WE THE WEEDS: Kaitlin Pomerantz and Zya S. Levy
LandLab Project: Invasive Vines
LandLab is an environmental art residency program that integrates art, ecological restoration, and public engagement, and is a joint project of the Schuylkill Center and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA). Support for LandLab is provided by the Knight Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. This project was supported in part by the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts program of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Support also provided by PECO. This program is administered regionally by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.
WE THE WEEDS (a collaboration of artist Kaitlin Pomerantz and botanist Zya Levy) created a woven installation constructed from invasive vines, simultaneously encouraging dialog about the global movement of plants and removing hazardous invasive species from the forest. They harvested and wove with invasive vines on two large hand-built looms with SCEE visitors of all ages. The completed weavings were installed as one large work, called “Interwoven,” in a vine-dominated meadow at SCEE, where the living vines consume their tapestried counterparts.
For the LandLab Residency, we built a woven sculptural installation made from invasive vines that explores the interwoven histories of humans and plants, and their mutual global migrations. The work creates an opportunity for dialogue about the perception and management of invasive species, the impact of human disturbance of plant populations, and the harms, as well as benefits and uses, of invasive plants.
Our process began with an investigation of flora on the Schuylkill Center property. Botanical surveys in the spring and early summer resulted in a list of common plants, including natives like the May apple and black cohosh, and non-natives like wineberry and oriental bittersweet. The plants we observed on the Schuylkill Center property act as a snapshot of history up until this point: the presence of many of the invasive species tells of habitat fragmentation, pollution, material desires, while the re-establishment of many native species speaks of a renewed interest in being responsible stewards of the land.
Our preliminary investigation instigated many questions. How long have these plants been Our preliminary investigation instigated many questions. How long have these plants been here? 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? In response, we identified five historical time periods through which to understand the observed flora: glaciation, pre-Columbian times, the Industrial Revolution, the early 1900s (when most of the Schuylkill Center was farmland), and the present. Our final expression is a piece woven from invasive plants that visually represents our findings.
WE THE WEEDS is a botanical arts initiative aimed at expanding knowledge of the wild plants of Philadelphia, headed by artist Kaitlin Pomerantz and botanist Zya S. Levy. Past projects include a variety of ethnobotanical art interventions highlighting the presence of the natural world within the manmade landscape, and illuminating the uses, historical and cultural significances of wild urban flora (weeds!).
Having completed the majority of our projects in inner-city Philadelphia, the Schuylkill Center presented a unique opportunity for us to explore the ethnobotanical conditions of a more “natural” habitat. Deciphering what plants are native to the area, what plants came with agricultural advent, and which plants are the results of greater environmental disturbances has been a pleasurable challenge for us. The work on display in this exhibition shows some of our thought process as we have begun to respond to this site. Photographs of vine matter express our interest in the aesthetics and growing power of these colossal plants, who conquer human architecture as a biological imperative. Collected vine material, preliminary weavings, and our early looms show our exploration into the processes we will use to create our final installation.
WE THE WEEDS Public Programs at The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education included:
Vine identification and harvesting workshop; facilitated weaving sessions with SCEE preschool, summer camp, and after school programs; and adults; Botanical cocktail hours at SCEE, CFEVA, and in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival aboard Mary Mattingly’s WetLand; LandLab Kickoff Party; Concluding events in the Philadelphia Science Festival.
Hear WE THE WEEDS speak about their project at http://spts.us/schuylkill-center/-/we-the-weeds.
For more information about WE THE WEEDS, visit their website here.
For more information about Kaitlin Pomerantz, visit her website here.
To read more about WE THE WEEDS’ project at the Schuylkill Center, check out these posts on the Schuylkill Center’s blog:
Time + Art, Part 2: As an Anniversary Approaches (March 16, 2016)
Weaving Art into Nature (November 21, 2014)
Botanical Weaving with WE THE WEEDS (October 30, 2014)
Meet the LandLab Resident Artists (April 21 2014)