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6 Oct 2020

Illuminating the sacred place of trees

Louise Fowler-Smith is an artist and founder of The Tree Veneration Society. Her rich travels across Europe and Asia have shown her how different cultures worship trees and value them as living beings. 

Now her first show at The Calyx entitled Portraits of Extraordinary Trees, Illuminated opened on the 21 September. It will run until Friday 9 October as part of inBloom at The Calyx Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney and we took the opportunity to sit down with Louise Fowler-Smith, to hear more about what has inspires her magnificent work.

Tell us about your exhibition

Louise Fowler-Smith: This show features the 'Significant Trees of the Royal Botanic Garden' and examples from an exhibition I held in France called the 'Remarkable Trees of Paris and Versailles’. This work took me a couple of years to produce as I had to gain special permission to access these famous parks and garden at night - not an easy feat. The Palace of Versailles had never given this type permission before -  as far as I was told  - and I had to face a 30 page contract with the Palace!

Where does this body of work stem from?

Louise Fowler-Smith: I spent ten years intermittently travelling across all of India, researching the veneration and worship of trees.  I travelled, mostly alone, across 10 states of India including some tribal states, photographing and interviewing people about their devotion to specific trees and their protection of them.

What have you learned about the pan-religious symbolic importance of trees?

Louise Fowler-Smith: Throughout history trees were worshipped or, treated like temples to worship at. This occurred all through Europe and still exists to varying degrees in some countries for example in India, through Hinduism and tribalism and in Indigenous societies via animism. No one would cut down a venerated tree. Roads would be rerouted, buildings not built or simply built around the tree. I recorded this phenomenon, across the breadth and depth of India, and have written a book about it. As a result, I founded The Tree Veneration society to try and change our perception of the status of trees. 

How do you think Australians today perceive landscape?  

Louise Fowler-Smith: Many Australians are deeply connected to the landscape. Certainly, indigenous Australians, are, whose whole belief system is connected to the land and who perceive the land as crucial to their existence.  It depends on your experience.

What factors impact how we perceive the landscape?

Louise Fowler-Smith: An important factor revolves around how much time we have spent in the natural world growing up. A lot of Australians have been privileged to grow up with space around them, where plants and even trees have grown. This is hugely beneficial, especially to mental health and I find these people will perceive the landscape very positively and want to protect it.

How do your photographs help promote the plight of trees?

Louise Fowler-Smith: What I am doing in my work is venerating, or honouring the tree - with light- thus why I photograph at night. Through my work I am trying to allow people to perceive the trees from a different perspective - one that we aren't used to, as mostly we take trees for granted and in some instances see them as an annoyance.We certainly don't see them as living form, like us, that provides the oxygen we breathe amongst so many other health benefits. I 'paint' the trees with light,  in order to try and draw out its personality.

How are trees perceived differently in France or Italy?

Louise Fowler-Smith: Trees have a higher status there. There are organisations, such as L'Association ARBRE in France, that actively works to protect trees across the country and are working to get the government to give trees legal status - like people.  L'Association ARBRE originally invited me to travel to France to use my technique to present the Remarkable Trees of Paris.  People in France are far more on board to stop Climate Change.

VISIT VIRTUALLY

A self-guided tour complementing Louise's photographic exhibition, can be found at rbgsydney.gardenexplorer.org/tour.aspx, select 'Meet our Extraordinary trees'.

When Monday 21 September - Friday 9 October
Opening times:  10am - 4pm
Price Entry is free by donation to inBLOOM
Where The Calyx, Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Transport: Public transport recommended. Limited parking available 

Learn more: https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/What-s-On/Portraits-of-Extraordinary-Trees-Illuminated

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