Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Something strange is afoot in the Blackwood Forest Recreation Park. Saved from the plague of urban sprawl by local residents, this patch of rare earth and its protectors can now get on with its rehabilitation, and with art. Hence the new Seedling Art Space has sprung up, quietly, humbly, almost unnoticeably under the spreading canopy of an old oak tree. Or is the little cottage just sinking back into the soil?

The stone building was once the office of the Woods and Forest Department. With a foot print less than twenty-five square metres, it is like something one may stumble upon in a fairytale clearing.

…Little cottage in the wood, little girl by the window stood…

Annalise Rees is the artist who has spent some months at the window, and Undergrowth is her response to the building and the open air around it. Rees brings to light the understorey, the tale hidden beneath the meta-narrative, the life in the leaf litter. A whole world exists in this tiny realm; a person’s working days were passed in this ‘one little room, an everywhere.’[i] Now the building is a frame and the viewer is held at bay by iron bars, looking, not touching. Invited in yet confounded at the last instance by solid reality. Someone has been inside, drawing on the walls, and we can only wonder.

But walls can breathe, and it seems that stone is permeable after all. The empty window frames allow the transgression of boundaries and the outside comes in. The earth has her memories too. Undergrowth has begun to reclaim this site, making a verdant ruin of the sensible structure.

The walls became a mass of shimmering green and leafy branches arched overhead where the ceiling had been. The desk turned into a rose bush and a man became a tree, his feet taking root in the soil.[ii]

Cut out shadows, like ghosts of interior lives float about the space, coming and going, changing as the weeks slope towards winter. An old mantle clock, ticking above the long-dead fire in the grate. Table and chairs, drifting like an apparition of domesticity, reminders of a simpler time, when an office could exist in a fairy tale cottage on the edge of an orchard. The silhouette of a book case – or could it be the hole left behind where a bookcase once stood? – laden with two-dimensional tomes whose secrets will never be unlocked. Shadows of stories, whispers of histories.

Rees asks, ‘What secrets did the walls contain?’ Now the walls are opening up, as the plants move in and get to work, undoing our own. The ivy comes crawling in at the window and the pioneers sprout between the cracks, silently growing, widening the rifts. All that is built up will be torn down… gently.

Rees is a master of subtlety. She reminds us of this place, of its life and its memory. She reminds us of our place in the world yet hints at the possibility of fairy tales, of parallel worlds where a shadow-puppet clock can chime the hours of the working day and a man can work from nine to five here amongst the undergrowth. Rees takes us to these long ago worlds so we can perhaps see ours more clearly.

Dusk approaches and the shadows lengthen in the fading light. The grown-ups take their kids and dogs and go home. The oak tree shivers and more leaves fall. An acorn cracks open in the warmth of the rotting leaves. The little cottage of the Woods and Forests, dark now, breathes a sigh as a breeze plays through its glassless windows. Its sturdy joists settle into their earthy bed; what magic lurks there, in the undergrowth?

[i] Donne, John, The Good Morrow, The Penguin Poets: John Donne, Penguin, 1967, p.23

[ii] Lewis, C.S., Prince Caspian, The Chronicles of Narnia, Collins, 1998, p. 408