Understory, a conversation

I’d like to invite some reflections on the theme of ‘Understory’ because it’s not just about me – it’s about us and what holds us. Here’s a brief starting point, and further down the page, more reflections from the understory:

A starting point

I live in the upper catchment of Kedron Brook, where water draws down from forested hills in veins connecting land and sea. I walk its banks, under lush canopies, inhaling its gentle expiration. My heart beat slows to match its rhythm, my senses open.

On such a walk, a large leaf fell at my feet, dispelling another layer of ‘plant blindness’. It was a Macaranga leaf, beautiful and heart shaped. I began to see Macarangas everywhere and learned they are pioneer rainforest trees, shading a community of more delicate plants. As I gathered fallen leaves, conversations opened. The trees were shading more than just plant communities as fresh connections grew in the understory.

Nature holds us, nurtures and heals us.

But the theme of this work began after my first visit to the Great Barrier Reef where I saw the damage of successive bleachings. Shocked and frightened, I have been trying to respond and act in small and larger ways. Big media won’t tell the understory, but we have all witnessed devastating fires and floods. Wherever we go, currents of eco-anxiety and grief flow close to the surface.

How can we nurture and heal this world that holds us?

Do you want to share your ideas? Here’s a link to a survey with just four questions.

More images from the installation can be seen here.


The small tiles of paper that I’ve used to make ecoprints of Macaranga leaves come from cut-up ‘repurposed’ life drawings. There are 487 tiles in total.

I’ve been running life drawing in my suburb for 7 years, and started it because I felt culturally disconnected after moving to a place that seemed to have lots of sports but no creative pulse. Life drawing has been like the Macaranga for me, shading a micro environment for creative connections to form. I love the people in my group – creative, quirky, generous, thoughtful, and dedicated. Life drawing allowed me to sink some roots down where I live and to begin to feel a ‘sense of place’, so it is fitting that these old drawings became the basis of the prints. You can meet some of the people who are part of the regular group in this short film we made last year.

As an artist, to minimise my environmental impact, I try to use and reuse existing materials as much as possible.

Collecting the leaves and making ecoprints

Ecoprinting didn’t just come from nowhere. It was developed by the wonderfully inspiring Australian artist India Flint. https://www.indiaflint.com/ecoprint/ In my case, I learned an ecoprinting on paper process in a workshop led by Brisbane-based intermedia artist Suzon Fuks. The workshop was a Love in the Making project conjured up by some remarkable women where we were creating soothing gift packs for communities devastated by the bush fire crisis in Australia in 2020.

As I began collecting Macaranga leaves for Understory in February 2021, I found they sparked conversations and new connections. Women stopped and asked me about what I was doing. We’d have a chat about art, creek regeneration, urban foraging and then continue on our way with a lighter heart for the connection. I particularly enjoyed talking with Irene, whom I would often find on her mobility scooter as I collected leaves. Talking art and projects got her thinking about rekindling her own projects. I was so happy to hear this and to hear she had started making again.

Each batch of ecoprints had their own personality. Sometimes the paper emerged with a beautiful sienna hue, other times it came out almost purple, and in between, there were variations of brown and grey. Sometimes the leaves barely left an impression, other times they were rich with black tannin. I loved that the process was out of my control and was more like a dance of possibility. This always yields creative delight.

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Here’s the link to the survey .

I’ll share a summary of what people have said in early June! Remember to check back then, or you can get in touch with me via the contact form.

© 2021-2050 Rachel Apelt

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