Ex­hibit con­nects plants, peo­ple

The Review - - Front Page - By Christina Catanese Christina Catanese di­rects the Schuylkill Cen­ter’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Art pro­gram, tweets @Schuylkil­lArt and can be reached at christina@ schulkill­cen­ter.org. For more in­for­ma­tion on the en­vi­ron­men­tal art pro­gram, visit schuylkill­cen­ter.o

Most peo­ple know that we rely on plants for the food we eat and the air we breathe, but the in­ter­con­nec­tions be­tween plants and peo­ple ac­tu­ally go much deeper and are more nu­anced. Sci­en­tists con­tinue to dis­cover the com­plex­i­ties of how plants take in and re­spond to in­for­ma­tion, even com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each other through un­der­ground net­works and chem­i­cal sig­nals. Hu­man sys­tems pow­er­fully in­flu­ence plant com­mu­ni­ties, lo­ca­tions, and health - and they also ex­ert a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence over us.

Yet, de­spite the in­tri­ca­cies of the plant-hu­man re­la­tion­ship, plants are of­ten over­looked, even com­pared to other as­pects of the nat­u­ral world. Stud­ies have demon­strated and re­vealed the con­cept of “plant blind­ness,” in which many peo­ple lit­er­ally don’t see plants at all, as they be­come the equiv­a­lent of eco­log­i­cal wall­pa­per. We sur­round our­selves with rep­re­sen­ta­tions of plants (they are all over our in­te­rior dec­o­rat­ing, and cer­tain kinds of plants are el­e­vated in our tra­di­tions around hol­i­days and sig­nif­i­cant milestones), yet we have lit­tle con­nec­tion with the plants them­selves or knowl­edge of their qual­i­ties or their sig­nif­i­cance in our lives.

The Schuylkill Cen­ter’s fall gallery show fea­tures artists who ex­plore the re­la­tion­ships be­tween plants and peo­ple and the places they in­habit and move through — re­veal­ing and en­cour­ag­ing th­ese oft over­looked an­thro-botan­i­cal re­la­tion­ships.

El­lie Irons’ In­va­sive Pig­ments project in­ves­ti­gates the ori­gins and uses for plants that are of­ten un­cel­e­brated or even re­viled — the plants we call weeds or in­va­sive plants. Irons has been cre­at­ing wa­ter­color paint from the wild plants she finds near her stu­dio in Brook­lyn, and her wa­ter­color maps help show the way th­ese plants have moved glob­ally in re­sponse to hu­man sys­tems.

Rachel Eng makes the con­nec­tion of our re­liance of plants not across space, but across ge­o­logic time. In un­fired clay, Eng ren­dered plants from the Mid­dle Devo­nian pe­riod in the Ap­palachian re­gion that we know to­day as Mar­cel­lus Shale gas, then pho­tographed them in Penn­syl­va­nia land­scapes threat­ened by Mar­cel­lus Shale drilling. Th­ese for­eign, ex­tinct plants re­main with us in the cov­eted form of nat­u­ral gas, yet are rarely part of that highly politi­cized con­ver­sa­tion.

Vaughn Bell’s Me­trop­o­lis pro­vides an im­mer­sive view of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of the Schuylkill Cen­ter for­est, yet pro­vides a wholly new per­spec­tive on th­ese plant com­mu­ni­ties. Rather than look­ing down on the plants or up to the tree tops, Me­trop­o­lis puts the viewer at eye level with plants, equal- iz­ing this phys­i­cal re­la­tion­ship. This shift in per­spec­tive al­lows for a more em­pa­thetic con­nec­tion, see­ing the world from a plant’s van­tage point. The ex­pe­ri­ence is mul­ti­sen­sory, how­ever — the dra­matic smell and hu­mid­ity change drives home just how much plants shape their own en­vi­ron­ments and shape us. Me­trop­o­lis’ form al­ludes to a city sky­line, fur­ther connecting the eco­log­i­cal and ur­ban sys­tems that tend to be con­sid­ered as sep­a­rate.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Per­for­mance Agency (EPA) is a new artist col­lec­tive named in re­sponse to the pro­posed de­fund­ing of the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency. De­ploy­ing yet sub­vert­ing the trope of a gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cracy, the group en­gages in a va­ri­ety of prac­tices cen­tered on plant/hu­man re­la­tion­ships, with ur­ban weeds as men­tors, col­lab­o­ra­tors and stew­ards.

The artists in An­throb­otan­i­cal help us to see plants more clearly and more in con­nec­tion with our­selves. Sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered the mech­a­nisms by which stands of trees merge their roots to share nu­tri­ents and re­sources, to mod­u­late and pro­tect against ex­treme weather con­di­tions — the com­mu­nity be­comes the pri­or­ity over in­di­vid­ual com­pe­ti­tion. We may do well to remember the ex­tent to which our own roots are tied up with plants.

Please join us to cel­e­brate the open­ing of An­throb­otan­i­cal with a re­cep­tion on Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. En­joy light re­fresh­ments in the gallery and a guided tour of the ex­hi­bi­tion. An­throb­otan­i­cal will be on view through Dec. 9.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Eng

Photo courtesy of Vaughn Bell

Photo courtesy of Vaughn Bell

Photo courtesy of Rachel Eng

Photo courtesy of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Per­for­mance Agency

Photo courtesy of El­lie Irons

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