Spanning 24 metres across The University of Queensland Art Museum‘s glass façade, a striking new artwork by Elizabeth Willing has been unveiled today.
UQ Art Museum Director Dr Campbell Gray said Willing’s images of drying plants and flowers on the building’s exterior created thought-provoking dialogue.
“The Art Museum possesses a beautiful architectural structure but the enormous windows can be a little austere and foreboding for some,” Gray said.
“Elizabeth’s artwork helps to fracture this membrane, encouraging visitors to think differently about the building and prompting a questioning process that leads them inside.”
According to Willing, the structural qualities of the Art Museum building triggered powerful memories from her childhood of a large shed where her mother dried plants.
This was the starting point for her artwork, which features five hand-drawn bunches of dried strawflowers, yarrow, eucalypts, marijuana and hydrangeas, reproduced on individual eight-metre by four-metre panels spaced across the façade.
“The overhang of the roof and the grid of the windows on the Art Museum building are reminiscent of the inner scaffolding of the large shed where my mother dried plants to make potpourri, arrangements and adornments for hats,” Willing said.
“So, the flowers in this work are essentially being ‘hung’ from the roof of the Art Museum.
“Often the inversion of flowers for drying is about preservation – freezing in time something destined for ephemerality – but for me these images have an almost synesthetic effect that conjures sweet musty smells of my mother’s shed, and the calming effects of these dry plants.
“This is something that’s now reflected in my own creative process as I grapple with the notion of preservation and the manipulation of ephemeral food as art material.”
The new public artwork was commissioned by UQ Art Museum and funded with the support of donors Jane and Michael Tynan – generosity which Willing said could deeply affect individual art practices and diversify the way cultural value is added to public spaces.
“The donors’ support for this commission not only illustrates the Art Museum’s strong connections with the community, but more importantly, that the community is passionate about engaging with contemporary art,” Willing said.
Jane Tynan, who is a UQ Art History Honours graduate, believes art has an immeasurable impact on the quality of life, and it is her family’s great joy and social responsibility, to support local contemporary artists.
“Often the odds are stacked against artists – they take risks and follow a path most of us aren’t courageous enough to take, and as a result, we all benefit,” Tynan said.
“Artists enrich life in Brisbane and the more artwork produced and integrated into architecture and public spaces, the more vibrant, complex and layered our university campuses and cities at large become.”
Dr Gray said the window commission joined a growing number of Art Museum projects that presented artworks and experiences beyond the traditional gallery walls.
“Public art, whether it’s temporary such as Lara Merrett’s recent outdoor studio, or ephemeral, like the Smokework installation on the Forgan Smith Lawn last year, provide unexpected encounters across the University campus that prompt people to think about issues from different perspectives,” Gray said.
“We look forward to commissioning new artwork for the window façade, as well as in other UQ spaces, in coming years as a way to connect with broader audiences.”
Elizabeth Willing’s window commission is a precursor to her solo exhibition Through the Mother, which will open at UQ Art Museum on 10 September.