How can art (in all its forms), exhibits, installations and provocations be a better catalyst to raise awareness, support and momentum for urban nature and green spaces?
In 2014 I was asked by the idea hive TNOC The Nature of Cities (thenatureofcities.com) to answer the above question and wrote:
Art is a space against conformity, rigidity and convention, a space of possibility and discovery, invention and creativity—an ever-renewing starting point for the ongoing development of human culture.
Art is always potentially a bearer of the conscious recognition of sharing the world with other life forms, animate and inanimate, past and present.
One way that art can be a better catalyst to raise awareness, support and momentum for urban nature and green spaces is by being outside or drawing attention to the outdoors of the city.
By being in the world outside galleries and museums and by commenting on daily life.
By taking account of the seasons, the weather and the time of day.
By being casual and ephemeral.
By being free.
By connecting to where it is rather than imagining it lives in no-place.
By connecting to the Earth in big ways.
By separating from the money story.
By being small.
To encounter art when you are not expecting it is to experience surprise and to lighten up, to be delighted. And that delight can be about other lifeforms that we share the city with.
I recall seeing a piece of paste-up art in the street on the post holding the button that people press to cross the street. It consisted of a small image of a pigeon and the text “you walk funny”. Is the pigeon talking to you? Does it have an opinion? A biography? As you cross the street you start thinking about how pigeons and many other birds walk—they sometimes bob their heads as they walk. You try it. You walk funny. You feel lighter. Next time you see a pigeon you see inside it a little.
Weeds of the City, an artwork I made in 2010 for a project called Little weeds: small acts of tenderness & violence, curated by Lisa Harms, involved walking in the city of Adelaide every Sunday morning with my dog for a month. While we walked I photographed and then collected weeds from cracks between the pavements and the edges of the gutters. The collection sites and images appear on the website. The weeds are travellers, evidence of botanical diasporas from all over the world. I took them home and then painted images of them on beer coasters, Belgian beer coasters. Fine art is often painted on Belgian linen, in this case the cardboard was from Belgium. At the exhibition the weeds were on sale very cheaply and people were encouraged to buy two and then release one, set it free, in a city pub or café then photograph it and return the image to the city-mapping component of the website of the exhibition.
And I wrote: “I am starting to see the city differently from ground level, as both a refuge and a prison. This study of what grows wild and disregarded by the side of the road includes important herbs and edible plants. Among them are some of the seven sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxons, wattle seedlings, ferns and mistletoe, grain plants, poisonous plants, edible plants. Is it possible that one day the knowledge of what grows disregarded around us may be the difference between life and death? This post-apocalyptic thought is hidden somewhere in the work. Even as the edges of our streets are poisoned so that weeds will not suggest a lack of control so rare plants are found on the verges of roads, escapees from homogeneity.”