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In Conversation with Artist Tai Snaith

"Seeds are too humble for worship! That’s what I love about them. These tiny unassuming things can grow into such beauty and sustenance."

Tai Snaith and nine other Melbourne artists get their hands dirty in ‘Gardening is Not a Rational Act’ – a group exhibition about a shared love of gardening and things that grow. We chat to Tai to find out more about this exciting springtime exhibition at c3 Contemporary Art Space.

Tell us about your garden and some of its jewels. What elements inspire you the most?

My garden is pretty wild really. The most prized jewel is a huge, 100-year-old Corymbia citriodora or Lemon Scented gum in the back yard. We live just near the Merri Creek, so the significance of the imposing white gum to the Wurundjeri people is really important and I love to think about how that tree would have been here before any of the white fellas’ houses were (including ours!).

I also love a lot of the old cottage garden wildflowers that my great grandmother used to grow like Cerinthe, Columbines, Pinchushions, Love In the Mist and Poppies. So, I have a lot of them in my front garden.

One of my favourite plants in my garden is a really old Foxtail Fern that my Nana actually had in a huge pot in her garden where my dad grew up for over 40 years. When she gave it to me I put it into my little rock garden bed near the pizza oven in the back yard and now it is very happy. It always reminds me of Sideshow Bob’s hair (from The Simpsons).

Both may be considered irrational acts, but what other parallels do you draw from artmaking and gardening?

There are many interesting parallels that I can see between artmaking and gardening. Processes like trial and error, working with gut instinct, working with what is at hand and being frugal – but also more formal aesthetic considerations such as composition, negative space, textures, colours etc. I also like that both practices utilise a type of optimistic opportunism – making the most of your conditions and the magic of something growing from nothing but a tiny seed or spark of an idea.

Your work in ‘Gardening is Not a Rational Act’, ‘Language of Seeds’, comprises of a series of ceramic plinths displaying collected seeds from your garden. Are these plinths like an altar, positioning the seeds for worship?

Not really for worship as much as consideration or admiration. Seeds are too humble for worship! That’s what I love about them. These tiny unassuming things can grow into such beauty and sustenance. I also love them en masse as a material in themselves – an element to the texture and surface of the sculpture.

When entering the gallery on opening night, you could smell freshly tilled soil in the air thanks to Eugene Howard’s work – the mulched plant life from the garden of his once rented home. Was it important for you to select works that engaged the senses?

That was not something I actually knew would eventuate when I first asked Eugene to be in the show. So, as much as it was a very sad story about how the mulch came to be there (Eugene was evicted from his rented home and ordered to flatten the whole glorious garden by his landlord before vacating the premises), it was actually really wonderful in the way it did indeed engage our sense of smell and the strong nostalgia that brings with it. I love the way that work also reminds us of how the natural world is ever-evolving and mulch is actually the beginning of a new cycle of life – the next bed for new seeds to grow.

Gardens are often contemplative places for people to escape. Is that an idea you’ve tried to capture in this collection, or do the works say something different about the nature of gardens?

Each of the artworks in the show have a very different take on what it means to be a gardener or to look at a garden or to be in a garden or even to remember a garden. Gardens are indeed places for people to escape, and I think there is a parallel with the escapism of artists into their work.

Including you, 10 artists have contributed to the group exhibition. Were you at all surprised how easily you could find local artists as passionate about gardening as yourself?

Not really surprised, no. There is a long history of artists who are passionate gardeners from Frida Kahlo to Georgia O’Keefe and more recently Derek Jarman. I follow a lot of my favourite artists on Instagram and have noticed that some of these artists (like David Rosetzky and Sean Meilak) even have a separate Instagram accounts for their gardens!

Just outside c3 lie the Heritage gardens of the Convent. Did you always intend for this show or one like it to be exhibited at the Convent, or was it happy coincidence?

The show was very much planned for c3 from the beginning. I have been working on the idea for over a year now, beginning with the theme of generosity and growing. I always wanted it to be held in spring, as the gardens at the Convent are such a joy at this time and I thought that people could appreciate both the show, the weather and the stunning surrounds at the same time.

Do you consider your garden to be a work of art?

Yes definitely. I love my garden sometimes even more than my artworks! I find myself procrastinating from my work in my garden all the time and I fully believe that the same kind of energy I use to create work in the studio overflows and is at work in my garden.

What project are you working on next?

I am about to embark on an exciting project called ‘A World of her Own’ where I have chosen 10 older female practitioners who I look up to and I will be conducting a series of half hour conversations with them and recording them as a sound work. Hopefully some of them might happen in the garden!

‘Gardening is Not a Rational Act’ is on display at c3 Contemporary Art Space until Sunday 15 October.

Photography by Theresa Harrison,