Merinda Davies’ conversations with the forest

Gold Coast artist Merinda Davies has created a truly green piece of art: inviting the public to help grow a micro-forest in Surfers Paradise, on Kombumerri Country.

Using plant species native to the region, the forest will become a ‘paradise’ people can enjoy in the future. A soundscape created for the forest will filter through speakers, utilising tones and sounds similar to the electric pulse language of the trees.

Merinda Davies will be situated in the centre of Surfers Paradise in residency at Cavill Lane during the development of this first-of-a-kind artwork entitled ‘Conversations with the Forest’, where she will run a series of workshops, public talks and host an open studio where the community will be able to engage in the piece in progress.

We caught up with Merinda to find out more about the project.

Tell us about the public’s responses to the project so far.

I have been overwhelmed with the positive responses to the project, from people stopping by for long chats about the project and concepts behind it, to people dropping me off seeds and even a rare native orchid and as I am sitting here someone just popped their head into the studio read the artist statement and proclaimed ‘Conversations with the Forest, how good is that!’ before getting on with his day.

I think that people are excited by the prospect of bringing back some of the forest in Surfers, surprised to come across my artist studio in the centre of Surfers where I am beginning to grow the plants for the future forest. In conversation with people who live here I have found a willingness to be part of the project, to help plant the forest when it gets to that stage and a longing for more access to nature spaces in the city.

It’s such an inspired idea. Where did it come from?

Thank you, I honestly feel that it came from the trees. As well as a kind of accumulation of different points in my life, as a kid where I grew up my parents were and still are regenerating land that was damaged because of cattle farming, my early memories are of propagating and planting trees and spending a lot of time in forests, it feels like it’s a part of my DNA.

Then a few years ago I went to a symposium on environmental field recording and Monica Gagliano was a key speaker. She spoke about her research which showed how trees are able to listen and change their behaviour based on what they hear, this really inspired me and set me on a path exploring her research and other people’s writing on this subject.

Then a couple of years ago I was a participant in a workshop run by choreographer Katina Olsen, we were outside under some big old trees, I was lying on the ground in a kind of meditative state when a really clear vision of the artwork formed in my mind. Then the next day I found out that where Surfers Paradise is now, only 100 years ago was a dense littoral rainforest teeming with a diverse ecosystem of plants.

Since then I have continued to research and refine the concept. Importantly it is being supported through Generate GC a program run by City of Gold Coast in partnership with Situate Art in Festivals, this has been a really amazing opportunity as a young artist to have the support of senior artists and mentors to be connected into a community of people who are making site specific art, and who are able to give me feedback and answer some of the tricky questions I have had while expanding my practice into this new space. In short I think the idea came from the trees, in some way asking me to make this work. And in long it’s a lifetime of connections, conversations, listening and reading coming together through a confluence of time, space and support.

Who are your fellow collaborators and what are their roles in the project?

I am working with a lot of different people to bring this project to life and before I mention a couple of the really key humans I wanted to mention very important collaborators: the plants, the fungi, the ferns and the microbes that are bringing this work to life, I am learning a lot through observing, sitting with and listening to these collaborators.

A couple of the brilliant human collaborators I am working with are Justine Dillon, who is a Kombumerri, Noonuccal and Ngugi Indigenous ranger and Traditional Owner. She brings an incredible amount of knowledge about environmental conservation and preservation, native plants and animals and Cultural Heritage to the project. And researcher Monica Gagliano whose research has been a really key part of the concepts. Monica is a Research Associate Professor in evolutionary ecology, and director of the Biological Intelligence (BI) Lab. Her research focuses on plant behaviour and cognition, she has demonstrated experimentally that learning is possible for plants, and that plants do make sounds; and change their behaviour based on what they hear.

Justine and Monica bring specialised knowledge to the project. I am also working with sound artist Lawrence English who has been mentoring me while I create a soundscape that responds to the questions, how does the forest listen? How can we experience listening from the perspective of plants? And lastly the project is being produced by Generate GC and I have partnered with Cavill Lane Surfers Paradise.

What is your vision for the future of ‘Conversations with The Forest’?

My hope is that once it is installed into a public space it becomes a permanent place for connection, for deep listening, and a blueprint for how we can regenerate city-scapes. The forest will outlive me and those who plant the trees. My hope is that it not only connects the trees, fungi and ferns into a forest network but also brings other species and humans together into a multispecies community who can share the forest space.

When you stand in the centre of the forest you will be able to see into the past considering what Surfers might have felt, sounded and looked like 100 years ago, and also the future potentials of what this place will look, feel, sound and smell like in 100 years’ time? It will be a space to reflect on the past and future and consider the actions we can take in the present to create spaces for future generations to experience the incredible beauty and deep knowledge the trees hold. I think we are alive at a really important time, the actions and spaces we create now are key to the survival of rare species that are disappearing and also to our own survival as a species. We are part of a messy entangled web of aliveness and being alive, breathing means we are in and have always been in a deep symbiotic relationship with trees.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

I would love to invite people into the studio to see the forest as it begins to grow, to share in a conversation, to leave a message for the future forest.

The studio is at 8-04 Cavill Lane, Surfers Paradise and I am open to the public on Wednesday – Friday, 12-5pm.  You can also book a time outside of this through the online portal:

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