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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.

If you’ve been coming to the Schuylkill Center for the past few years, you might remember that we offered LandLab for the first time in 2014-2015, with major support from the Knight Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Three of the four LandLab 2014-2015 artist works are still on our site – Native Pollinator Garden, Future Non-Object #1, and Interwovenall continue to grow and evolve on our site, part of our commitment to invest in artistic experiments that require time to realize their fullest expression.

In a fairly fraught political year for the arts and the environment, we were able to once again secure support from the NEA to offer LandLab to a new crop of artists for 2017-2018. The selected artists will conduct their projects through yearlong residencies, where they will engage with the Schuylkill Center’s property, conducting research to develop and create installations which intervene with the land and demonstrate ecological solutions.  

This summer, the artists have made initial visits to our site to meet with staff, and as the fall goes on, they will be digging into their projects and questions, both learning with us and teaching us much. We selected three artists to participate in LandLab this season, and I’m thrilled to introduce them to you.

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First up, Dance Exchange is a non-profit dance organization based in Takoma Park, Maryland, known for innovative performance projects and creative practices that engage communities and partners across wide ranging disciplines. Dance Exchange creates performance engagements that speak to the issues of a place and the people that steward that place, collaborating to advance how individuals and communities come together to create change in the world.  Cassie Meador, Choreographer and Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange, will be leading the project.  She told me, “the LandLab residency offers an incredible space as a choreographer to build on and discover new interdisciplinary approaches that can expand public consciousness of the environmental challenges and opportunities we face today.”  We’re particularly excited to work with dance as a new discipline in our art program through this project.

During LandLab, Dance Exchange will explore Philadelphia’s waterways through movement exploration with visitors and local artists and scientists, culminating in installation and performance at the Schuylkill Center. Meador will collaborate with Dance Exchange (4)Jame McCray, an interdisciplinary ecologist, and Zeke Leonard, an artist who mobilizes community-based sustainability efforts through interactive musical objects and installations. The creative team will use interdisciplinary dancemaking to move community members from a place of observation to participation to active stewardship.  Meader continues, “With a creative team of artists, scientists, and designers from Dance Exchange, we are looking forward to the ways we can further mobilize and contribute to the community-based sustainability efforts the Center is leading through its residencies and programs.”

Kate Farquhar is our next LandLab artist.  This Philadelphia based artist and landscape architect in fact shares some history with the Schuylkill Center.  

“In 2009, I took a trip to Philly to consider moving here for graduate study. The first place I went was the Schuylkill Center! I chauffeured a graduate student to help out with her friend’s project. Working next to new friends, we talked about landscape, creative projects, and how to dig without damaging tree roots. Years later, I got to help with a landscape master plan for the Schuylkill Center. Numerous other times I’ve visited to enjoy the paths, nature sounds and patchworked landscape at the Schuylkill Center. As a city dweller, it’s rare I get to languish in a “forest bath” for very long – I hope to do much more of that this year by working on my project, and make some new friends while doing it.”

For LandLab, Farquhar conceives a collection of mythic micro-environments – called Synestates – to thoughtfully insert materials or elements from the cityscape into the Schuylkill Center’s wild and managed lands, speculating about future possibilities for contact between people and the environment.

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Synestates (rendered above) play on the concept of synesthesia, whereby the mind correlates one category of abstract information with another. These works will bring cognitive dissonance into the “forest bath” at the Schuylkill Center, reminding visitors that being outside immerses one in a world of cognitive differentiation. Projects will combine conventional hard urban materials and synthetic interfacing with living and/or decaying organisms. Farquhar notes with excitement, “Subsequent human contact is eagerly anticipated!”

Mun (1)Last, Jan Mun is a media artist that creates social sculptures working with digital and living media. The landscape has become her framework to unfold stories about others and herself by using a combination of artistic and scientific processes that manifest in the form of interactive installations, photography, performance, and bio-art. An artist who loves to do her own science, Mun has been involved in many exciting mycoremediation projects (click right for details)- using mushrooms to clean up soil in heavily polluted urban environments.

As a LandLab artist, Mun will be sharing her passion for mushrooms as “ecological instigators,” ultimately constructing
The Mushroom Vortex Maze (rendered below). The piece will be constructed using wooden logs inoculated with three types of edible mushrooms to create separate rows that each forms a logarithmic/golden ratio spiral.

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By entering the maze to forage for mushrooms, a visitor can easily be dislocated at the center and exit from a different path than where they entered, changing their trajectory.

These three projects will be ongoing through the summer of 2018. The final artworks will be on view at the Schuylkill Center, and an exhibition documenting the LandLab artists’ process will be on view in the gallery at the Center for Emerging Visual Artists in Center City in the fall of 2018.  

