Tending at Social Relations and Critical Spaces


Caleb Kelly is one of the lecturers at SCA, and, amongst other things, runs a class for Art Theory, Social Relations and Critical Spaces.
In it it tends to present the reality of post-object art, presenting the works of the like of Gordon-Matta Clark, Vito Acconci and ( I would assume) Alan Kaprow, the situationist, the fluxus movement etc..
As stated in the course outline;

In 1971, Conceptual artist Gordon Matta-Clark, among others, opened Food, a restaurant run by artists, where cooking and dining became a means of artistic expression and debate. Twenty years later, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s work Untitled (Free) took the form of a Thai meal cooked by the artist in the gallery for its patrons. Taking its cue form works such as these, this elective explores expanded models of contemporary art practice and new forms of institutional and social critique. Drawing on the legacies of Situationism and Conceptual Art, it addresses the current dynamics of authorship (such as collaboration and artist collectives), spectatorship, and the politics of space.

So when the Tending garden project started in the courtyard beside the library Caleb quickly enlisted as a great supporter, organising public presentations and lectures.
Above is the image of Lucas presenting Tending to one half of the class, in the garden, on a glorious (outdoor) day.
The students were very engaged with the presentation, asking key questions on a variety of aspects of such an academic adventure as growing a garden could be.
Fantastically they also engaged in follow up conversations on their own blog , here, where some of the questions and reasoning popped back up.
Is it art?
Short answer is YES.
Long answer is: does it matter? If as cultural practitioners the end game is communication, does it matter if it fits the label?
Lots of academics delved in recent decades on the thorny question ‘does art have agency’, does art really activate anything outside of its own bubble, can art realistically engage in a constructive and critically-participatory way with modern society?
Or is it just furniture, preaching to converted, high-end consumerist comfort-food for the intellect?

I truly recommend this post by Jodie as an example of how the listeners digested the Tending presentation.
Hopefully some of this people will come about and follow the growing through, inserting their own personal readings as layers of soil, and compost.

As for highlighting the already solid connection of Tending with the outside world surrounding the campus, we (Tending and a number of other keen gardeners) have been invited to advise on a gardening project at Anyplace, the new Leichhardt Council supported artist studios complex just up the road from SCA, see details here.
Get in contact if you want to participate too, Anyplace is worth it. First meeting this coming Monday, send a mail to tending.

Somewhat making a garden sets up a level ground for all, or as Jodie post, a garden could well sit outside all of the already defined structures, transversely joining and inverting them all.

Heather says…

Here’s an announcement from Heather, about a talk by Jill Finnane which is happening TONIGHT, Tuesday October 19th.

Jill wrote the book “Lawns into Lunch” which features Betty, the lady who runs the cafe here at SCA!

Permaculture Inner West is very excited that Jill Finnane is coming to talk about her book, FROM LAWNS TO LUNCH.

We’ll be in the usual space – Leichhardt School of Arts, next to the fire station, almost on the
corner of Marion St and Balmain Rd, Leichhardt.

The meeting starts at 7.00 pm but refreshments will be on tap from 6.30 pm.

We all tend to bring a little something to share.

It would be helpful to know if you’re able to come but only if you’ve not already replied.

See you there.


photo esssay


A gorgeous day, sunny and somewhat humid, like when big storms build-up. The rain of the past week did wonders for the garden, everyone walking in today was aghast by the growth and health of the planted so far.
I decided to end the day with a photo essay of the plants, the protagonist of much that happens at Tending, point of discussion common to most.

cherry tomatoes, flowering

Cherry tomatoes, just flowering in Betty’s garden

celery, as it says

Celery, this sort is very good to make stock with, as being very tasty, says Betty 🙂


Violets, very happy ones. Today we planted a few more too, one punnet came from Heather, and a few more bushes from Betty (together with warrigal greens, basil, bay trees and.. oops, don’t remember now)

blackberry nightshade

a resident, Blackberry nightshade. No one planted this one, but it’s happy none-the-less


No one planted this one either.. fireweed


Lettuce. The recent rain made the garden we did with Cecila back in August boom with goodness


The sugarcane responded quite well, eventually

potatoes, happy ones

this is just going off! Tending will offer potatoes to all in a few months!

text, by the roll

Liz Days grass text is ready to go. Next week she will have an opening at Casula Powerhouse, this blog will post the details in the next few days.

So, great to see lots of people popping in and catching up with Tending’s development: Heather came to do some planting and watering, Ingrid to catch up with Heather but missed her, nevertheless she pops in Tending regularly watering herself. Koji on the way out of the wood workshops, with some unusual display devices for his upcoming show, stopped by for a chat and a look, while Liz and Robert were busy carting away rolls of grass. And then there was Reto, who’s comments are always sharp, and Betty, with coffe and biscuits; Charles who just wanted to have a look, and Kate who had a look already, but was keen to see where it was all at. And then others who I don’t remember names, or didn’t introduce myself.
We also have a resident bird, a myna. I cannot tell weather is male or female, so, at this stage, let’s call it Charlie?

