Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Artist in Residence 2009

Jenny Pollak

From February 5 to March 26, the work of 2009 Artist in Residence Jenny Pollak will be on show at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. In her exhibition in the Red Box Gallery, Jenny approaches evolution from a different perspective, examining the ancient lineage that connects humans indelibly to all living things.

With the assistance of an Arts Council of Australia grant, Jenny’s work includes an installation in the historic Palm House, a wonderful, Victorian glass structure in the Gardens. Using glass, mirrors, video, sound and paper, Jenny has created a visual metaphor for the alchemical process that gave rise to the first oxygen-dependent life on earth.

Charles Darwin’s bicentenary year had a tremendous influence on Jenny’s work, and serendipitously, Jenny’s opening night coincides with Darwin’s 201st birthday.

Jenny's story

'Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.' Goethe

This quote from Goethe is for me the most poetic expression of that potent and driving force that sometimes takes hold of you when you begin something - when you find the rhythm.

Inspiration is by its very nature an elusive energy, impossible to anticipate or waylay, and you certainly can’t afford to wait for it. The surest way of achieving your objective and drawing it towards you is, as Goethe says, simply to begin. Momentum has its own irresistible force.

Ten months have passed since I began my tenure as Artist in Residence and the creative output that I have experienced is, among other things I think, a tribute to Goethe’s maxim. Rarely have I experienced such an overwhelmingly creative and productive period.

The first two months of my residency were spent exploring and gathering ideas and material from among some of the marvellous treasures that the Garden and the Herbarium have had to offer, enthusiastically hunting for an idea that could draw my thoughts together into a cohesive expression. Unexpectedly the idea came to me in the guise of a single sentence found while browsing through a book on algae by Linda Graham and Lee Wilcox in the Herbarium Library.

'The rise to dominance of cyanobacteria - the earliest known oxygenic photosynthesisers - has been described as the single most important event in the history of life on earth, for without it, the subsequent origin of eukaryotic life would have been impossible.'

Such a remarkable and suggestive statement was difficult to go past. It contained all the elements of a great drama and immediately filled my head with all sorts of fantastic imagery.

Since then I have been very fortunate to receive an Australia Council Grant in order to create an installation for the Palm House - a work that will re-imagine the event described above and bring to it an element of magic and alchemy.

Perhaps the most difficult part of my residency has been choosing which ideas to leave behind and I am very happy that I have the opportunity to show another body of work in the Red Box Gallery. The Bicentenary of Charles Darwin has been a large source of inspiration and will form part of that exhibition.

Now as I go about the tricky process of birthing the ideas that my residency has precipitated I have a sense of loss not to be able to continue wildly exploring more and more ideas - even as I recognise that the process of bringing my ideas to fruition is an essential part of the journey. That sense of loss is in part a recognition that my residency is in its final stages and I would like to say that it has been an immense pleasure to have been Artist in Residence for 2009. I would like to thank the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust for giving me the opportunity to take up this position and I look forward to sharing with you this journey I have made as I navigated the Garden, and its collections.

Jenny Pollak, December 2009

In the Beginning Exhibition

2009 Artist in Residence, Jenny Pollak, takes a sideways look at evolution and the ancient lineage that connects humans indelibly to all living things.

When: Fri 5 Feb-Fri 26 Mar, 10 am-4 pm weekdays
Where: Red Box Gallery, Mrs Macquaries Road
Cost: Free entry
Enquiries: 9231 8134