Let there be life

Ciara Chan reviews Dublin Fringe Festival’s Garden of Shadows

“What’s with the ominous ambient noise?” cries a child, her voice breaking through the darkness. I smile, but she’s not wrong. The low hum of ominous music projects from speakers just out of sight in the dark. As part of the Dublin Fringe Festival Welsh artist, Jony Easterby partnered with the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin in order to create the Garden of Shadows, a mysterious, yet luminous, 1km walk that brings its viewer on a journey created by lights accentuating the darkness. A story told through shadows. So take a leap and follow me through the obscurity. Join me on an enchanting path through the dancing lights and colourful imagery. 

The Garden of Shadows filled the National Botanic Gardens with moving light installations. The dimly lit gardens at 9:00 pm on Thursday, September 14, created an almost spooky atmosphere which the dreary weather gave a whole new mystical aspect to. The rain that threatened to fall, but never actually managed a drop, added to the mystique. Projections displayed on net screens showed cycles of seeds falling and trees growing in feathery images. The netting, set up in front of grasses and bushes allowed the images to seem almost as though they were popping out of the real flora that was just out of sight in the darkness. Poppies emerged, only to be cut down by the outline of human figures and then the cycle would begin anew. On another part of the walk, darts of light travelled up shin-high plants, dancing along each stem and sprout creating a show that invoked imagery of fireworks. Wiring that formed the outline of bird houses lined a gravel path revealing machinery underneath that mimicked the chirping of birds. 

Imagine seeing life beyond the human realm. Our meagre senses allow us to perceive the hustle and bustle of city life and the flowers blowing in the wind along the Howth cliff walk on a sunny day, but that only scratches the surface of the activity that surrounds us everyday. The Garden of Shadows exhibition celebrates the energy that often goes unappreciated: the vivacity that courses through every leaf and bud, every rock and stone. When visiting the botanical gardens, we get a snapshot of a world that provides a welcome contrast to the dreary halls of the Arts Building and glass interior of the Business Building. Depending on the season, we experience each rose, oak and daffodil in whatever stage of life inherent to that time of year, whether that’s a sprouting stem peeping up through the soil and shy buds waiting for encouragement from the sun to unfurl revealing its inner beauty, or petals wilting from the cold after a long summer serving the bees; perhaps you even decide to visit on a rainy day during the winter (weird but you do you I guess), when the cold leaves the gardens looking dreary and desolate, in want of summer’s colourful vibrancy. 

“You are a guest visiting an incredible community, privileged to be invited to the party, this celebration of life”

Regardless, we only experience the moment. In order to truly appreciate the changing aspect of natural life, we would have to sit there for months, and, considering social media has diagnosed us all with ADHD, who has the attention span for that? Easterby’s exhibition creates silhouettes that move through lights and misty projections showing the different stages of life progressing in a moment. Through the shadows we see every crevice and wrinkle in trees, every knot in the bark carved out through time. We will never be able to see each transformation or fully appreciate each interlocking fibre developing right under our noses. Misty projections and colourful lights break through the darkness, showing what has been and what could be, leaving our imaginations to fill in the gaps; leaving us with an appreciation for a constantly shifting world. Walking along the dimly lit path, the low hum of speakers hidden in the bushes accompanies your trek, projecting a hymn for the bees and buzzing flowers, speaking the language of the trees. Each tune that echoes through the darkness blends with nature’s voice whether that be the soft hum of insects moving through flowers or the call of birds from the trees. You are not stepping through flowers and grasses. You are a guest visiting an incredible community, privileged to be invited to the party, this celebration of life. 

Much like the way in which the Botanic Gardens create a refuge from city living, surrounding its visitors with the beauty of nature, The Garden of Shadows presents a singular exhibition that truly differs from the other Fringe Festival events. It constructs a unique opportunity for its viewer to feel fully immersed in a work of art. Every set up, every projection is a part of a larger work. Each aspect works together to create a cohesive piece that makes a lasting impression. In the spacious solace of the gardens, a light is thrown on the life that grows under our feet, the life that we often don’t even realise is there. The noise of the gardens buzz around you. It is simultaneously peaceful and chaotic. Whoever said nature was quiet?