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Rain Yard through the years

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art and Liz Jelsomine, Exhibitions Coordinator

Rain Yard by Stacy Levy at The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.

Rain Yard is an interactive artwork by Stacy Levy that has been on display in the Schuylkill Center’s Sensory Garden since October 2013. Rain Yard provides a function of mitigating stormwater runoff from our building, while highlighting the critical role soil and plants play in the water cycle. Its open steel platform allows rain to filter down, plants to grow up, and people to hover somewhere in between. Continue reading

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Elemental powers

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art and Liz Jelsomine, Exhibitions Coordinator

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.

Tim Prentice, Yellow Zinger 2-925x616“I imagine a line in space. I build it straight and true and offer it to the wind.

The wind plays with it like a cat with a length of yarn. The wind is the artist.”

Yellow Zinger, Tim Prentice

Tim Prentice’s Yellow Zinger was part of an outdoor exhibition at The Schuylkill Center in 2010 called Elemental Energy: Art Powered by Nature. 

Elemental Energy brought six artists/teams from around the country to present outdoor sculptural installations that engaged a natural element – wind, water, sun – to create a dynamic or kinetic artwork. Each piece created sound, movement, or both, using only the energy they harness from nature.  Continue reading

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LandLab: Introducing our artists in residence

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Even though I haven’t myself had a first day of school for a few years, in the fall, I still get a back-to-school-esque twinge of anticipation.  In this season, you can feel something new coming in the air – something to be learned, something to gear up for – and I find it to be the most exciting time of year. This year, one of the most exciting new things for the environmental art program is the beginning of the second offering of our LandLab residency at the Schuylkill Center.

LandLab is a unique artist residency program that integrates artistic creation, ecological restoration, and education.  A joint project of the Schuylkill Center and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), LandLab offers resources and space here at the Schuylkill Center, on our 340-acres of woods and meadows for visual artists to engage audiences in ecological stewardship through scientific investigation and artistic creation. LandLab residencies will create innovative installations that prevent or remediate environmental damage while raising public awareness about local ecology. It’s a way that we bring different parts of our mission work together – artists working with people to engage with our land in a meaningful and restorative way. Continue reading

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A playground for artists, Part II

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar. 

The Schuylkill Center asked six artists from the former co-op Nexus to respond to the history and physical space of Brolo Hill Farm site at the Schuylkill Center for the show Ground Play from September 19th – November 28th, 2010.  Read our August post for a profile on the other three artists from this show.

IMG_9230Jebney Lewis was among one of the artists that considered agricultural and cultural conditions that once existed at the farm at the time it was active.  Working with mathematician Todd Parsons and fiber artist K.R. Wood, Lewis explored concepts of environmental shift by repurposing readily found forms and objects in the natural landscape.   Continue reading

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Playing with place: Looking back on Sau Pines

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by Aaron Asis, Making in Place artist

Back in May, Sau Pines was created to celebrate the spirit of the Pine Grove — as part of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s Making in Place exhibition — which featured the work of 14 different Art in the Open artists.  

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The installation itself consisted of a series of visual tree wraps to highlight some of the unique environmental characteristics of the Pine Grove.  A series of matching colored timbers were also distributed throughout the Pine Grove to activate visitor interaction within the context of the broader landscape of the Schuylkill Center throughout the season.  And the universal consensus is that the work was both well received and well used all summer! Continue reading

Ghosts and Shadows

Shadows in the Forest

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.

Marisha Simons attempted to catalog human impact upon the environment in her installation, Ghost Forest. Ghost Forest was part of the show Ghosts and Shadows from September 6th, 2008 – January 2nd, 2009 presented in partnership with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists and guest curated by Warren Angle.

Ghosts and Shadows

Simons was one of the artists selected to produce site specific installations because of their work’s poetic sense of place. Each artist set up a dialogue with the natural and human constructed landscape at the Schuylkill Center’s Second Site location, Brolo Hill Farm, a once working 18th century farm. Artists mined specific references to place and sensations of past and present. Simons’ resulting airy tapestries flowed in the wind, reminiscent of plants and animals that once thrived before human impact on the environment. Ghosts and Shadows was the first exhibition to be presented at the Schuylkill Center’s Brolo Hill location.

