Key Themes: Ephemeral Public Artwork; Conceptual Artwork
- Look at the photographs of Grasslands and then at the State Library of Victoria (SLV) forecourt as it is today. Can you identify what Tegg did to change the environment?
- For Grasslands Tegg reintroduced grasses native to south-east Australia to the SLV forecourt. Can you deduce why you think the artist was inspired to do this?
- Because Grasslands was ephemeral (temporary), all that is left of the artwork are photographs. What are some other methods you can think of to create an artwork that leaves no trace afterwards? Consider media that wash away, dissolve, or are removable.
- What kind of public artwork would you create for the SLV forecourt? Try to make your idea site specific – look at the existing features of the site such as artworks, architecture, and library users – how could those elements become an actual part of your artwork?
Linda Tegg’s Grasslands is an example of ephemeral public artwork. The artwork was an installation of grasses native to south-east Australia that Tegg grew and then installed within the forecourt of the State Library of Victoria (SLV). It was a part of the 2014 Melbourne Festival visual arts program and because it was temporary, today we can only experience it in photographs.
The SLV forecourt is a popular place for the public to gather in the CBD. It is the largest open green area in that part of the city, where all other parts of the natural landscape have been built over. However, even though there is grass growing and a few trees, this landscape is artificially constructed and consists primarily of introduced flora. Artist Linda Tegg noticed these conditions and decided to create an artwork that would recreate what the library forecourt might have appeared like in its natural state, prior to the colonisation of the land to establish Melbourne.
“For my Grasslands project in 2014, I wanted to recreate the pre-settlement grassland that once stretched across Melbourne, in the State Library of Victoria forecourt.”
In 2018 Tegg has recreated Grasslands for the Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy. The artist has not reused all the same plants, rather, she has created a new iteration of the artwork using the same methods. This is possible because Grasslands is a conceptual artwork. A conceptual artwork exists as an idea that can be carried out by following the instructions or guidelines for creation. With Grasslands, the site, the type of plants, and the style of installation are key to its concept. So the work can be the same, but different. A contrast to this would be a painting of some grasslands, where the artists particular perspective, expression, brush strokes and colour use might too complex or nuanced to be reduced to a set of instructions.
In 1982 American artist Agnes Denes created Wheatfield – A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan by planting a field of wheat in the middle of New York on a vacant site where a skyscraper was to be built. Like Grasslands, today this artwork exists only as images. The similar manner in which Denes’ artwork engaged the surreal contrast of an unexpected planting in the city environment marks it as an art-historical precedent for Grasslands.