Image Description: As the last rays of the day fall on the high rise buildings, Atmocycle I, (right) and Double Pyramid (on left) fly in the sky-scape
Artist Lloyd Godman has installed the last of eight free-floating ‘air plants’ in central Melbourne, completing his “Rotating Air Garden” suite of living sculptures supported by The City Of Melbourne as part of its 2013 Arts grants program.
For more than a decade artist Lloyd Godman, whose studio and plant propagation facilities are based in St Andrews, north-east of Melbourne, has been exploring new directions in living sculpture using personally propagated epiphytes, i.e. plants from various genera of the Bromeliad family. These exotic plants are unique in terms of their hardiness, longevity and, most importantly, their ability to thrive without being rooted in soil. Freed from the constraints of soil and terrestrial nutrients, the plants are thriving several metres aboveground with no upkeeping required.
The first air plant sculptures in “Rotating Air Garden” were installed in early February 2013, with more created in April. All these suspended plants have survived and thrived without any auxiliary watering system, artificial feeding or maintenance. “The plants receive all their nutritional requirements from sunlight, rain and ambient water vapour through their leaves,” Godman says.
“They have a crassulacean acid metabolism, or CAM cycle, which means they open their stomata at night, taking in carbon and releasing oxygen, and because temperatures are cooler at night they transpire much less water. That’s how they can withstand hot dry periods.”
The Rotating Air Garden’s living sculptures each comprise hundreds of epiphytic plants affixed to a geometrical metal frame. The works are suspended from wires alongside a public walkway overlooking Melbourne’s famous Yarra River, and abutting the equally iconic Flinders Street Station.
“No other artist in the world is using epiphytes in this way to create living sculptures,” Godman says. “It takes years to breed and grow the plants in the first place, so the artistic application is really the final step in a very long process.
“The plants I’m growing are mainly Aechmea, Billbergia, Neoregelia and Tillandsia,” Godman explains, adding that each of these genera of the family Bromeliaceae has its own strengths and suitabilities. “The plants I’ve used in Rotating Air Garden, for instance, are Tillandsia due to their environmental suitability and highly adaptive biology.”
Godman’s plant breeding program includes a broad range of varieties suited to different geographical locations and climates. In this way Godman can be sure that the plants used in any particular living sculpture are matched to its local conditions.
His air plant sculptures have been installed successfully in areas as diverse as southern Victoria, Australia; Dunedin, New Zealand; and Paris, France; there have been no reports of plant failure.
In addition, test plants at The City of Melbourne’s CH2 building have survived for years without any special watering or feeding regimes.
The suspended plants that constitute the Rotating Air Garden reveal a new world of plant dynamism, involving an interplay between the plants, their metal framework elements, and the surrounding environment. Not only are the sculptures able to move in response to breezes, but their shadows shift position throughout the day according to the passage of the sun. “In this way my air plants achieve their artistic function of reminding us of the delicacy of the natural world,” he says.