Tending away

on talking about tending


what is tending
Click on the image to see it bigger…

Me and Lucas gave a talk yesterday as part of the Lunch Time Lecture series at SCA, to whoever wanted to know a bit more about what is actually happening in the courtyard beside the library: Tending.

After brainstorming about how to tackle the (not) lecture we resolved a few points: 1 we wanted to be fun and light, the guests were on their lunch break after all; 2 we wanted it to cover what is Tending, what happened so far, give a short over-arching idea of the concept of Art as social relations, give a short overview of a few art projects which dealt with the concept of food (or food production) as art and gardening (or ecological co-habitation) as art; bring the Tending project outside of the art bubble, by placing it in the wider debates now pressing society; present what we (me and Lucas) do outside of Tending; bring in the presentation other fellow travelers so far; invite all guests to participate and walk to the garden.

To keep it snappy we decided to break it in short sections, of 5 minutes each, with one person only speaking at any given point. Somewhat I felt this delivery would give better the idea of plurality within the project: different voices having all a fare share of attention.
Heather spoke of her involvement, and of the community surrounding the SCA campus, an important aspect which allows Tending to truly ingrain itself in a much wider social reality.
Incidentally there is going to be a Verge planting happening this w/e in Rozelle, see Heather’s corner for details.
Great way to get to meet the local green promoters.

We offered some mustard greens and lettuce from the garden to all, and thanks to Daniel’s questioning of the disengagement on our behalf with the bureaucracy surrounding the implementation of the project, we adventured into some interesting conversation about social dynamics and transparency, or the lack of.
We will surely talk more about his ideas and questionings.

Above there is a fantastic thought map by Lucas, with which he presented the complexities underlying the project, yet, the simplicity of growing and letting grow, overshadow and mellow down the implications.

Thanks all for coming to the talk, I will be tending on Thursday next, pop in, have a tea.

Betty Makes A Bed


Betty summoned us to Tending on Tuesday last week, rather than the usual Thursday. Why? She decided to take half a day off her work in the Cafe, to make her own garden bed!

This post briefly documents the whirlwind of activity – thanks to Betty and her team – which saw our growable bed area at Tending double in just one day.

It’s probably well-known across campus that Betty is a great gardener. But I’m not sure how many staff and students would be aware that she and her “Marrickville Jungle” are actually featured in the book Lawns into Lunch: growing food in the city by Jill Finnane:

tending day 24 sept 2010

Since the cafe shifted location, from its corner spot last year to the current, more central, location, Betty says that (for some reason I haven’t yet been able to grasp) she’s not allowed to grow herbs in pots on site. So she was really keen to get involved in our garden right from the beginning. She’s been bringing us her coffee grounds and food scraps for the compost; and I’m really looking forward to the time when the garden gets productive enough for her to harvest lettuces and herbs to actually use in the cafe.

Anyway – she rustled up a few keen students – notably Yumi, a photo-media artist with no prior gardening experience; and Dan, a graduate of the glass-making programme at SCA: a keen gardener himself.

Here’s Dan, who arrived with some really healthy-looking seedlings from his own home nursery:

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

– these are Dan’s chili seedlings – hundreds of them!

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

Betty started by putting down a layer of cardboard boxes – mostly packaging from cafe deliveries:

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

(That’s Yumi with the orange skirt, and regular Tend-er-er Lisa in the middle).

Next, Betty laid down some leaves and branches she brought from home, as well as some compostables from the cafe (including coffee grounds):

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

Then we loaded on all 9 sacks of soil I had been holding in reserve for this moment (thanks again to Rachel from freecycle for the soil from her yard!):

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

By this stage, Heather had arrived to help out too, and also Jess, who took these photos. Heather and I went to grab a few more wheelbarrows full of leaves from one of the nearby courtyards, to bulk up the bed.

And then it was time for lunch! Betty had prepared the most delicious feast for us, fried spicey potatoes and sticky rice and taboulli, served on banana leaves – all the packaging went into the garden bed at the end of the meal!

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

As a nice surprise, Ross, our benevolent overlord showed up just in time for lunch. This is his first time visiting the garden when we’ve been in full swing, and he was very pleased to find us all in action. (Note Ross’ good taste in hats).

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

Dan and I got back to work, heaving some of sandstone blocks to the site with the help of, at first the wheelbarrow, and later, his station wagon. Here you can see the blocks starting to shape up around the sides of the emergent bed:

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

And in the above photo, more people! Word was getting around that the garden was open – it seems that people love coming along to lounge and enjoy the sight of bucolic labourers. (Above are Susan, Bec and her son; and Lizzie who is working with Betty, already starting to plant-out the bed.

The bed shaping up:

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

A mini water-feature embedded, with watercress:

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

The proud artist having done her work for the day:

tending day, 28 sept 2010: betty makes a bed

Later that evening, Lisa sent me a text message:

Man I am pooped! I
am SO impressed
by Betty. She’s the
real deal. It’s like
SCA is her village.
Thanks for the fun,
L x

Betty says: “It’s nothing special, the shape of the bed and everything can be modified later, it’s just to get something in and growing first, and worry about all that down the track.”