Biennale of Sydney

Andrew Rewald

Alchemy_Garden

Andrew Rewald

Born 1969 in Murgon, Australia
Lives and works in Northern Rivers, Australia and Berlin, Germany


Andrew Rewald is a transdisciplinary artist who works collaboratively with community groups, artists and professionals from other disciplines. Each project is necessarily long-term, depending on seasonality, agriculture, foraging and cookery to highlight plant-food-people relationships in cultural and environmental contexts, inviting audiences to participate and experience interconnections between food and ecology. Plants are the medium and subject matter for public workshops, performances, installation and mixed media work, connecting ecological awareness with everyday activities.

Alchemy Garden is a response to the climate crisis. It is an interactive community collaboration and garden developed at the National Art School – the site of the former Darlinghurst Gaol, which has a dense and layered history, dating from pre-invasion Indigenous land use to the present. Alchemy Garden engages with the histories of this site to explore interconnected pathways of plant and human migration.

The garden is a platform to examine ethnobotanicals – plants that have a cultural significance and use-value in local societies – their historical role and the impact of human activity upon local and broader interlinked ecosystems. The project acknowledges the Gadigal people who managed the land around Darlinghurst Ridge before The First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove. In growing a variety of native and non-native edible plants significant to different communities and histories, Alchemy Garden examines how plants connect people and their actions to place.

Using low-tech soil science strategies such as creating fertiliser, carbon storage, composting and recycling water, the project is informed by Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, Black Seed. Pascoe’s pivotal book reveals how pre-invasion Indigenous Australians were pan-continental landscapers, using firestick farming practices integrated with culture to control plants and create soil, sequestering carbon and managing water.

Alchemy Garden connects cultural and ecological wounds as an opportunity for healing. In its design, the garden is constructed from repurposed building materials integrated into the heritage architecture of the site. The garden itself sits inside a wicking-bed that draws water from a subterranean reservoir. Compostable, disposable coffee cups have been repurposed for onsite seed propagation, coir logs control erosion, and scalloped landscaping directs rain and water run-off. Centred in the garden is a charcoal-filled vessel to filter waste water, routinely collected from the art school ceramic department and café coffee machine. The charcoal is inoculated with bacteria and mineral residue from this water, creating ‘biochar’ – a bioactive charcoal – dug into the soil each month as fertiliser in a dual process of carbon sequestration when the charcoal is replaced afresh.

During the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, a local community group ‘Darlo Darlings’ will monitor and maintain Alchemy Garden. Andrew Rewald will present a series of public workshops and food events with partners specialising in Indigenous permaculture, soil science and biodiversity, carbon sequestration and water saving practices, and foraging for wild edible weeds of historical cultural significance. These activities are presented as ‘recipes’ for transformation, interconnectedness and sustainability, and as integral food-plant-people processes for alternative sustainable practices, now and into the future.

A collaboration at the National Art School between Randy Lee Cutler and Andrew Rewald, Mineral Garden, is a speculative portal that takes the viewer through an alternative spacetime of hyper terrestriality. Glints and facets of these realms are revealed through the entanglement of collages, posters, mineral specimens and archival objects. A reading area supports the project with significant books that have inspired the collaboration. Mineral Garden hybridises botanical organisms in the soil and the geological forms beneath our feet to cultivate narrative pasts, alternative presents and possible futures. The installation speculates on the secret life of plants and minerals, revealing their hybridised potential for emergent worlds and lifeforms.

Exhibited at