Maria Fernanda Cardoso describes While I Live I Will Grow as a 100+ year performance of Queensland bottle trees. A large spiral sandstone sculpture will be centre stage of a bottle tree colony. Over time, the specimens will mature into magnificent bottle-shaped giants. The trees will grow together alongside communities in the new suburb of Green Square.
Back to nature
This project combines the artist’s 4 other selves: the sculptor, the naturalist, the architect, and the gardener.
“Both of my parents were architects. I also studied architecture for two years before moving into art,” says Cardoso. “I integrate this spatial training with my background as a sculptor, with my naturalist training, and last but not least, with my gardening experience.”
“Throughout my career, I’ve questioned the confines of a gallery space. For example, while studying in the US in the late 1980s, I brought nature into my studio by growing food crops native to my hometown, Bogota.”
“I continued this in the mid-90s, with the Cardoso Flea Circus. At the time, people didn’t realise that working with other life forms was a form of art.”
“While I Live I Will Grow is a chance for me to work ‘in the world’. The city is now the playground. My task is to provide the bottle trees with a stage so people notice them. We often neglect the natural world. I want to bring the natural world back into the studio, into the museum, and now back to the city,” says Cardoso.
While I Live I Will Grow imagines the idea of growth in multiple ways.
“We humans tend to think that aging is bad – we tend to believe that we lose our beauty, our vigour, our health. But trees don’t think like that! The older they are, the more magnificent they become. They are a great inspiration to me.”
Residents of densely urban Green Square will share their lives with one of the most unique Australian natural wonders. The bottle trees will double their girth every year, their spectacular growth and transformation on full display.
The sandstone element of the artwork also reflects the idea of growth, using a form that expresses this in nature – the spiral. Fossils, snail shells and flowers all feature spirals in their make up.
“Rotational movement is one way life builds itself. Stacking a spiral on top of another creates movement and a strong visual cue,” says Cardoso.
The ability of the bottle tree to store water to use in times of drought is a very Australian adaptation. This quality recalls Green Square’s once life-giving streams and wetlands.
“This project was harder than doing a PhD,” says Cardoso. She was expecting a straightforward production process, but the public nature of the artwork had its own challenges.
“When work began, I realised public space was very political. Because of this, it’s been the project that has taught me the most.”
Unlike a traditional gallery exhibition, this artwork will not be seen for 1 or 3 months, but for decades. For Cardoso, this extended lifespan brings tremendous satisfaction.
She is also aware of the response people are likely to have.
“I’ve been told people love bottle trees and like to hug them,” she says. “Bottle trees have an anthropomorphic character, with their smaller ‘head’ and larger ‘body’. The idea is that they become surrogates for humans, symbolising the growth of the surrounding community.”
“I hope people will love this artwork, I hope it becomes a very special place.”
See While I Live I Will Grow in Green Square from December.