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Growing up in Fairfield, artist Lauren Brincat’s Egyptian grandparents had a backyard vegetable patch, not just to save money but also to help root them in the soil of Sydney suburbia.
“It helped make my grandparents feel at home, all the immigrant families in Fairfield had vegetable gardens … and they swapped seeds many had brought from Europe which helped create a close community,” said Ms Brincat, whose contemporary art ranges from video and performance to sculpture and installation.
So when she was commissioned to devise a work which would create community around the new Tallawong Metro Station in Sydney’s north west, she decided rather than a traditional sculpture, to take a leaf out of her grandparents’ book and create a living sculpture of edible plants. Known as The Plant Library, it will be open adjacent to the station at the end of the new train line from September 21 to October 2 and commuters will be encouraged to share their stories in exchange for a seedling.
Like the driverless trains that now regularly ply the Metro Northwest rail line from Epping to Rouse Hill, many of the new train stops are still devoid of individual personalities. The artwork, commissioned by the Northwest Places Program, a partnership between Landcom and Sydney Metro which will see up to 11,000 new homes built over the next 10 years between Epping and Tallawong stations, is an attempt to change that.
“I found in the community at The Ponds and Tallawong a thirst for wanting to share and get to know their neighbours, and what better way to get to know each other than a seed swap,” she said.
Working with the locals, Ms Brincat has created a pair of sculptural greenhouses which catalogue the diverse range of edible plants, both indigenous and immigrant, grown on the Cumberland Plains. A range of community events such as backyard conversations and pickling sessions run by Marrickville’s Cornersmith café, has brought the community out of their new homes in places like The Ponds, and getting dirt under their finger nails. The art project cum community garden, has been organised through the Museum of Contemporary Art’s C3West program, which brings contemporary art to Sydney’s west.
This project has brought together a diverse range of people, from sixth generation seed saver, Annette Jones of Schofields and her vast array of indigenous plants from the local Darug people including a Murnong yam, to Sandeep Pandir, an Indian immigrant with a thriving crop of radishes in his vegie patch. Other local community gardeners, plant enthusiasts and experts, have helped gather a range of plants from nasturtiums to native figs and ginger, elderberry, lilli pilli, paw, paw and red leaf sorrel.
“These greenhouses are a way to speak to the local community, a place to exchange stories about, and experiences of, local plants and ones that have been introduced to the region. Plants you can eat and use ona day-to-day basis,” Ms Brincat said. “Plants that are effectively immigrants that Australia has absorbed into its culture. People care more for a place if they have a connection with it.”“These greenhouses are a way to speak to the local community, a place to exchange stories about, and experiences of, local plants and ones that have been introduced to the region. Plants you can eat and use ona day-to-day basis,” Ms Brincat said. “Plants that are effectively immigrants that Australia has absorbed into its culture. People care more for a place if they have a connection with it.”