Throughout 2019 I am developing a research network led by Agnes Czajka at the Open University along with artist Eva Sajovic, Counterpoints Arts London, Riera Studio in Havana, Cuba, Most Mira in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Auranitis in Jordan.
Led by the Open University, the AHRC funded research network brings together artists, researchers and grassroots arts and cultural organisations across four distinct socio-cultural and physical countries to explore the potential of arts and humanities-based methodologies for developing local and international educational capacity on climate change-induced food and livelihoods insecurities.
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This is part of my ongoing work with Eva Sajovic. Since 2015 we have been testing out our approaches to human-plant relationships in collaboration with individuals, institutions and plants. We have held workshops, exhibitions, performances and conversations to investigate the hierarchies between human and plant life.
In 2015, working with People’s Bureau, I exchanged cuttings of my grandmother’s geraniums for stories and memories related to plants and gardens at the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre and Tate Britain. Later that year I worked with Eva Sajovic on an evolving installation and performance at 198 Arts & Learning, Brixton, One Thousand Flowers From a Test Tube, (shown as part of In/Visible Cities, 13 November - 19 December 2015, with Keith Piper, Dubmorphology, Ines Von Bonhorst, Yuri Pirondi and Fatima Bianchi). We brought ‘the Red Jan Line’ – descendants of my grandmother Janet’s geraniums – into contact with one thousand plug plant geraniums bought from a wholesaler in the Netherlands. These plants (in diminished numbers) were then included in the installation Five Hundred Flowers and the Mother Plant at London College of Communication in March 2016 before being absorbed into the Grow Elephant community garden. The loss of the plants is recorded in Counting performance for video.
The performance ‘Eating the Bones’, developed at 198 and LCC, is part of my ongoing work of the same name, reflecting on the shamanistic rituals of imbibing certain plants to facilitate a change of consciousness, funeral rites that see mourners burning loved ones' bodies and imbibing the ashes, and recognising how knowledge – through books, music and ideas as well as through biological family lines – is passed down, internalized, absorbed into the self.
The local activists that formed Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust in Liverpool used planting in public spaces and in the gardens of boarded up houses as an act of resistance to proposed demolition of their housing. In 2017, invited by the CLT, we worked with a group of local people to develop a Herbarium of Resilient Plants of Resistance.
In 2016 and 2017 we were artists in residence at Darat al Funun, Amman, where we created a map of Darat al Funun’s historically significant garden. During two research trips to Jordan, through workshops, conversations, and garden walks with local people, we collected botanical information and personal stories on some of the garden’s edible plants. We travelled throughout Jordan, gathering knowledge on staple Jordanian crops from farmers involved in large-scale agriculture, as well as smaller permaculture projects, and scientists whose work explores the impact of rising temperatures and lessening precipitation.
The map we created contains all these layers of information, considering the present state of the garden’s edible plants, reaching back into the colonial history when Darat’s garden was first established, and forwards into the future, to consider challenges that might be faced as a result of the climate crisis, including human and plant displacement.