Gardening as art

Compostable: Joe Bennett’s ineloquent but potentially prize-winning statement on grandiloquent gestures and subtle actions.
Compostable: Joe Bennett’s ineloquent but potentially prize-winning statement on grandiloquent gestures and subtle actions.

Want to spring clean your garden and win $50,000? Here's how.

First, build a pen, about two metres wide and one metre deep. Make the frame from discarded timber then wrap it in fabric. Your aim is to suggest materiality. I used shade cloth held in place with flooring nails.

Now take the chainsaw to your overgrown drive. Be ruthless. Fell all the stuff you never planted, that grew when your back was turned, that turned the drive from an airy boulevard to a tunnel of gloom. You'll enjoy the cognition of light and space.

Then hire a three-inch chipper and a six-foot student. You'll get the chipper for $10 an hour and the student for $17. And don't worry about the expense. Remember this is going to earn you 50 grand.

But do insist on a strong student and under no circumstances should you hire an arts graduate. I asked Student Job Search to find me a farmer's son, either male or female.

The student's job is to haul the felled trees up the drive. It's back- breaking work. Your job is to feed the branches into the chipper. It's heart-lifting work. As you drop the branch down the chute, the spinning blades seize it and before you can say "how's that for gratification of an atavistic urge", a plume of chips and leaves, of tree gore, arcs against the sky and falls like wooden snow.

Gradually the snow fills up the pen, and having filled it, spills from the front like a wooden avalanche. Let it. This is important. The wood chips should appear to be crawling out of the pen ascribed to them, as if liberated into a wider universal space.

Keep the chipper fed with branches and the student with sandwiches. By mid-afternoon, you'll have a Ruapehu of wood chips and a knackered student. Give him a beer to keep him keen. Then while you return the chipper to City Hire, he can clear your section of weeds and dump them on the pile of wood chips like a hat.

And this is why you didn't hire an arts graduate. Arts graduates are tempted by eloquent gestures. You do not want eloquent gestures. You want the weeds and wood chips to be as ineloquent as possible.

Having paid the student and sent him home, have a beer yourself to set the creative juices flowing. Now wander round the garage selecting subtle bits of detritus.

I selected a subtle bottle of cheap shiraz, a pewter tankard, an old apple, an even older cricket ball, a dead running shoe and a dog. But what you select doesn't matter much. They just need to be things a viewer can relate to.

Now embed them in your heap. Don't try too hard. The interventions into the given space should be minimal.

The overall effect should be reserved yet radical. Aim to evoke awareness of both void and silence, as counterpoint to a power-obsessed and hierarchical society.

Now photograph the heap, give it a cryptic title and submit it to the Walters Prize committee. The Walters Prize is a contemporary art award, held every two years. The winner gets 50 grand. This year the prize went to Crawl out your window, an installation piece that includes a blue concrete ramp with small rocks, pebbles, bottle caps and puddles of water with leaves in them.

With your entry, you should submit a critical appraisal of your work. In writing this, you might consider the comments made by the chief judge about this year's winner.

Judge Mami Kataoka said, "While [this] work is probably the least eloquent by making minimal interventions into the given space, it embraces memories of locations . . . personal gestures and subtle actions, which viewers can relate to through small objects embedded into the concrete ramp and the materiality of the suspended fabric.

"More importantly, the use of natural light and the way the work gradually crawls out of the museum space is the most reserved but radical way of transcending the fixed architectural space for contemporary art, liberating us towards wider universal space.

"The colour yellow emphasises the cognition for the light and the space and the whole installation offers the physical experience and awareness of both void and silence. This decision is derived from my attempt to evoke a state of equilibrium in our ever competitive and hierarchical society and its abiding belief in power."

And if by some injustice you don't win the 50 grand, your installation will rot down into useful compost.

The Press