Films that map worlds that might have been, that we thought were here, that would be, that weren’t. (1)
Void is delighted to present a project by Alasdair Asmussen Doyle, titled Saw in half in the Void Engage Space. The project documents the presence of Tasmanian flora within the island of Ireland. The body of work draws upon 16mm film to examine the translation of botanical material and knowledge between Malahide, Tasmania and Malahide, Ireland.
In the foreground of the exhibition is Malahide Castle, and the enduring residue of the collecting practices of its former resident, Lord Milo Talbot. A British diplomat, botanist, and the 7th and last Baron of Malahide, Talbot was a keen gardener, who traveled widely to: “find [rare] plants growing in the wild and attempt to persuade them to accustom themselves to life in my garden” (2). Whether in their feebleness or reluctance to flower, such plants however typically bore the marks of this improbable transposition; as if resisting the habituation to their staged environment, and elucidating an inseparability to the natural context with which they were removed from. It was this antipodean incongruity that led Talbot to commission a group of 35 drawings of Tasmanian plants, from which six volumes of botanical books titled The Endemic Flora of Tasmania emerged; a pictorial history classifying Tasmanian flora.
The use of the moving-image within Saw in half serves as a tool with which to excavate this history, unearthing a geography of not just the displaced, but an evolving topography of the in-between, simultaneously “of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed” (3). The Cut is composed of 16mm footage filmed within the Malahide Gardens over the course of 2021, edited using a Joseph Rogers & Sons cut throat razor; the same used by Talbot’s team for dissecting plantal specimens.
The second film, titled Telopea Truncata, – the scientific label for the Tasmanian Waratah – draws its name from the Greek telopos, meaning “seen from afar”, and the Latin truncatus, meaning cut off. This flower was of particular interest to Talbot, and the subject of numerous unsuccessful attempts to propagate within Ireland. Within Telopea Truncata, a 3D apparition of the Waratah is produced, that is subsequently transferred to 16mm film for projection. Akin to the transplantation of Tasmanian flora into an estranged environment, an inversion takes place, resulting in the two films oscillating between analogue and digital forms.
This hybridity is further evident in Malahide Castle, 03.2021 – 12.2021, an evolving work made from fallen plant material sourced from Malahide Gardens, referencing the 6000+ planting cards held within the Fingal County Archive that trace Talbot’s efforts to cultivate flora from one Malahide to another. Through this approach, the research subject of Tasmanian flora is textually erased, and materially embedded in the creation of a new archive.
The engagement of anachronistic shooting instruments, early forms of cinematic projection, and paper fabrication, alongside 3D animation, serves to create a geographic ambiguity that is both temporally and placially opaque. Such positions repurpose pre-existing frames of reference as tools to unearth the folds of a landscape, exposing a pluralistic human—vegetal—technological entangling embedded in the places we inhabit. Whereas the Western positivist paradigm from which The Endemic Flora of Tasmania emerged encouraged a systematic ordering of the natural world, these filmic approaches propagate a disordering; mediating on sites such as Malahide as the complex spatial reverberation of a myriad of multispecies voices.
(1) From Kit Webb’s textual responses as part of Beside, on the other side, an online platform forming part of Alasdair’s practice-based PhD at the Belfast School of Art. Viewable online at www.beside.alasdairasmussendoyle.com
(2) Curtis, W., Stones., M & Talbot, M., 1967 – 1972, The Endemic Flora of Tasmania, The Ariel Press London
(3) Foucault, Michel. (1986) “Of Other Spaces”, in Diacritics Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring, 1986), The Johns Hopkins University Press
(4) Telopea Truncata is made in collaboration with Laura Anderson, and with the support of the Animation Department at Ulster University.
This project was made possible through Future Screens NI funding