A thousand tides.

Kudos to Vera Möller, as she heightens awareness of nature’s fragility to audiences well beyond the inner circles of the Australian art world.

Vera’s exhibition at Bunjil Place, Narre Warren, is supported by a catalogue and a children’s field guide entitled A Brief Guide to the Creatures and Plants of Western Port Bay. The exhibition sits within ‘Art+Climate=Change’, a festival program featuring exhibitions, theatre works, lectures, events and public forums on climate and environmental science (it is a festival that Gippslandia has supported this year).

Bunjil Place is adjacent to a mega-Westfield shopping domain. Strategically located at the intersection of highways that connect south-eastern regional Gippsland and outer-suburban populations, it links to the wetlands surrounding French Island National Park and the coastal ecosystems from Phillip Island to Westernport Bay on the Mornington Peninsula.

There is respectful acknowledgement that evokes the 35,000 year pre-colonial history of the catchments and swamps that once provided an abundance of natural resources to the Bunurong and Wurundjeri people, a place where they harvested eggs from many bird species, caught seal and mutton birds, and fished and foraged for shellfish, orchid bulbs and wild currants.

No stone is left unturned in Vera’s bid to connect to new audiences, to lure them in to the natural wonder of the local wetlands and coastal shores, and to engage them in the challenge of protecting the unique flora and fauna of Western Port Bay.

A Thousand Tides is a seductive introduction to a swathe of species, including sea slugs, weedy sea dragons, rare grasses and mangroves, and the mud, sand and basalt terrains that form their habitats.

There is an optimism to the exhibition not often found in the ‘art meets science’ discussion. Vera immerses us in a theatrical and hallucinatory carnival of colour — a world where aqueous plants and translucent, gelatinous sea life sway in the tidal ebb and flow. There is a lightness and delicacy in the spotted, striped and curious objects and drawings — strange creatures in a peaceful and silent state of cohabitation.

Playful abstractions and the scaling up and down of forms enhance the surrealism, but there is also an authenticity and a precision of detail that stems from Vera’s scientific background.

Vera’s study of marine biology began in her birth country, Germany, where she researched the freshwater ecology of the Bavarian lakes. Vera’s original motivation had been to become a biological illustrator, but it wasn’t until she settled in Australia in 1986 that she unleashed her prodigious artistic talent via an academic pathway that led to a Doctorate in Fine Arts at Monash University.

This exhibition is a confident and transparent exposure of a practice that has evolved through a mix of media experimentation, scientific research and creative and intellectual refinement.

It is a quirky mixed-media collection of miniature and monumental works — underwater photographs, collages, drawings, sculpture and paintings — arranged and loosely classified into specimens of pure art.

From the delicate and flimsy collation of taxonomic drawings in philolia that document strange and slug-like creatures, to the monumental painting slow indigo 2015-19, an exuberant evocation of underwater space, movement and colour, this exhibition betrays an artist who is using all their powers of imagination and creativity to take us into another world.

Her visual inspiration comes from a perspective that might be experienced by a diver or snorkeler.

According to Vera, “Vision becomes the primary sense with which one interacts with the surrounding space … forms, surfaces and tissues of marine fauna and flora (that) resist specific definitions … an overwhelming variety of otherworldly life forms, biologies with characteristically scintillating colour and contrasts … intricate surfaces, mysterious structures and transparent and gelatinous forms … complex visual phenomena, of opalescence, luminescence and iridescence. The encountered spaces assume an almost hallucinatory quality”.

In the installation cajalia, Vera’s field of sculptured ‘mangrove roots’ tipped with phosphorescence and lit by ultra-violet lights, she evokes a kind of visual magic that recreates what she describes as “the fascinating communication systems employed by aquatic life-forms”.

With the keen observation skills of a scientist, Vera is engaged in shedding a bright light on the hidden treasury of phenomenal significance in the Great Southern Reef. She is thrilled by its plethora of undiscovered species — sea-grasses, molluscs, crustaceans and marine worms. It is a smorgasbord of fascination and exploration.

The monumental paintings take us to an enchanting ‘fictional’ place where a wondrous fusion of these life forms wafts through dark and mysterious spaces illuminated by dramatic contrasts of light and shade, luminous colour, rhythmic patterns and sensuous flowing plant forms animated by the ebb and flow of tides.

Vera exemplifies the essence of ‘biophiliarts’, i.e. she is an artist — evocative, playful, tapping deep into the history and culture of place, connecting us, heart and soul, to the mesmerising beauty, complexity and fragility of the marine biosphere of our Western Port Bay.

For families, residents and travellers who sense the need for action on climate change, Vera’s art will inspire and delight.

You can enjoy more of Jo’s writing at www.biophiliarts.com, by Studio JOMO, which encourages connectivity between practitioners, theorists, collectors and audiences who share a love of art and nature.

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