Posts Tagged ‘plant cobblestones’

very gentle cobblestones

March 31, 2010

This is a bit of backstory for the last couple of posts, and an expansion upon what is turning out to be the seeds of the work I am doing now – the terrarium dissemination project.

In 2008 I collaborated with the Topological Media Lab at  Concordia University, and Patrick Harrop’s architecture grad students from the University of Manitoba. We put together plant systems for the Remedios’ Terrarium exhibition at the FOFA Gallery.

The aim was to build a living system to house aquatic plants in a technologically-mediated environment.  The exhibition lasted for three weeks, during which a few of the plants died, but several survived such closed quarters, augmented with daily distribution of fresh water through the system.

After the FOFA exhibition finished, there remained the still-living moss and pondweed.  From then on I began experimenting with aestheticising life-support systems, but in a non-futuristic sense.  Or the future as envisioned by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

At the same time, I was looking at Situationist practices.  I was intrigued by their ways of claiming their urban environment as a system of flows,  both with their concept of the dérive, and of articulating the softer ambiances that flow through the ‘hard’ infrastructures.  In a parallel fashion they claimed the revolutionary use  of text, as cobblestones to break down the increasingly corporatized urban reality of post-WWII Paris.   As I am not so text-oriented, I prefer to evade the symbolic in favour of the real, or existant.

I began therefore to think about the conditions that urban plants (weeds, technically) seek out to establish themselves in.   Following the Situationists’ example, I wandered the city and found places plants might survive in, as a sort of mapping of areas of neglect.

Leaky pipes in the Guy-Concordia Metro, for example, provided a space in which both moss and duckweed survived for several months, despite being in a busy, artificially lit underground.  The plants above did less well, essentially because they were too obvious to escape the eyes of the public servants.

The moss I was particularly surprised with, as it is a delicate organism sensitive to changes in its environment.  The space here is an empty billboard display, and as such is nearly invisible.  These social conditions are perfect for plants to go unnoticed until the manage to establish themselves.  Unfortunately the area is now boarded up.  The water is still audible behind, however!

Above ground, in the springtime Montreal streets,  the snowmelt creates temporary microclimates. 

Spring runoff  from an overpass wells up through a crack in the sidewalk on Ave du Parc.

I filled in the spaces in the line of plants with duckweed.   (A child was very curious about what I was doing all bent down.)

Pondweed placed in that “stream” survived until the runoff finished, six weeks later.

One of the things I enjoyed was the fact that though these were small gestures, duckweed is an invasive plant that can take over a watersystem, even drains and sewers.  (Though it would be far less harmful that what goes down Montreal drains – even the pipes in some neighbourhoods, I am told, are great lead pollutors.) If I were to pick up a cobblestone to smash capitalism, this would be the method I would choose. “Sous les pavés la plage” ( Under the cobblestones, the beach.)

Other sites were less successful, as they either attracted  attention, so lost their footing,

or were in the way of passersby and sidewalk cleaners.

I then began noticing the plants that had managed to insinuate themselves into quite hostile terrain, and though they may not flourish, they do survive.

These wanderings took me further afield, seeking out areas of neglect, of overgrowth, of accidental meadows.

It certainly did my heart good to discover these strong green things growing between the borders and condoned passageways of this city.

(Damn I miss access to those Mile-End trainyards!  I will have to find me some very gentle boltcutters!)

So here it is nearly two years later, and I find myself making terrariums.  It is not the single species plant I am interested in testing for survival in a variety of hospitable locales, but in establishing miniature plant communities which may then be disseminated.  Then the footprint of the human will seem less menacing, and members of the public will have the opportunity to become caring stewards if they like.  If not, the plants will continue to survive, and monitoring them will be an extension of my activities.  I just need to place them far away from those sidewalk vacuum menaces!  Cobblestones have nothing on those guys!