly highlight or give justice to all of them.”

Wills and Flaherty eventually selected eight plants which they felt had interesting stories behind them. For example, one of the plants highlighted was fire goosefoot (Chenopodium erosum), which hadn’t been seen since the 1950s but was recently discovered on Kangaroo Island following the bushfires in 2019/20.

Each group of works features a text panel which is set out like a field voucher, as well as a portrait of the plant. The artists have expanded the vouchers to make them more accessible and appealing to the audience.

Expanded voucher, Hibbertia tenuis, Louise Flaherty. Photo: Grant Hancock

“One of the things the scientists and volunteers said to us is that they don’t want plants to be rare, they want people to know them, so that they care more about them,” explains Flaherty. “Our role is to tell some of the stories in an easy and palatable way for the wider audience, and try to make people interested or excited to go on their own research journeys.”

Accompanying the exhibition is a sound work, an ephemeral art tour which Wills and Flaherty developed with Belinda Gehlert and Naomi Keyte. A big part of both artists’ practice is running workshops and participatory elements in conjunction with their work. With COVID ever-present, they realised this might not be possible and thus created the soundscape that can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime.

The setting of Plant Notes within the Botanic Garden at the Santos Museum of Economic Botany emphasises the connection between art, science and nature. The artists have created a body of work which highlights the beauty of nature as well as its fragility and invites the audience to reflect on our impact on the environment.

Plant Notes is showing in the Santos Museum of Economic Botany. Photo: Sia Duff

Laura Wills and Louise Flaherty: Plant Notes is at the Santos Museum of Economic Botany until October 30. There will be a Botanica Lumina: Plant Notes Artist Workshop at 6pm on September 16 (bookings here).

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.