Back to Nature Scene | Phe Luxford

In many ways the term 'Nature' has become a distant, often paradoxical concept. On the one hand it can represent an abstract desire to connect with the sublime. On the other, it signifies simply a material product or resource. At worse, indifference reduces it to a dumping ground for waste.

The work of photographer Siri Hayes attempts to critique these conflicting value systems. Her detailed compositions of remnant landscapes offer an alternate view of how humans can connect with their surroundings. Whether addressing the polluted waterways of Melbourne's Merri Creek, or the grasslands surrounding Latrobe Valley's power stations, it is Hayes' ability to find beauty and grace within such marginal spaces that makes her images so special.

Invited to undertake a new body of work for the Heidi III Project Space in 2011, the gallery's grounds, historic kitchen gardens and rambling native riverbanks, which sit somewhere between urban and rural, were an obvious source of inspiration. But rather than producing the classical, often theatrical, vistas for which she is best known, the experience of interacting with these gardens resulted in a very personal and poetic response to landscape.

The photographs in this exhibition document an artist immersing herself in the ecology and topography of the area. They speak of spending time quietly observing plants, of getting to know seasonal cycles and celebrating the pure enjoyment of outdoor play. An interest in organic dye processes took Hayes out foraging the gardens for natural ingredients such as oxalis, eucalyptus, ivy, holly hock, and native indigo. The resulting brightly coloured yarns feature in her images, transformed into whimsical knitted garments, ephemeral installations and domestic weavings.

Hayes' reference to traditional craft techniques creates a tangible, living connection between the self and one’s environment, alluding to ideas of self sufficiency, of learning to live off the land, of using resources in a considered manner. In doing so she is asserting that such values are still relevant today. Her joyful images proclaim that getting 'back to nature' on an individual level can happen, through small, everyday gestures.

Overall, a successful convergence of indoor and outdoor, self and world, occurs in Back to Nature Scene. Hayes brings the garden into the gallery space, capturing its seasonal colours, wild rambling undergrowth and the calm that comes with long rural walks. For the gallery visitor the landscape beyond the exhibition space awaits them, ready to be explored and appreciated with fresh eyes.

Phe Luxford

The Melbourne Review