What are Leafies and what do they want with Adelaide?

Public art can mean different things to different people. But who among us does not find these expressionless wooden figures just a little creepy?

Perhaps you have seen them around the city, bodies unmoving, faces wooden and expressionless, their humanoid forms barely contained by the wire structures that give them shape.

The ‘Leafies’ were introduced to Adelaide a fortnight ago as part of WOMADelaide, crafted by French art installation group Le Phun and local artists from the Adelaide Central School of Art. Although laudably lifelike and clearly meant to project an air of botanical whimsy, the reaction of many people The Adelaide Review observed was more “Oh God what is that.”

Visitors to the music festival expecting a relaxed evening of music and tie dye were instead greeted by the figures, posed in a variety of welcoming and completely normal poses. There was the Leafy clawing its way up from under a bridge, the handful of Leafies that emerged from a tree in a macabre birthing tableau, or the scattering of Leafies frozen in a variety of leisure activities like tennis. It was as if the residents of North Adelaide had been frozen in time – a genteel Pompeii struck by some deciduous Vesuvius.

Even without eyes the Leafies are always watching

Perhaps the most alarming of all was a leaf figure sitting by the St. John’s Ambulance tent arm in sling, prompting all who passed to do a confused double take. After all, whatever was wrong with that patient, a sling was unlikely to fix it. Word soon spread that festival staff were resetting the figures into different positions around the park after each day, just to drive home the eerie feeling that they had minds of their own.

This week the City of Adelaide announced that the Leafies would be escaping the confines of Botanic Park to the wider CBD, in a move that seems totally fine and not the opening scene of a particularly unnerving episode of Doctor Who.

“While WOMADelaide has come to a close for another year, the Leafies’ spirit of curiosity will emerge from Botanic Park to explore the city so they can see the people of Adelaide,” WOMADelaide director Ian Scobie says of the news. Alarmingly, Scobie also says that “Leafies are curious and like to observe humans and to imitate what they see in us.”

Leafy doesn’t wear clothes, yet carries two suitcases? Suspicious.

“The City of Adelaide is excited to partner with WOMAD on this fun and creative project that will surprise and delight,” Lord Mayor of Adelaide Sandy Verschoor has said of the Leafies. “The Leafies will appear and migrate to unexpected places throughout the city, so make sure you look up and around to catch sight of these mysterious, unpredictable and very human-like creatures.”

Mysterious, unpredictable creatures who like to observe and imitate humans? With glowing endorsements from the highest levels of local government? Far be it from me to suggest the Leafies’ sinister plot to replace our leaders with autumnal replicas to carry out their crunchy agenda has already begun…  but it certainly adds up, doesn’t it?

I for one welcome our Leafy overlords, and pray my own transformation is swift, painless and ends with my Leafy doppelganger doing something cool.

Okay, that does look kind of fun

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