Imagine being the person who first downloads the contents of a black box. Try to contemplate being the one privy to its grisly contents; the inside story of a catastrophic event. Although it may be a horrific prospect, we cannot deny the morbid fascination associated with these moments of extinction. We may not care to acknowledge it, but remnants of this kind have always found an audience: consider the recurring myth of the half eaten breakfasts on the Mary Celeste, the replaying of those urgent mobile callers describing the scene from within the planes of 9/11 or the revisiting of frozen diaries of fateful Arctic expeditions. The notion of the apocalypse, or simply ‘the end’ has permeated culture and literature for centuries. Perhaps our creative instincts are more destructive than we’d care to admit. In describing the proliferation of end of the world narratives in the futuristic visions of science fiction novels, Brian W. Aldiss suggests ‘they are explosions either of dread of oncoming disaster, or of a longing for it to happen and be done.’
The photographs in Jamie North’s new series offer up a sinister end game. Using what now appear in these works to be relics of a civilised past, a verdant species have come to thrive in the absence of human life. A pile of books, once symbols of knowledge and learning have devolved to mulch, housing native tongue orchids* and black bean**, which have taken root between their mildewed pages. A keyboard, once the crucible of communication and exchange, a device that orchestrates capital and conducts friendships, has sprung moss and liverworts from between its keys. Are these theatrical sites of decay and new growth a construct, or an accidental discovery? Are these plants that appear parasitic, carnivorous even, actually being sustained by their unlikely compost? From within the apparatus of a redundant computer monitor the ‘new world’ of the black bean plants and tarzan vine*** seems aggressive and established, a new colony of super-dwellers—could it be that these shiny, sensual plants are being nourished by battery acid?
There is something both repulsive and tantalising about this imagined ecosystem. We are forced to admire the plants’ survival, and yet as we watch the pinky tongue of a black bean root stretch lasciviously into a chocolate mud cake, you have to wonder about the metaphor this implies. Black bean was once a common food source for indigenous people over the plants natural range. However, in order to be eaten, the beans required much processing to rid them of toxin, and it appears they are no longer utilised as a food source. Although depicted in these works as ominous and Triffid-like, these photographs actually celebrate the forgotten hero, perhaps even urge a sympathetic response to their take over. A ‘return’ is suggested— that this species and others like it exist, and should be considered alongside our imported consumer ideologies. In some twisted sense, North has created a metaphor for reconciliation. This invasion of domestic spheres, ornaments and signs, raises the idea of growth as a method to understanding and coexistence. We are lucky that we still have time. The ecological and sociological ravages of Australia’s recent history are not yet irreversible. In fact, the output of this particular black box could, if we are willing to look and to grow, germinate into something far less apocalyptic.
Clare Lewis, 2007
* tongue orchid Dockrilla linguiformis
** black bean Castanospermum australe
*** tarzan vine (common silkpod) Parsonsia straminea