Of Ghost Forest, Simons wrote in the exhibition’s brochure:

“I have created a visual representation of a selection of endangered and extinct plants and trees, and I invite the viewer into a forest of ghost plants: translucent silk panels that move when the viewer walks past, delicate images floating above the ground, no longer planted in the earth with a subtle epitaph sharing the plant’s history.

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My hope is that the viewer will experience Ghost Forest by walking amongst the trees, spending time with the images in an imagined place where once they might have dwelled, and engaging emotionally with the idea that each of us have options about the impact that we make upon the environment with the daily choices that we make.”

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Plants and People Connect through Art

Photo courtesy of Vaughn Bell

Photo courtesy of Vaughn Bell

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

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, 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, equalizing 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 September 7th at 6 p.m. Enjoy light refreshments in the gallery and a guided tour of the exhibition. Anthrobotanical  will be on view through December 9th.

A playground for artists, Part I

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.

Part of the Schuylkill Center’s mission is to use our forests and fields as a living laboratory; for the art program, that means that we provide opportunities for artists to use our site as an place for experimentation in their artistic practice – which can some times look and feel a lot like play.

In fall 2010, the Schuylkill Center presented an exhibition called Ground Play in partnership with the Nexus Foundation for Today’s Art.

In Ground Play, The Schuylkill Center asked six artists (Susan Abrams, Nick Cassway, Jebney Lewis, Michael McDermott, Leah Reynolds, and Jennie Thwing) from the former co-op to respond to the history and physical space of its Second Site (Brolo Hill Farm) in a show from September 19th – November 28th, 2010.

Second Site, known historically as Brolo Hill Farm, was at one time an active farmstead, and includes an 18th-century farm house, barn, and remnants of a plowed field once used to grow feed hay for livestock. For the show Ground Play, Nexus artists considered both the agricultural and cultural conditions that might have existed on the site when the farm was active, and examined through their installations the implications of those dynamics in today’s environmental climate.

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For Light & Paper, Susan Abrams installed large plant photographs in the windows of the abandoned farmhouse at Brolo Farm.  The fourteen photographs mounted in the boarded up farmhouse windows focused on small and often overlooked aspects of the Brolo Hill Farm site and play with scale by making the images much larger than life.  The photographs were in sharp relief to the more abstract pulp-painted handmade paper works she also installed, which not only interpreted the site but also incorporated materials gathered there.  

Abrams used natural materials found at Second Site as subjects in the photographs and as ingredients in her handmade paper.  The paper works will weathered and changed over the course of the exhibition adding nature as an ongoing component to the art. She approached this singular environment by examining many of the small details, often unnoticed, yet essential to the landscape, then enlarging them to a human scale, inhabiting the house, as they do the Schuylkill Center’s site.

Leah Reynolds presented The Combustibility of Hay and Farmer’s Lung, a large work hung on the side of the old barn at Brolo Farm. The title and imagery refered to the fungus “Aspergillus furnigatus” which grows in baled hay and may cause it to spontaneously ignite (the Brolo Farm chiefly produced hay).

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In general, fungi are crucial to the recycling of nutrients within ecosystems because they break down organic matter (they form networks connected by tubular branches called hyphae).  This particular fungus may also cause a disease known as “Farmer’s Lung” when the mold spores that it produces are inhaled in an enclosed area such as a barn.  Reynolds’ piece covered the face of the Second Site barn with acrylic-coated fabric, giving the impression that it has been inundated with a large and virulent fungus.  Reynolds playfully tackled this topic with bright colors, transforming the barn into a giant art object. Editor’s note: Reynolds’ work is also on view as part of our summer 2017 exhibition, Making in Place, on view through August 12!

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Nick Cassway’s In the Woods responded to Brolo Farm with a group portrait series created by computer cut reflective vinyl.  The title refers to being dislocated, either physically or psychologically; feeling out of your element, vulnerable, over your head.  The 36 drawings are separated into 3 “acts”: the enticement, the partaking, and the repercussion.  Collectively, these images were meant to form and emotional tapestry; there is no singular narrative thread.  The pieces used the language of road signage – the shapes, stature, and materials – to literally become “warning signs” scattered throughout the landscape.  The drawings were made using computer cut black reflective vinyl (traffic engineering film) mounted on matte black painted aluminum panels and for maximum effect were intended to be seen at night via flashlight.

Editor’s note: Images from Ground Play were also featured in our wall calendar for October – stay tuned for a blog post in early October covering the other three artists in this show!

