For multidisciplinary designer, educator, and former long-time The Mill resident Robyn Wood, the 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns unlocked a greater appreciation for our city’s urban oases, the Park Lands, and, by extension the inherent and evolutionary need to connect with nature.
These realisations led to Biophilia: an exhibition featuring some of South Australia’s most innovative contemporary designers whose work will evoke that sense of awe that only nature can inspire; and a symposium where creative thinkers, furniture designers, writers, architects, artists, and environmentalists will gather to discuss how we can continue to evolve our modern cityscapes sustainably, while honouring our cherished connection to the wild and ancient.
Last year, as summer faded, the festivals packed away their marquees, and the government ordered us to stay at home for the first time, Wood and her family adopted a daily ritual to cope: they walked from their inner-city rental into the slightly sun-scorched Park Lands. Creatives and thinkers, including Wordsworth and Thoreau, have long used walking to unlock creativity. From these daily ambles, Biophilia was born.
“The pandemic was the spark that started this project. It started me thinking about how vital a connection to nature is, especially when we can’t travel further aﬁeld and we are spending so much time in our urban spaces. We turn inwardly and look for ways we can cope and keep mental health and a sense of wellbeing. Connecting to nature in our built environment can help.”
Early in the project’s inception, Wood reached out to event partner The Design Institute of Australia, then compiled a wish list of six designers in varying stages of their careers whose work was inspired in some way by nature. The exhibition features five of those designers, as well as Wood, as she explains.
“I knew all the designers from their work on commercial projects or design exhibitions at the Jam factory. I wanted a small group that were very skilled and creatively diverse but all sitting under the auspices of the Design Institute of Australia. The group includes industrial designer Caren Elliss, designer and sculpture Sally Wickes, Enoki a multidisciplinary design studio, Peter Walker designer, maker and academic, Jake Shaw who has interior architecture background focusing on his mushroom mycelium materials and myself with an Interior architecture, furniture design and making background.”
Wood’s installation, ‘Grassplace’, is named after the Kaurna word for Carriageway park, Tuthangga, which is carpeted by native grasses that provide the habitat for the rare grassland copper butterfly. She hopes that the work will shine light on the plight of this species and the community groups who work tirelessly to protect them, and the Park Lands generally.
“Groups like Trees for Life have volunteers work in three Bush for Life sites across the Adelaide Park Lands, Conservation Volunteers Australia work alongside the City of Adelaide in community-based projects while Butterﬂy Conservation SA volunteers have been integral in developing management actions to ensure the survival of native butterﬂies, particularly the rare Chequered Copper Butterﬂy (Lucia limbaria) in Victoria Park/Pakapakanthi.”
The Symposium, to be held on 28 August, will be a platform for such community groups, as well as the Adelaide Sustainable Building Network, who are also an event partner. The event has also received support from the City of Adelaide, Gilchrist Connell, Bank SA Foundation and Arts SA.
For Wood, it is also an opportunity to return to The Mill, a space that was formative for her creative practice.
“When I ﬁrst came to the Mill it was solely to showcase my furniture. I had a studio with a view to Angas Street. I had many years working in the commercial world of furniture manufacturing and interior architecture. I opened my furniture design studio in 2015.”
“I soon discovered The Mill to be an incubator for creativity. The other tenant’s work is so varied and there is often creative collaboration and discussion but you are also surrounded by a variety of creative approaches. That can inﬂuence or polarise your approach.”
“The Mill offers opportunity for growth if you want that. My work now encompasses furniture, sculpture, and creative projects. During my ﬁrst solo exhibition at the Mill in 2019 I discovered a love for curating. The Visual Arts curator at The Mill Adele Siluzus encouraged and guided me in that direction and has led to me developing this recent work.”
Biophilia: Call of the Wild runs until 17 September