10/06/23 — 06/07/23
10/06/23 — 06/07/23
Karin Montgomery’s Paragon is an odyssey in a pocket, a trip into the mind-altering experience of staying in one spot. Her exacting paper specimens record what grows in a small radius of her inner city Tāmaki home. This catalogue of the easily found, not easily duplicated, is heterogenous, ranging across flower-less ‘weeds’, native and exotic species, typically represented at a life stage well past first flowering. Apps that identify plants on your phone are fooled by the verisimilitude of these blooms, correctly identifying their species and the fact they are languishing — “This plant is not in good condition and needs more care!”
Montgomery’s attentiveness to the ecology of her immediate environment has its origins in a time of pandemic lockdowns and is aligned with widespread biophilia intensified by awareness of climate crisis. Each of the 109 or so paper blossoms on her Manuka require approximately 41 steps to make. Such feats of patience are propelled by cultural as well as botanical observation. “It is hard for me to separate the plant from its history,” Montgomery says. Like many living in a post-colonial society, she is drawn to places, like her garden, that reveal what V.S Naipaul calls, ‘the wiped-out, complete past below one’s feet’.
In 2022, Montgomery was invited by Ngā Kohina Taonga Whakahirahira Auckland Libraries Special Collection, to replicate a flower illustrated in the earliest compendium devoted entirely to the rose, Mary Lawrance’s 1799, A Collection of Roses from Nature. Having successfully conjured Lawrance’s ‘Rosa Provincialis B’ from an engraving, the artist then set out to make the first rose cultivated in Aotearoa. ‘Slater’s Crimson China’ arrived in Te Tai Tokerau in 1814 with Samuel Marsden’s missionaries. Two decades earlier this particular rose was introduced to England from China. A 1794 issue of The Botanical Magazine reported it capable of growing, “in so small a compass of earth, that it may be reared almost in a coffee cup.” Montgomery ordered a ‘Slater’s Crimson China’ from a specialist nursery, put it in her garden and waited for it to flower.
The making for this exhibition has proceeded according to the seasons, beginning with the Camellia in late winter, the Kōwhai and Manuka in spring and Dahlia Pinnata in summer. Examples of the native dandelion Taraxacum Magellanicum are so plentiful that she has made them at any time. Montgomery’s Camellia Japonica is an example of her exceptional crafting — a sumptuous expression of the textural variety of that plant’s various life phases. Tightly furled suede-like buds nestle between strong glossy leaves. A freshly opened flower coexists with a lushly rotting head. Golden stamens have the appearance of velvety lashes.
Montgomery’s specimens transmit her fascination with the long backstory of the plants in her garden. She has traced their arrival via China, Europe and Central America. She is preoccupied with the social history that accompanies flowers such as the flourishing of camellia societies at a time when that flower’s scarcity made it emblematic of social status. However, what grew in France as a hot-house rarity, grew so well in Aotearoa that it became tainted by ubiquity. Here lies the emotional charge of these specimens. The artist spurns the paragon in favour of the ordinary and aging. Native, exotic, with or without flower, Montgomery’s superlative replication releases the wonder of nature.