And Freedom For’s Interview with Ecological Artist Ellie Irons
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Looking at the natural world through the lens of an artist, Ellie Irons’ work reframes the pesky plants we pull out and pass over. She creates pigments, installations and works on paper using ‘invasive’ plants that, once foraged, are now being cultivated at Silent Barn in Brooklyn, NY.
AndFreedomFor What about invasive plants interests you?
Ellie Irons Well, I’m fascinated by plants in general: their mind-blowing diversity, ability to manufacture a staggering array of chemicals, pigments and nutrients (using energy from the sun!) and their symbiotic relationships with other life forms. Right now I’m focused mostly on “spontaneous plants”, those plants that grow and reproduce without human input or maintenance. Considering the concept of invasive plants adds another layer of interest to this mixture. As a category, “invasive” is not as straightforward as physically determined plant classifications like woody or herbaceous, angiosperm or gymnosperm. Plants labeled as “invasive” have been culturally marked as non-desirable, but this is a context specific label that relates to a particular location and ecological niche. Often plants that are labeled as invasive in one place (where they cause economic or ecological damage, or are simply unfamiliar or “unsightly”) may be prized or protected in another context. Additionally, many of the qualities that that define an invasive species (ready adaptation to new circumstances, large population numbers, modification of the ecosystem to the detriment of other species) are qualities that human populations display as well.
AFF You were recently in Bogota working on a piece for FLORA ars+natura, can you talk a bit about that process? Did you source plants from the region or bring your own?
EI Working at FLORA was great. Bogotá is very interesting ecologically- a massive, equatorial city at high altitude surrounded surrounded by thickly forested mountains full of a fascinating mix of native, endemic and invasive plants. But the project I did there, Speculative Arboriculture, was on more general themes of invasion ecology, synthetic biology and plant intelligence rather than the specific environment I found there. I created a sculptural installation for FLORA’s street facing window gallery that suggested an out-of-control invasive plant in quarantine. The project did involve some living plants sourced in Bogotá, specifically the very hardy, rapidly proliferating succulent Mother of Millions (Kalanchoe daigremontiana) which is native to Madagascar but proliferating in many ecosystems beyond its native range- it’s the kind of plant that is projected to do well as the impacts of global warming intensify. Seedlings of the plant were embedded as a small colony of cuttings on the surface of the sculpture I built there. The sculpture itself was constructed from the woody vines of the invasive Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) plant sourced here in New York. These branches, harvested from a hardwood forest near Greenwich, Connecticut, were heat treated and covered in layers of acrylic paint before I took them to Bogotá (which may have helped me get them through customs!)
"I don’t think that my work is actually effectively dealing with history. I think of my work as subsumed by history or consumed by history." —Kara Walker
New episode from Art21’s Exclusive series: An in-depth look at the creation of Kara Walker’s monumental public project for Creative Time, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014), at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, NY.
IMAGES: Production stills from the Art21 Exclusive episode, Kara Walker: “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”. © Art21, Inc. 2014.
I haven’t been moved by art like this in a long time. So happy I got to see it.