In a graveyard in a Northern Midlands town, there lives a species of native orchid that exists nowhere else in the world.
Within a generation, it will be extinct.
Called prasophyllum taphanyx, the orchid has found refuge from the agricultural colonisation of its habitat within the cemetery: a horticultural halfway point between the carefully controlled environment of now, and the overgrown wilderness of centuries past.
But they have stopped flowering. Scientists don’t know why, and they don’t know how to make them reproduce. The only thing left to do, now, is say goodbye.
Tasmanian artist Selena de Carvalho will be doing that in style with an installation running as part of Dark Mofo, called Beware of Imposters [The Secret Life of Flowers]. It is an audio and visual work culminating in a microphone, where the audience is invited to make a recording of themselves singing Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’.
The recordings will be taken to the cemetery by de Carvalho and played for the dying orchids.
“I’d heard that plants respond to sound,” she said.
(Numerous studies have found that plants react to the vibrations in sound – beefing up their defenses if they ‘hear’ a caterpillar, or increasing the sugar in their nectar if they ‘hear’ a bee.)
“And I also wanted to stage the experience in that way because in my research, I’d read that participation, and imagination, are two of the key ingredients in developing empathy,” she said.
Only one person may enter the exhibition at a time, to absorb the surrounding melancholy in solitude. They put on a pair of bluetooth headphones, and walk through the space taking in the visual works, and listening to the audio.
They will see burned-out furniture and graveyard paraphernalia, like vases and plastic flowers.
In their ears will be de Carvalho’s voice, telling a narrative that “blends fact and fiction”.
The installation takes its audience on a journey through loss: human loss, environmental loss, species loss; encapsulated by the tale of the cemetery orchid.
“It’s really, really tragic,” she said.
“And the story for me was very ironic, as well – that somewhere like a cemetery could be the only place where there is still space for this species.
“The story weaves in how, perhaps, if you were the last of your species, how lonely that could be.”
De Carvalho does not want to specify which town the orchid’s cemetery can be found, to discourage a rush of visitation impacting the sensitive site.
- The exhibition will be at the Founders Room, Salamanca Arts Centre, as part of Dark Mofo, Friday June 14 – Sunday June 23, 10am-4pm (until 10pm Fridays and Saturdays), opening June 13 from 6pm-10pm.