>A DARK ARCHIVE
Mapping mass and void 5, Ford Garden, Eltham, 2007, oil on linen, 24 x 24 cm
Mapping mass and void 10, Ford Garden, Eltham, 2008, oil on linen, 97 x 97cm
Mapping mass and void 4, Ford Garden, Eltham, 2007, oil on linen, 25 x 25 cm
Mapping mass and void 11, Ford Garden, Eltham, 2008, oil on linen, 50 x 50 cm
Mapping mass and void 3, Ford Garden, Eltham, 2008, oil on canvas, 26 x 26 cm
Mapping mass and void 9, Ford Garden, Eltham, 2008, oil on linen, 41 x 41cm
Mapping mass and void 2, Ford Garden, Eltham, 2008, oil on linen, 30 x 30cm
A dark archive
Every so often I experience anxiety for the archaeologists of the future. Todays explorers of the past are known for their dedication to detail and knowledge of history, geology and sociology: they go forth in the field protected only by sunscreen and insect repellent. But in the future people digging the dirt on our culture will need respirators with multiple filters as they stumble upon black plastic packages of asbestos cement sheeting and drums of toxic waste. Quite frankly I can't see the profession retaining the same level of glamour.
Take landscape architect Gordon Ford, for instance. A household name in the suburb of Eltham, in Victoria, Australia, Gordon Ford, alongside the architect/builder Alistair Knox is credited with much of the unique ambiance of Eltham. Knox established mud-brick house design in the 1960s and 70s; fuelling a popular movement that drew counter-cultural and back-to-earth types from all over Melbourne to settle amongst the gum trees on dirt roads. Ford worked with Knox to create landscape designs for these new mud houses and advocated a natural environment using native plants, indigenous to the area and able to grow in the regions hard clay soil.
1. I was told this by a Maltese man at a BBQ about ten years ago and it is commonly believed by other Maltese people however Ive had trouble corroborating this fact beyond heresay.
2. Gordon Ford with Gwen Ford, Gordon Ford: The natural Australian Garden, 1999, Bloomings Books, p.15.
3. Landscape designer, Sam Cox, Ford's former protégé and business partner explained, "Gordon used imported stone for a few reasons. Foremost was the aesthetics of field stone. Occurring naturally on the surface, basalt and granite have characteristics that enable us to place them to emulate their natural form. This is difficult when stone has been removed from deep in the ground. Their faces, bottoms and tops are hard and harsh due to the lack of exposure to the weather. Availability was also an issue post war as most of the stone was collected by man power out in the paddocks to the north of Melbourne. Farmers were keen to have the rock removed and so a tradition of using basalt evolved. The use of granite began as machinery was able to move the stone longer distances." Email to Penelope Aitken 6 May 2008.
In July and August 2007 I undertook an arts residency at Birrarung, a house and garden designed by Gordon Ford and now managed as the Laughing Waters Artist in Residence Program by the Shire of Nillumbik, Victoria. The rocks in these images are from that garden as well as from other gardens he designed in Eltham and beyond.
I like the way Ford thought of the rocks, as individuals that needed to be handled and placed with consideration to show off their best aspects.
I also see these rocks as symbols of an aesthetic impulse trumping ideology: of Ford's naturalistic ideal. He was actually unapologetic about the fact that rocks and plants he used were not always indigenous to the gardens he designed. In an essay titled 'Down to earth', Morag Fraser writes about Ford in the last year of his life,
"Gordon never became a crusader, a native garden zealot. 'That's the trouble with me', he says. 'I'm not prejudiced enough against other forms of garden.' His own, scattered all around the country, are testimony to a perfected naturalistic landscape art and an encyclopedic knowledge of native flora, but they are essentially permissive. The form matters more to him than any purity of species. Where we both live there are moves from time to time to irradicate imports, to return the vegetation to its pristine state, whatever that was. Gordon snorts. 'Conscientious puritanism. Just nonsense. There is no pure landscape.' "(4)
4. Morag Fraser, 'Down to earth', in Peter Timms, ed. The nature of gardens, 1999, Allen & Unwin, p.225.
|Return to menu||