In the lounge area, an imposing amount of greenery snakes forwards as if advancing at an invisible pace. Gentle sounds emanate from beneath: two branches rubbing together, perhaps, or creatures scuffling in the undergrowth.
“We wanted to bring the pieces to life,” says Charlie Lawler, one half of Loose Leaf Studio along with Wona Bae. They worked with sound artist Martin Kay and photographer Sean Fennessy for En Route, their first exhibition in a public gallery, and one of their largest to date.
It’s the first of what Heide artistic director Lesley Harding says will be a series of “interventions” by artists responding directly to the architecture of the museum, which its founders Sunday and John Reed once called home.
“Lots of artists come and say how much they love this space, and to work with people who are sensitive to the site and treat the building like a sculpture is really exciting,” Harding says.
“I’d like to give artists an opportunity to work with the building, as opposed to in the building.”
For the past few months, Lawler and Bae have been bringing their plant materials into the gallery on Mondays while it is closed to the public, and experimenting within the space.
Fennessy captured some of their ephemeral installations, and those photographs now hang on the walls as part of the public exhibition, alongside the final sculptures. The images give the eerie impression that you’re looking into a mirror and seeing something reflected that isn’t actually there – or perhaps that the sculptures have climbed the stairs or slithered around the corner while you weren’t looking.
“We think of them as almost glacier-like, as they start to move through the space,” Lawler says. “But we don’t want to put a definition on what people imagine them to be.”
Some of the bigger sculptures are made up of whole leaves, while others are constructed using the Japanese tatami weaving technique to create more formal shapes.
“We want it to be a representation of nature but we don’t want it to be an identifiable object. We want it to be familiar but foreign,” Lawler says.
“We want to make people a little bit uncomfortable,” says Bae.
The pair has been working together for 15 years, founding Loose Leaf Studio in Collingwood six years ago to explore the relationships between nature, the built environment and human activity, Lawler says.
They recently worked on Rone’s popular Burnham Beeches installation, and have exhibited internationally – including their biggest-ever project, a 10-metre-tall hanging sculpture made from asparagus ferns and shown in a 15th century palace in Spain.
Loose Leaf Studio’s En Route is at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, until February 20. The artists will present a talk at 2pm on Saturday November 9 and host a studio visit on November 23.
Hannah Francis is Arts Editor at The Age