As part of the City Art Program, artists are working collaboratively to shape our city, including transforming Green Square’s public spaces. Maria Fernanda Cardoso will work closely with expert stonemasons, a team of landscape architects, the City’s design staff and Amanda Sharrad, the Green Square Curatorial Advisor, to bring the artwork to life.
In 2014, we issued an Expression of Interest for the former Royal South Sydney Hospital site on Joynton Avenue at Green Square. Cardoso’s concept for an artwork on this important site was unanimously recommended by the City’s independent Public Art Advisory Panel. For this work, While I Live I Will Grow, the artist will use her largest life-form to-date – a variety of narrow-leaf bottle trees of different sizes and ages.
We humans tend to think that aging is bad. We tend to believe that we lose our beauty, that we become a burden to society, that we get sick, weak, fat and ugly as we mature. But trees don’t think like that! They never stop growing. The more mature they are, the more beautiful they become.
Maria Fernanda Cardoso has always been fascinated by botanical and animal life. The artist began to weave living beings into her work out of nostalgia for her home turf. While completing a Master’s degree in sculpture in the US, Maria, who hails from Bogotá in Colombia, started growing grass in her studio.
Grass escalated to corn and potatoes – all food crops indigenous to her home. Since then, she has investigated all sorts of life forms – frogs, lizards, insects. Some might remember Cardoso’s live performing flea circus.
Beautifully sculptural, bottle trees are indigenous to Australia and incredibly diverse. Emblematic of a dry continent, they were used for millennia by Aboriginal Australians to access water.
Cardoso explains: “The artwork has an educational component: it teaches us about water conservation by an edible Australian native plant. The roots of the bottle tree are delicious. I hope locals become less fearful about exploring food alternatives long known to Aboriginal Australians.
“Part of the brief for the project was to address issues of water management in Green Square. I thought, what could be more physically and formally visible than the shaped trunk of a bottle tree? They expand and contract in times of flood or drought, and they never seem stressed. Not only beautiful, this species has developed a very elegant Australian water management strategy.”
Cardoso hopes that the trees’ unique anthropomorphic forms will help people better connect with them as living creatures, particularly in the ‘artificial’ setting of a city, as well as better understand the concept of growth.
As the trees grow, so will the people of Green Square. A series of celebratory community planting days are planned to encourage local residents to adopt, plant and name bottle trees of all sizes and ages. The trees will double in girth each year, with each expanding centimetre celebrating the ageing together of humans and other species in their shared environment.
A gifted researcher, the artist has taken great care to select the particular species, Brachychiton rupestris: “I like to experiment and observe, so I get direct feedback from whatever subject I’m interested in. I’m very hands-on in my research – especially if it involves digging up dirt! Theory and practice go hand in hand.”
Cardoso has worked with real, live or preserved animals and plants for over two decades. In the past, her Naked Flora (2013), inspired by the ‘father’ of taxonomy Carl Linnaeus, presented a series of macro photographs of flowers with their petals removed to exhibit their ‘reproductive organs’.
“A living artwork can and will connect people to the natural world. It will connect us to other species as well as to the rhythms of nature that we have lost contact with,” she says.