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Simryn Gill

(Singapore, Malaysia, Australia 1959 – )


Not on display
Further information

Through photographs, objects and installations Simryn Gill considers how we experience a sense of place and how both personal and cultural histories inform our present moment. Her work also suggests how culture becomes naturalised, an almost invisible part of our physical environment.

Gill often works with books, narratives and texts that provide a framework through which we order and describe the world around us. 'Forest', has the appearance of an etymological proposition where Gill quite literally takes printed words back to roots. Not their roots, as in the source of their meaning, but rather the growing, evolving, decaying nature from which the raw material for books is derived. Gill tore up the fibrous matter of book pages and grafted fragile strips of text into the natural environment. Attached to tropical plants, they look like natural forms, becoming exuberant banana florescences, dangling aerial roots on fig trees, mangroves emerging from mudflats, variegations on the leaves of lush tropical foliage and decaying vegetation at the base of epiphytic ferns. The original plant interventions occurred in places where a tamed nature was in the process of becoming wild again, in decrepit gardens and decaying buildings in Malaysia and Singapore. There is something of a 'lost cities' quality to these works, as nature is in the process of reclaiming culture if not civilisation.

Gill's photographic records of her interventions recall botanical drawings and are printed in subtle tones of gray. In keeping with their observational purpose, they depict space up close and there are no vistas, faraway horizons or the distant sublime. They have something of the claustrophophic closeness and rank fecundity of tropical vegetation, which taxed the romantic imaginations of the 19th century. Gill's text has only a brief life out in the landscape as, if it is not eaten by insects, it rapidly rots away under the onslaught of the elements. While we may suspect that culture is impermanent, evolving and probably contingent, we do not really expect such classics as 'Frankenstein, The origin of species or Robinson Crusoe' to become 'cultural compost'. Gill has developed a form of wood-pulp fiction in which she 'literalises the landscape', stories and legends have taken root off the pages of books and grown into a fantastic local flora of transplanted narratives.

16 gelatin silver photographs
16 photographs: 120.0 x 95.0 cm each; 161.3 x 129.2 cm frame
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales Contempo Group 2003
Accession number
© Simryn Gill