'Daffodil (Narcissus x odorus)' 1989-90
© Fiona Hall
Fiona Hall's inventive works in her Paradisus Terrestris series are honed with a jeweller's precision, with the acute observation of a botanical draftswoman and with the audacious imagination of the poet's 'wild eye'. A sense of the fantastic is apparent in the erotic, fertile associations between particular plants and aspects of human sexual anatomy, revealed in her finely worked imagery emerging from the intimate containers of sardine tins.
The series is rich in implication. It is informed in part by the artist's extensive research into botanical depictions. While the title is based on John Parkinson's florilegium Paradisi in Sole, Paradisus Terrestris (1629), Hall was drawn to other examples such as Robert John Thornton's The Temple of Flora (1807). She was also fascinated by the history of ideas around plants, including systems of classification first devised by scholars such as Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s and based upon looking at the male and female components of each plant.
At the time of his findings ... people still believed that the Garden of Eden existed somewhere on earth. So they were shocked when he talked about plants in overtly sexual terms because their view had always been that plants were benign, innocent; they didn't have a sex life. (1)
From a current standpoint, the artist recognises that we share many characteristics with plants and use them frequently as erotic metaphors. Along with the lively provocative humour suggesting temptation in the Garden of Eden, and the exquisite craftsmanship in these works, there is an underlying philosophical awareness that informs much of Hall's art around the theme of coexistence. As she has said:
'The basis of our shared existence is something that, scientifically, we are now more fully able and obliged to acknowledge ... There are more genetic similarities between us and the plant world than there are differences. These are mind-blowing concepts that should make us take notice.' (2)
(1) Fiona Hall interviewed by Deborah Hart in 'Fertile interactions: Fiona Hall's garden', Art and Australia, Sydney: Fine Arts Press Pty Ltd, vol.36, no.2, 1998, pp.202-11 (p.206).
(2) ibid., p.206
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002