May 10, 2019
Arts & Culture

Living Rocks: SA art on world stage in Venice

A world away from their upper South East farm, two South Australian artists have packed up the landscape and laid it down in Italy.

A piece of the Mallee sits in the famed Maggazzini del Sale stone salt storehouses of Venice in a testament to the stunning scenery of our state.

On show to the world at La Biennale di Venezia, artists James Darling and Lesley Forwood created Living Rocks: A Fragment of the Universe as an exploration of the beginning of life on earth.

The pair have used Mallee roots to form the likeness of rock-like thrombolites, the only living organisms on earth for three billion years, and the creators of our atmosphere.

James describes his first experience seeing the structures in a lake as eerie. “It had an otherworldly feel about it, and it’s got some areas where the sky and the water seem to merge and there seem to be no horizon line, and it could go on forever.”

It’s a feeling that’s difficult to replicate, but James and Lesley bring to life their sculptures with a water, sound and video installation. Images, constantly in motion, were made in collaboration with Norwood-based Jumpgate VR. They’re accompanied by String Quartet No 2, composed by Paul Stanhope and performed by the Australian String Quartet.

The pair have created numerous works with Mallee roots, a material they had in excess at their property, Duck Island. They first created a wall by intricately assembling the individual roots to form an apparently solid structure.

Lesley Forwood and James Darling on their South East farm.


In their artwork, James and Lesley manage to achieve sharp angles when the countless remnants of the twisted roots are shaped into structures.

Living Rocks was selected as the only Australian Official Collateral Event in the biennale. There will be 21 exhibitions and initiatives promoted by non-profit bodies and institutions all around Venice, in addition to the wider program.

The collaboration works within the theme of the biennale, “May we live in interesting times”, bringing to the fore the fragility of the planet. “It is a memory of our origin and a prophecy of our future,” says James.

Living Rocks, curated by Art Gallery of South Australia’s assistant director Lisa Slade, will be in Venice until November 24.

The piece was first shown at Hugo Michell Gallery, where the artists have showcased their work since 2010.

Living Rocks was selected as the only Australian Official Collateral Event in the Venice Biennale.


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