Opportunities to engage with the artists’ projects will be ongoing throughout the year, so stay tuned for how you can participate in the artists’ work. The first will be happening on October 14th, when LandLab artists Jan Mun and Kate Farquhar will be on site at the Schuylkill Center as part of the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours from noon to 5pm – details here.

An excerpt of this post was published in our fall 2017 issue of The Quill, our quarterly newsletter. 

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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.  

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Gathering materials from the Schuylkill Center’s grounds, Lewis built a topography of the land that echoes its jeb2historic transitions from native forest, to farmland, and back again to forest.

This work focused on the ways environments can rapidly change without prior warning and our inability to anticipate how much longer it may take them to change back.

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Jennie Thwing presented The Brolo Hill Project, a performance, an installation, and a corresponding film. Thwing’s work was loosely based on the daily lives of the Lenni Lenape 1_BroloHill-1tribe and early pioneers that lived in today’s Upper Roxborough.  The film was shot on location at Second Site and then screened at Nexus Gallery.  Tents were lit from the inside for the opening event performance. The film depicts the “living forest,” an idea based off the Lenape Indian belief that all animals and plants have spirits.  The work combines historical reenactment and personal experiences to respond to the physicality and history of the land.

Watch Thwing’s video here: https://vimeo.com/14660961

When we explore a natural site like the Schuylkill Center we often focus on “natural beauty” as a purely visual experience.  

In Aeolus, Michael McDermott wanted to invite the viewer/listener to notice the audible beauty of nature.

By creating wind sculptures that gently make noise in the wind, the artist beckoned the listener to focus their sense of hearing to appreciate the overwhelming subtlety of music created in every instant of the natural world.  In the accompanying performance of Aeolus for the opening reception, four musicians echo the sounds of the sculptures.  Using guitar, violin, percussion, and flute, the work explores the tension between the chaotic and unpredictable sounds of nature and controlled calculated sounds of man.  The original music score hoped to blur the line between these two dichotomies and create musical balance between natural chaos and order.

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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!

During Olympics Week, the 6 & 7s and 8 & 9s had a fort building competition, using the art to create structures judged by the counselors on aspects such as durability and aesthetic. The pink pieces were useful and added color to the otherwise earth toned forts.” -Summer camp counselor

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However, it is important to note that Sau Pines was also created as a bit of an experiment, to explore considerations that reside somewhere between environmentalism and interactive installation.  In it’s conception the installation was designed to encourage interaction as a means of engagement, but it was always the hope that the installation might also inspire curiosity as a means of inquiry and (subsequent) increase in environmental awareness.  Four months later, it has been a delight to see, talk, and hear about the activity in the Pine Grove this summer and to witness our hopes, validated through testimonials from summer camp staff at the Center like these…

The kids absolutely loved using the [Sau Pines] sticks to build. They were continuously imaginative in their play…and would often ask what the pink bands around some of the trees meant.”

“The kids have been playing with the piece in Pine Grove all summer.  They sometimes ask about the art installations (the doorway, tent structure and decorative rocks under the trees), including the one in Pine Grove. We always tell them that the artist is trying to make them think about the way that we treat the Earth.”

07_ImageAs result of all this feel-good reading, I am extremely pleased to write that the Sau Pines numbers will remain in the beloved Pine Grove though the end of the year, to continue to inspire playful creation and ongoing inquiry and engagement!

A more personal note, this project resonated very closely with my own creative mission which tends to focus on creating work to facilitate access, increase awareness, and highlight lesser-appreciated environs — because at the end of the day, these characteristics are at the root of stewardship and these sensibilities are at the core of all things related to environmentalism and general environmental considerations.

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Thank you the Schuylkill Center and to everyone who worked to ensure Making in Place would be such a success. I am grateful for having had this opportunity to explore the potential of art to incite creative interest, inspire environmental inquiry, and increase general awareness in the Pine Grove.

About the author

Aaron Asis was born and raised in New York City and spent most of his childhood exploring its neighborhoods, its people, and its streets. Over the years, theAaron Asis_C1se explorations have escalated from an experiential curiosity in urban conditions to an intellectual fascination in promoting spatial awareness within them. This fundamental intrigue has become the foundation for his creative work, concentrated on the understated aspects of our built environment and using art to highlight various relationships, within an everyday urban context — at the intersection of city agency, community engagement, and public access.

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.

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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.

See, Saw, Sau… Playing with History in the Pine Grove

Guest contributor Aaron Asis, 2017 Making in Place Artist

Last month, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education launched, Making in Place, a creative collaboration featuring the work of 14 different Art in the Open artists invited to create (or update) work to be displayed within the Schuylkill Center’s art gallery and/or at choice locations throughout the Schuylkill Center’s grounds and trails.

