In recent years, idea of using natural outdoor spaces as galleries has been widely embraced. Light Cycles and Resonate have seen thousands of people mesmerised by light and sound installations in the Botanic Garden during Illuminate Adelaide, and the sky became a canvas when Adelaide Fringe’s Electric Skies showcased drone art in Victoria Park last year.

This year, the Fringe hosts Natural Wonders in the Botanic Garden. Beginning at sunset each night, it is described as an “extraordinary journey through a series of projected and immersive artworks of diverse natural ecosystems”.

The trail of stories, light, sound and music features six unique works from award-winning artists, all with their own take on the concept of “natural wonders”. They range from an exploration of the First Nations culture of responsibility to the land, to a sci-fi blockbuster that examines natural and man-made ecosystems.

Perhaps the place to start is with the most recognisable work: Borealis.

Switzerland-based artist Dan Acher’s Northern Lights simulation has been to Adelaide Fringe previously, including as part of the program at Gluttony where it lit up the sky over the lake in Murlawirrapurka / Rymill Park with a kaleidoscope of colour. The work has also visited more than 40 other cities across Australia, Europe, Asia and the United States, and will this year be shown in the Botanic Garden as part of Natural Wonders.

Adelaide photo artist Alex Frayne is another familiar name featured in Natural Wonders. Known for highlighting the surreal and sublime aspects of the everyday, Frayne has worked with cinematographer Katrina Penning to create Time on Country. The pair also collaborated with UK alt-rock band Sea Power, which created the soundtrack for the work.

“It’s a deep dive into South Australia’s ethereal and mystical landscapes,” says Frayne.

“Set to the band’s anthemic music, these photographic dreamscapes will come alive at night on a massive LED screen in the Botanic Gardens.”

South Australian artists play a significant role in Natural Wonders, including Ngarrindjeri woman Nicole Gollan, who partnered with local video and film production company Same River Studio to create The Spirit Lives On, a water projection installation over the garden’s main lake (Kainka Wirra), near the Restaurant Botanic. Gollan says the installation  shares what Ruwe (Country) and culture means.

“After two days filming on my Ngarrindjeri Ruwe – this is the Country of the Ngarrindjeri people, located in the lower Murray River, eastern Fleurieu Peninsula and the Coorong – I couldn’t be prouder to be sharing our significant creative cultural piece,” she says.

In 2014, tragically and unexpectedly, Gollan lost her oldest brother. The title of her Natural Wonders work is inspired by him, and her grief and loss are symbolised by a feather throughout the installation.

“My brother stood for justice, equality, and peace,” says Gollan.

“Since his passing, fortunately, through culture, he continues to connect, constantly making his presence apparent through dreams and/or physical signs, one of which being the feather.”

The Spirit Lives On is projected over the Botanic Garden’s main lake (Kainka Wirra). Photo: Jack Fenby / InReview

The Spirit Lives On explores the themes of natural ecosystems and storytelling, which is intrinsically linked with Gollan’s culture.

“Aboriginal spiritual beliefs are intimately associated with the lands on which we descend,” she explains. “The Botanic Garden is the ideal location for such an installation to explore these themes, as Aboriginal people experience a connection to our land, with the entirety of nature that is associated with it.

“When we see the beauty of our country, of our stunning natural landscapes, we also witness the enduring strength of the world’s oldest living culture, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.”

As an immersive experience, Gollan’s work will engage the human senses, specifically sight and sound.

“You will see visions from the beautiful landscapes of my Ruwe, and hear sounds from the beautiful landscapes of my Ruwe,” she says.

“You will also hear spoken Ngarrindjeri language and see my son, Cohen, the next generation, interacting in the installation, demonstrating that the future sits with those we raise.”

Gollan encourages audiences to “listen with your mi:wi [heart/spirit]”.

A feather acts as a symbol of grief and loss in Nicole Gollan’s artwork The Spirit Lives On. Photo: Jack Fenby / InReview

Renowned South Australian multimedia artist Liam Somerville has taken a very different approach to the theme of natural wonders in his work PROJECT : EARTH – a science-fiction blockbuster audio-visual installation in the foliage near Nelumbo Pond.

“We are hoping to bring a unique retro-futuristic audio-visual offering to the Natural Wonders exhibition,” says Somerville.

“The piece follows a pair of alien entrepreneurial intergalactic property developers who are searching the galaxy for new development opportunities. They land in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens to evaluate the planet for a new extraterrestrial apartment complex to capitalise on the rental crisis in deep space.”

Somerville worked with long-time collaborator and visual artist Michael Ellingford to realise his vision for PROJECT : EARTH. Coming from a background in sonic arts, Ellingford created the sound and music for the project.

“We are big fans of ’80s blockbuster films – the golden era of explosions, practical effects, epic soundtracks and retro-wave technologies,” says Somerville.

“We wanted the piece to feel a bit like an old video game menu screen.”

PROJECT : EARTH, by Liam Somerville and Michael Ellingford. Photo: Jack Fenby / InReview

Conceptually, PROJECT : EARTH addresses ideas that are currently at the forefront of political discourse.

PROJECT : EARTH tackles serious themes of the rising cost of living, colonisation and environmental collapse, as it unpacks the role of an alien property developer seeking to take advantage of our planet to make a quick buck,” says Somerville.

“Exploring natural ecosystems through the lens of alien surveyors, it gives us an outsider’s perspective on all the precious natural wonders our planet accommodates and the impending climate collapse that could destroy it all.”

In 2020, Somerville and Ellingford presented NOISE//NATURE in the Botanic Garden as part of Umbrella Festival and Nature Festival, and they say the setting provides an “incredible baseline canvas to complement with light and sounds”.

“Our [new] piece utilises tech in the form of lights, laser, speakers, smoke and projections…” Somerville says of PROJECT : EARTH.

“By including the lawns in our projection canvas, we are also able to invite the public to really interact with the work as the lights and sounds drench them in technicolour magic.”

ArchiBio, by Andrej Boleslavsky, is projected onto the Santos Museum of Economic Botany. Photo: Jack Fenby / InReview

Natural Wonders also features ArchiBio, by Andrej Boleslavsky, an innovative digital artist known for his pioneering work in interactive media. Boleslavsky’s art often looks to bridge the gap between the digital and physical world through immersive experiences. It is projected onto the Santos Museum of Economic Botany.

The sixth work, PASSAGE, by Australian light and installation duo Harsh Realities, looks at the “drift from reality” that occurs when we are lost in thought and our minds detach from our immediate environment.

Natural Wonders is in the Adelaide Botanic Garden from February 23 until March 17. 

This story is part of a series of articles being produced by InReview with the support of Adelaide Fringe.

Read more 2024 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.

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