(Un)Natural Perspectives

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.

Works were exported from the studio and given a new life outside for Out of Bounds, a show presented in collaboration with The Center for Emerging Visual Artists in 2012. From June to September that year, work was placed against the backdrop in which it was inspired by – the natural world. Some works were recreated and recontextualized, while others played with the natural elements, giving the viewer a new perspective on the familiar landscape.

Curated jointly by the Schuylkill Center’s then-Director of Environmental Art, Jenny Laden, and CFEVA’s then-Director of Career Development, Amie Potsic, Out of Bounds renewed a partnership between the organizations that continues today.

The exhibition featured seven fellows and alumni of CFEVA’s Career Development Program, a 2-year fellowship for artists.

Caleb Nussear played with mirrors, layering the visual experience of the woods.

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Susan Benarcik transformed wire hangers into large dewdrop like sculptures that hung near our Visitor Center.  

Editor’s note: artist Oki Fukunaga also utilized hangers in his sculptures as part of our summer 2017 exhibition, Making in Place, on view now!

Ana B. Hernandez’s fabric sculptures added a bold pop of color while suggesting fungal growth on decaying logs.

Brooke Hine’s white anemone-like ceramic forms enlivened tree stumps more subtly.

Mami Kato’s work was installed in our Fire Pond, and was inevitably surrounded by duckweed, a floating aquatic plant.

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Scott Pellnat’s giant boat gave the feeling of being trapped in the woods, far from any navigable waters.

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Darla Jackson’s “Birthday Party” enlivened our indoor gallery space, as a way to welcome visitors and mark the 25th anniversary celebration of the Schuylkill Center’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic.

Out of Bounds allowed us to play with the boundaries of the natural & “un”natural by seeing familiar forms recontextualized to suit various environments both in & outdoors, sometimes using synthetic materials to imitate forms found in the natural environment.

Artist Profile: Jane Carver

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Imagine the quiet of a grove of tall pine trees, the impressions of your footsteps barely audible on a cushion of pine needles, punctuated by the occasional bird or creaking limb.  Now, imagine the soundscape also includes an ethereal voice accompanied by the haunting notes of an accordion. You’ll have the opportunity to experience precisely these sounds this summer, as artist Jane Carver performs a special one night only concert in our Pine Grove.

Carver is a Philadelphia-based artist and musician who is part of our summer exhibition, Making in Place.  She started playing classical music when she was quite young, then branched out into folk music as a teenager.  She is primarily a vocalist and an accordionist, both of which she will share in her concert in July.

For Carver, performing is a way that she can connect with others.  “I love singing with other people,” she says, “That’s my joy.”  Carver now sings with Svitanya, a women’s vocal ensemble that specializes in Eastern European folk music.  Carver describes listening to folk music as the experience of “hearing something completely unfamiliar and feeling like you’re home.”  

At the opening reception for Making in Place in May, Carver performed a few songs in our amphitheater, and this idea truly resonated with me.  Most of the lyrics were in Bulgarian and so I could not directly understand the meaning, yet as I listened to Carver along with the wind in the trees of the Schuylkill Center and the sounds of playing children, I felt it. Carver says that the fundamental point of performing is to “create a moment that everybody can be part of,” and in the moment of her performance, we were.

In addition to her site-specific performances, Carver spent the past few months taking field recordings at the Schuylkill Center and blending them with her own music to develop a sound piece designed to be experienced as visitors walk along our trails. Signs in the gallery and at the entry points to the Widener Trail detail how to listen to it on your own device as you explore the Schuylkill Center property.

Carver says that it has been valuable to her to be an artist at the Schuylkill Center, with space to explore her ideas and respond to our site.  She reflects, “The Schuylkill Center is so important because it provides various means of access to incredibly important resources.  I feel lucky to have the opportunity to be an artist within this site and hopefully share these resources with a greater public through my work.”

As our environmental art program grows and develops, we hope to offer more performance events and multidisciplinary art experiences, expanding from environmental art to environmental arts.  If you couldn’t join us for the opening reception, I hope you won’t miss seeing Carver perform this summer – it’s sure to be a special night.

Editor’s Note: Quotations from this video were drawn from an interview with Jane Carver conducted by students from St. Joseph’s University’s Beautiful Social program in collaboration with the Schuylkill Center. An excerpt from this piece was published in our summer newsletter in June 2017.