Susan Hauri-Downing ecoartist

Threatened, Rare - Extant Threatened, Rare, Extant: Caladenia williamsiae, 2023, Etched Glass cloche on a wooden plinth, light, 1125 x 350 x 350mm, Photographer: Andrea Russell

The ecosystems of Australia's south-west are unique and highly threatened by human activity and climate change. We exist in a strange dance between destroying and conserving the fragile, sensitive ecologies and species we live with. The to scale etching of the William's Spider orchid, found in our south-west, is one of the rarest orchids in Australia, existing in a bushland reserve in the Wheatbelt region of WA.

Biodiversity hotspots are distinct for being the most biologically prolific yet threatened regions. A hotspot is qualified by having over 1,500 species of endemic vascular plants yet losing at least 70% of primary native vegetation. Currently, there are 36 such hotspots globally. Australia's south-west is one of them, where the last 200 years have seen an extraordinary extinction rate.

Glass cloches were used to create protective, albeit fragile, micro-climates to display and showcase orchids and other plants during the 19th century and to preserve and present plant specimens in natural history museums and homes. In this work, the etched drawing on the dome's surface signifies the precious existence of this endangered species and its ecosystem and the precarious and futile nature of attempts to conserve them. The shadow cast by the drawing reminds us of the threat to their existence and their soon-to-be absence. The work presents a delicate memento mori and provides an opportunity to grieve before these unique plants are lost.

The work is part of a series called Threatened, Rare – Extant, that explores the relationships between rare and endangered orchids and their South-West Australian ecosystems. The series acknowledges the losses due to colonisation and the legacy of conservation efforts in the face of human-induced environmental devastation. It honours our shared grief and loss: threatened, rare – extant.