The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Aug 22, 2013

We The Weeds: a botanical bounty at Practice Gallery

Posted by CSchwartz

Throughout August, Practice Gallery has been delving into the urban environments that many of us call home with a certain scientific scrutiny. Instead of the aesthetic eye that generally dominates the world of contemporary art, We The Weeds—a team made up by artist Kaitlin Pomerantz and botanist Zya S. Levy—skews the focus of our city life from the realm of culture to that of nature in the places we often think of as devoid of such life.

A selection of the plant species that abound in Philadelphia.

In a process not dissimilar to ones used by Charles Darwin to cultivate seeds from seemingly barren spots (Darwin used a tiny ball of mud stuck to a wounded French partridge's leg), We The Weeds placed a long, grated catwalk into the center of the Practice space above a wooden box of soil from Fairmount Park. The project, entitled “Peripatetic Censor Mechanism,” invites visitors to stroll across the bridge, scraping their feet along the way. Bits of dirt and gravel that have inevitably made their way onto our shoes' soles fall into the soil and mingled somewhere within, seeds as well.

The 'Shoe Shake Out' catwalk. Plant sprouts beneath betray stowaway seeds from visitors' shoes. The 'Shoe Shake Out' catwalk. Plants sprouting beneath betray stowaway seeds from visitors' shoes.

Although many of us may perceive Philadelphia as a concrete jungle as opposed to an actual wilderness, the most tenacious, adaptive and opportunistic of plant species (both local and invasive) thrive between cracks and in empty lots, creating an ecosystem that is actually quite resilient and unique. We The Weeds aims to expand the knowledge of these oft overlooked plant species in the community at large.

A Wild Speakeasy provides refreshment and education as drinks are infused with locally foraged plants. A Wild Speakeasy provides refreshment and education as drinks are infused with foraged plants.

For the First Friday opening, the drinks served at the reception's Wild Speakeasy were all made with foraged, hand-crafted botanical ingredients and accompanied by usage and folklore surrounding the plant species in question. Besides this more-than-unconventional happy hour, tours of the surrounding Eraserhood area of Philadelphia to identify plant names and their uses. The group even led a mural project in which paper leaf-shaped cutouts were pasted to a wall containing seeds of some of these plants. This artistic intervention – and ones like it – highlights the overlap between life and art, both of which seem to creep out of and flourish in every corner of Philly.

It's been said that art imitates life, but We The Weeds takes this philosophy a step further by engaging the Philadelphia area with creative projects that not only reference the natural world, but literally stem from it. As humans in the 21st century, we may feel distant from the environment, but it is wise to remember that no matter how much we build or how removed we may seem, the Earth is still our home, and we are merely leasing the land that belongs to it.

We The Weeds will continue its botanical explorations, but the “Peripatetic Censor Mechanism” show at Practice ends this weekend on August 24. Be sure to keep up with their projects via their Tumblr: Practice is located at 319 North 11th Street on the 2nd floor, Philadelphia;;

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