When Live Plants Entered Into My Artmaking
I took the installation down and hauled most of it to the compost. ***See the installation in its full glory at end of post.
A Circular Reflection was my first solo installation and my first time relying on living plants to perform for the public, under my name. Working with live plants certainly provoked a particular set of anxieties, but I decided that if the plants started to die it could work with the concept of my piece anyway. However, I'm way too aesthetically driven to have let it fall into visual ruin, so I thought maybe I would add to the piece as it started to change—a constant installation-in-progress. Luckily, I didn't need to.
The odds were against me by using pansies and violas in spring - INSIDE in pots, sitting in water. Pansies and violas are full sun, winter plants and notoriously don't like to have wet feet. So, I tended them once a week. I went to water them and pick off any dead foliage. I worked to keep the installation in a moment of stasis where it barely changed...so it would look just how I initially intended it to look...FOREVER. Ha. Not really, I'm just kidding, maybe.
Really, in those first days I was tense and worried while I groomed the installation...I even had a watering fiasco because the floor was slanted and I was watering one end of the tray and it overflowed out the other end under my painted star paper. I had to take it apart and try to dry the floor under the installation to keep everything from molding. This was the first week and it had to be up for two months.
If it stayed wrinkled the starry sky could also be interpreted as water? ….or a wrinkle in time? The question became “Am I really ok with the installation having a life of its own?” Miraculously, it dried flat. Miraculously, the (star) flowers kept blooming. In fact, the flowers all turned their little faces to the window (sun) in unison and far exceeded my visual expectations.
When I built this space I had not considered that I would be taking off my shoes to climb around in the installation and tend it. It’s difficult to be worried and anxious in bare feet. Slowly, week-after-week the mental chatter stopped, the “Wow, tending this is a lot of work!” complaining, stopped. I was brought into this meditative space….maybe like the monks who rake sand or moss?
If you know me well, you know that I’m not a ritualistic person. Routine nearly kills me. I’m a very head-in-the-clouds type who is usually soaring way-up high looking around to see how it all connects. I always have a lot of different projects going at once and this works well for me.
At one point in this installation-tending, which was EVERY SEVEN DAYS, I thought I might suffocate from the routine. I already have as much routine as I can stand as a mother who home schools, cooks regular meals and tends a home…but then, the installation was thriving in my care. Possibly I could draw on this time spent, like water from a well, and use that steadfast discipline to stick with one body of work for a longer period of time. Really dig in and see what happens.
Ultimately, I am continually amazed at how plants themselves in all forms ( gardens, forests, houseplants, wild landscapes ) continue to show me the way. That was the concept that informed the design of the installation and at the end, still the reigning lesson.