Notes from Art and Environmentalism Panel @ Drew

I greatly enjoyed yesterday’s syposium  at Drew University, organized by Valerie Hegarty. Here are some notes on the final 2 speakers:

 

David Brooks:

“To think in terms of millions of years in the present moment”

“Citizen Science”

Witnessing large dynamics that happen outside of viewshed = what art can do

“Environmentalist Hangover”

“Traces of Real Life Lived”

 

Ideas of Wilderness

Biblical – Where the infidels live

Romantic – Welcomed/fearful infinity of the sublime

American – Manifest Destiny

Garden of Eden to Harvest & Industrial Progress

Proof of God / God’s Cathedrals

Science – Finite / Stewardship

 

 

Natalie Jeremijenko

“Redesign our relationship to natural systems”

Salamander Road of Death in NJ

“Shared Public Memory of a Possible Future”

“Weird Engagement w/ Natural Systems”

The Tree that Owns Itself

Trees as Landlords: TREExOFFICE

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Trade

I recently traded my Window Plants book to Christina Kelly for her fascinating and informative book: A Field Guide to Office Plants.

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A Field Guide for Office Plants is the story of a bored office worker who — after an encounter with the neglected plant in the reception area — is motivated to waste company time by covertly researching the fascinating botanical and social history of the office plant. 2014.  71 pages. 6″ x 6″. With original illustrations and photos.

Each copy is hand stamped and perfect bound inside an office file folder. “

Problem Plants Video

Here’s a video of the Weediness panel organized and moderated by artist Ellie Irons at The Center for Strategic Art and Agriculture at Silent Barn in Bushwick, NY on the evening of Monday, January 19th.

Other panelists:

 

 

Dr. Amy Berkov is a tropical ecologist who made a mid-life career change from art to science. She moved to the East Village during the “Good Old Bad Old Days,” when every vacant lot was an unsavory dump full of promise, and her experiences as a community gardener inspired her interest in plants and the finely-tuned interactions that they have with insects. Dr. Berkov is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at the City College of New York (CUNY), an Honorary Research Associate at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), and an Associate in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Her research program focuses on the evolutionary and community ecology of neotropical wood-boring beetles— especially those associated with trees in the Brazil nut family, which are icons of old-growth Amazonian forests. She also has an abiding interest in the insects associated with the amazing milkweed that she grows in her garden plot at 6th Street and Avenue B Garden!

Miriam Simun is a research-based artist interested in implications of socio-technical and environmental change. Working across mediums, she makes creative disruptions: objects, images and experiences that that poke, provoke, and re-imagine existing systems. She has exhibited internationally and her work is supported by Creative Capital, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Her most recent project, Agalinis Dreams, emerged from a 6-month investigation into the biology, chemistry, history and politics of the Agalinis Acuta, New York State’s only federally listed endangered plant.

Dr. Sasha Wright is a Plant Biologist and Theoretical Ecologist committed to addressing ecological problems through research and education. She is currently working on several projects involving how plants interact in extreme environments. She is originally from Whidbey Island, WA. She went to Beloit College (WI) and studied Environmental Biology with the guidance of Drs. Yaffa Grossman, John Greenler, and Robin Greenler.  She then worked as a GIS Technician at the National Park Service in South Florida.  She has conducted field research from the Serengeti National Park, to native Wisconsin prairie, to Tropical dry forests in Panama and European grasslands. She loves working with students to reveal the exciting undiscovered elements of the way the natural world works.

142.7 Trillion Problem$

This great panel discussion happened at the CSAA, and Ellie wrote this piece: Problem Plants: Nativeness, Biodiversity, and Urban Flora in the Anthropocene.

Also, Radiolab recently produced this segment: How Do You Put a Price Tag on Nature? which was all about coming up with dollar amounts for the services of nature. As an artist-who-is-also-a-bookkeeper, I imagine balance sheets of “assets” (not sure what the liabilities would be), invoices from swamps to coastal communities for flood prevention services, and bees to Chinese apple farmers for pollination labor…

Apparently the total value of all of nature is $142.7 trillion.

There’s one problem with this, as Jad counter-argues: Nature is priceless, no? Or in deep-ecology speak, living things are intrinsically valuable, not limited to value calculated from only a narrow human perspective.

Weeds, apparently, have a negative value. Some people pay to have them removed.

At the panel, we were all talking quite a bit about various types of value that weeds have…

In one slide, Dr. Sasha Wright proclaimed, “Biodiversity is beautiful.” Aesthetic value. She also emphasized how weeds generally make an ecosystem more resilient in the face of natural disasters.

Miriam Simun told us how the Agalinis acuta flower, the only federally protected plant in NY state derives its value through scarcity, and how loads of resources are spent nurturing and protecting it.

Ellie extracts value in the form of pigments…distilling their essence in a way.

Dr. Amy Berkov told the story of how milkweed is valuable to its beetle, and visa versa.

 

Photo by Donald Cameron

Proposal

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I propose to create a group of 3 to 5 giant flowerpots sunk into the ground, the largest of which could be anywhere from 8 to 15 feet in diameter and 2 to 3 feet tall. These would actually be low, circular walls, and the bottom of the pot would be implied. The walls could also function as public seating.

The lawn would continue to be maintained as usual outside of the flowerpots, but the interior space should be left un-maintained, a wild space for the duration of the exhibition. If possible, I would love for some of the pots to contain existing trees or shrubs.

My material would be concrete, and I would stain it to mimic a terracotta color. I would like to add recycled concrete aggregate to my concrete mix to benefit both the environment and my budget. At the close of the exhibition, I will bring these forms to a local recycling facility to be turned back into aggregate for reuse.

My expenses will include concrete, recycled concrete aggregate, stain, plywood for building forms, and transportation of materials. This would be a relatively affordable project using humble materials, and I’m sure I could realize it within the allotted budget.

These whimsical sculptures invert what normally happens in flowerpots: here, domestication happens on the outside of the pot while attention and maintenance are withheld from the interior area, allowing additional plant species to take root and reveal their potential. These discrete islands of wilderness will take shape over time and the seasons, recalling Alan’s Sonfist’s Time Landscape.

This installation will act as a foil to the domesticated areas of the park, a pocket of wilderness and biodiversity, encouraging viewers to look at the overlooked and to be aware of the complex wilderness growing in the peripheries. It draws attention to what is undervalued from our daily urban environment, how our value systems interact with both humans and non-humans, and, as Gary Snyder wondered, “where do we start to resolve the dichotomy of the civilized and the wild?”

I have been working with weeds over the past year, and I am looking forward to realizing this new idea, which I believe builds on my recent work. I am excited by the economy of this gesture and the way it plays with scale.

Herbarium

Here are some snapshots of my project for In-Site, including a few of the installation process. These are all enlarged images of weeds from South Orange, wheatpasted onto nearby buildings. Will be editing documentation soon!

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Picture 16Picture 11 Picture 12 Picture 13 Picture 14 Picture 15