Garden for a Changing Climate
|2017 – 2018|
|Goldfinch – Jun-Jul 2017|
|Gallery 400 + Chicago – Spring-Fall 2018|
A prototype of the GCC project (image above) was part of 'Marginal Green,' a group exhibition at Goldfinch gallery, curated by Elizabeth Lalley—which asked viewers to reexamine urban green zones. The reclaimed-wood planters, filled with plants dug from broken sidewalks and lots near Goldfinch, moved across the gallery, from south to north, over the course of the exhibition at approximately the real speed of climate change.
Garden for a Changing Climate is a public-facing art and research project which aims to use plants to give a tangible understanding of the temporal and spatial effects of climate change—making the invisible, visible now—in this time when direct engagement is so needed. As our climate warms, seasons and ecozones will shift. GCC's series of movable planters will enact these changes in accelerated timescales, allowing Chicagoans to understand more tangibly how these changes may affect them. The mobile garden will assist us in envisioning the otherwise largely invisible, slow and dispersed threat of climate change, and illuminate how a shifting climate leads to shifting ecosystems and species—which may literally need to become mobile to continue to thrive.
Filled with diverse Midwestern plants and made of reclaimed materials, the 'flotilla' of planters will become a site for joyful artistic engagement and a vehicle for neighborhood educational walks on a variety of vegetal and climate-related themes. Garden for a Changing Climate asks us to consider our relationship to a changing climate and asks: If we humans number among the affected species, how might our lives change? What actions can we take to preserve our cultural traditions and lifeways, while working to shift our reckless extraction-based economy? What unexpected opportunities to restructure as a more just world may be provided during this necessary shift?
This collaborative project is funded by a Humanities Without Walls (Andrew A. Mellon Foundation) consortium grant, and is a partnership between artist Jenny Kendler, curator Lorelei Stewart (Director, Gallery 400) and the Gallery 400 team, art historian and educator Hannah Higgins at University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), science educator Noah Weeth-Feinstein at UW-Madison, PhD and Masters students, scientists and community organizers, activists and community members. The project will be in neighborhoods across Chicago beginning in April 2018, including the UIC campus, West Garfield Park, Washington Park, Irving Park and Little Village.
Garden for a Changing Climate is a community-co created project, programmed in partnership with the American Indian Center, Sweet Water Foundation, students at UIC, Latinos Progresando and their L-Evated initiative, and 360 Nation and their Chicago public school partner Sumner Math & Science Community Academy.
The marking of space and time is deeply important for living beings. In human culture, we tend to conceive of time as linear, and have invented cultural structures and technological objects to assist us in measuring, tracking and accurately sensing the flow of time. If you meet a friend every day at 2pm, without a clock or timekeeping device, would you notice they were one minute late? What if they arrive later and later each day, but only by a matter of seconds? What if they moved each day, but only a few millimeters? Like the old adage of ‘boiling the frog’ you might never notice a change. So, when and how would you concretely know that they were too late, or too far off—that something might have gone wrong?
This is the situation we now face as a species in attempting to accurately sense climate change. This climactic shifting is so gradual that we tend not to notice—especially when we have no ‘clock’ or ‘measuring tape. Humans did, however, once possess this way of sensing. Much like an analog clock, the natural world moves in circular time. The tilt of our planet bring us closer to and further from our sun’s warmth, in a regular annual cycle, influencing everything from the first buds of spring, to the first colorful leaves of fall.
Non-human animals intuitively understand and move within this framework, and use it to guide their choices. But few humans, now removed from indigenous knowledge and living in urban and constructed landscapes, remember how to read the Earth in this way. Plants, of course, are one of the most salient counters and measurers. For those still tied to this ancient knowledge, the blooming of the contrasting purples and golds of asters and goldenrod signal the end of summer—and in the way that a watch helps us know when a friend is early or late, we can use these floral-timers to understand how our seasonal rhythms might be shifting with the changing of our climate.
Equally too, if these purples and golds disappear and we see them instead blooming far to the north, this too may tell us something deeply important. Plants can be a lens through which we can better envision and understand the way that climate change is impacting the shifting of both time and space—as species gradually move towards the poles or upwards in elevation, attempting with each successive re-seeding to adapt to our warming planet.
A recent paper, published in the science journal Nature, suggests that climate zones (and their corresponding ecosystems) are moving at the approximate rate of 0.42 km annually, or 3.8 feet every day. Other studies estimate that trees' ecozones may already be moving at 9.5-10.5 miles per decade. The rate will vary widely for different species, but the principle remains the same—that in order to survive the locked-in warming predicted in our future, organisms, including sessile plants, must move their ranges towards the poles.
We believe it is important to make timescales and distances that cannot otherwise be easily understood, available for sensing, human bodies, and our mobile garden aims to do just that, helping students, citizens and art viewers to understand this formerly imperceptible aspect of climate in a new, and very tangible way, by ‘playing out’ accelerated timescales in collaborative, parade-like group actions. We propose to engage student and community groups in neighborhoods across Chicago, as the mobile garden becomes the locus for a series of walks, where the participants move the garden the distance of perhaps 10, 25 or 100 years into our climate’s future. Along these variously themed walks, we’ll stage interactive workshops on a variety of climate and flora centered themes.
Garden for a Changing Climate aims to encourage citizen science, engage new audiences, and bring new sense-based awareness to the often times imperceptible issue of climate change. Reconnecting our sensitivities with nature’s shifts in time and space can help us understand the new paths being made in this quickly changing world—and give us a compass by which to chart our own way forward.
"If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees." — Rainer Maria Rilke