As one of the selected artists invited to participate in Making in Place, I was invited to walk the grounds back in September to explore potential project sites and site-specific concepts. Easier said than done, but we found our spot! Seeing as my work tends to focus on access and awareness in urban environments, it came as no surprise that I immediately gravitated towards Pine Grove to develop an interactive installation celebrating the Pine Grove as an anomaly within the Center’s trail systems, entitled Sau Pines.

The Pine Grove was planted by Schuylkill Center staff and volunteers in the 1970s, where each of the pines that populate the Pine Grove was originally intended for timber harvesting but has become a treasured play area and plant and wildlife habitat. In fact, the project title Sau Pines is actually play on the word ‘Saw’ Pines, related to a visual experience in the Pine Grove and/or that the Pines were once planned to be sawed to the ground and sold as timber. Saw Pines. Saw Pines. Sau Pines.

The installation itself consists of a series of corded wraps to colorize a selection of pines within the grove — both at eye level as well as around the base of the trees, to show where they would have been cut. The resultant visual field is intended to prompt curiosity into both the historic and horticultural significance of the Pine Grove. A series of color matching dimensional timbers have also been situated within this banded zone for public use and relocation — as symbol of an avoided fate, and a dimensional timber complement to the natural material already widely used throughout the Pine Grove.

All that said, Sau Pines was created with the historically playful spirit of the Pine Groves in mind, and invites you to follow these simple steps to build your own art…!!

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Step 1: Wander through the Pine Grove and observe some of it’s unique characteristics
Step 2: Wander back to the Sau Pines area and admire other visitor created sculptures.
Step 3: Use these timbers to create your own unique Sau Pines sculpture in the Pine Grove!
Step 4: Photograph your sculpture and share it on Social Media and with Schuylkill Center Staff!
Step 5: Leave your new Sau Pines sculpture in the Pine Grove for others to appreciate!
Step 6: Enjoy the rest of the Schuylkill Center’s pristine trail system and natural vegetation.

Please visit the Pine Grove, feel free to play with the art, and enjoy all of the work created for Making in Place!!

WE THE WEEDS LandLab sculpture

Weaving Good and Bad

IMG_1982-925x1387By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & PR Intern

When you think of weeds, you probably think of unwanted, unsightly plants invading and stealing vital nutrients from your lawn or garden. While this may be true for some species, further thought about weeds brings up interesting questions. What is it about a plant that categorizes it as being invasive, and could these pesky plants be of any benefit?

Artists Kaitlin Pomerantz and Zya S. Levy explored ideas such as this at the Schuylkill Center as part of their LandLab Residency, an environmental art residency program that integrates art, ecological restoration, and public engagement in conjunction with a joint project with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA).

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Pomerantz, an artist, and Levy, a botanist, work together in their botanical arts initiative WE THE WEEDS, which aims to expand knowledge of wild plants in Philadelphia. Their installation at the Schuylkill Center, titled Interwoven, is a sculpture made from invasive vines that explores the interwoven histories of humans and plants, and their mutual global migrations.

The duo began this project by investigating the flora on Schuylkill Center property. Botanical surveys in the spring and early summer resulted in a list of common plants, including natives like the Mayapple and Black Cohosh, and non-natives like Wineberry and Oriental Bittersweet.

Observation of these plants provided an interesting historical snapshot. While the re-establishment of many native species spoke of a renewed interest in being responsible stewards of the land, the presence the invasive species told of habitat fragmentation, pollution, and the material desires of humankind.

While they learned a lot during their exploration, more questions were raised. How long had the plants been there? Where did they come from? How and with whom did they travel? What ecological roles do they play on this land, and what did the flora of the property look like in other times?

Interwoven was originally woven on two large hand-built looms, using dead, invasive vines harvested from the Schuylkill Center to create the base. During the growing season, the piece is overwhelmed and covered by newly growing invasive vines, constantly changing in appearance depending on the time of year, weather, and hardiness of live, invasive vines in the surrounding area. Interwoven provided a function of removing some invasive material at the Schuylkill Center, and also served as a platform to involve visitors with hands on experiences, opening up dialogue and raising questions in the debate over invasive plants.

In conjunction with this installation, a number of coordinating programs were created, including a vine identification and harvesting workshop, facilitated weaving sessions, summer camp and afterschool programs, and even a botanical cocktail hour. Visitors at the Schuylkill Center were also welcomed to participate in the weaving of Interwoven at stations along the trails. Continue reading