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Zara Stanhope

Reproduced with permission from the catalogue for the exhibition Demeter’s Garden at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne (2007) 

Lauren Berkowitz has been fascinated with botanical material and its creative resonances since the late 1980s. Her sculptural assemblages of plants installed in exhibition spaces and public sites present both sensual delights and narratives that intertwine geographical and botanical realities with social and cultural histories. Each work is the fruit of significant labour, the result of considered research and time spent in the field or plein air, locating and preparing matter ranging from spices and dried specimens to noxious and cultivated plants. The selected flora is incorporated into an affecting work whose formal design and material content speak of relationships between nature and its human inhabitants.

Demeter's garden (2006) is the culmination of Berkowitz's sustained interest in Heide and its abundant garden setting. Her homage to pre-colonial horticulture, Karakarook's garden (2005-06), a permanent living outdoor sculpture, allows Heide visitors to encounter Australian indigenous plants. A reminder of how this landscape has changed, from open forest to cleared farm land to cultivated property, Karakarook's garden is a symbolic acknowledgement of how Aboriginal inhabitants tended to and were sustained by the land and its plant life. This garden acknowledges the Wurrundjeri clan of the Woiwurrung language group, in whose mythology the figure of Karakarook imparted to the women her knowledge of plants, including their medicinal and healing qualities. Karakarook's garden provides a striking contrast to John and Sunday Reed's European-style Kitchen Garden with its vegetables, herbs and roses, and its geometric design draws an association with the Reeds' cultivation of Australian modern art. In Demeter's garden, Berkowitz employs a botanical palette and composition to suggest similar yet different ends.

Referencing 1960s Australian lyrical abstraction in the painting of David Aspden (the era the Reeds commissioned and took up residence in Heide II), Demeter's garden is a delightful tableau of surprisingly colourful flowers, leaves and seedpods. A new indoor 'garden', this work brims with analogies for and references to the historical symbolism and mythology relating to plants, the legacy of botanical collection and display, and concerns regarding the sustainability, adaptability and fragility of the natural environment. For Berkowitz, flowers have a specific legacy at Heide, evoking Sunday Reed's affection for flora, which is characterised in images dedicated to Sunday by artists including Moya Dyring, Sidney Nolan and Mirka Mora.

Referring to the figure of Demeter from classical mythology, Berkowitz's title invites allusions to the cycles of growth, decay and renewal associated with this deity and her symbolic attributes; changes that are not only caused by the seasons but generated as much by human behaviour as natural evolution. It has been a pleasure to work with such a dedicated and creative artist as Lauren Berkowitz and we thank her for two beautiful works, Karakarook's garden and Demeter's garden, in which she has regenerated and enlivened history at Heide.

Zara Stanhope 
Deputy Director, Senior Curator Heide Museum of Modern Art
Copyright © 2007, Zara Stanhope and Heide Museum of Modern Art