Ellie Irons is fascinated by plants, from their mind-blowing diversity, array of pigments and nutrients (using energy from the sun!) to their symbiotic relationships with other life forms.
So much so even, that at SVA’s Nature & Technology Lab, Ellie is presenting the exhibition “Invasive Pigments,” a research-based art project exploring the migration and proliferation of weeds co-existing in dense human populations.
For the show, weeds and other “unintentional plants” found in urban areas are collected for pigments, which then get used to construct map-like portraits of each species. These portraits detail species’ points of origin as well as their spread through contact with humans.
The ultimate goal is to harvest and process non-native species specifically, and create an “invasive color palette” of sorts, from which she’ll draw to make a series of portraits of the invaders.
“The whole point for me is the fact that these are almost all plants from somewhere else.” These aren’t plants that you would have found back when Henry Hudson sailed into the New York harbor over 400 years ago. “I’m interested in the fact that we’ve changed our environment to such an extent,” she said.
Ellie is mainly focused on spontaneous plants, the kind that grow and reproduce without human input or maintenance. These “invasive” plants such as weeds, have been culturally marked as non-desirable, but often plants that are labeled as invasive in one place may be prized or protected in another context.
Additionally, many of the qualities that define an invasive species (easily adaptable to new circumstances, tolerant to large population numbers and modification of the ecosystem) are all qualities that we humans could learn from (see our post on biomimicry).
For Ellie, rethinking the role of weeds in urban landscapes can lead to ways of rethinking the city and the larger ecological crises.
Aggressive, opportunistic and disturbance prone species are pre-adapted to harsh circumstances, and as the climactic situation grows more unpredictable, hardy disturbance adapted species (like humans and “weeds”!) will continue evolve and proliferate.
Pigments in the photographs below are derived from locally gathered, studio-cultured green algae, the leaves of the Ailanthus tree, and grocery-store grade strawberries and blueberries. Extracted pigments are mixed with gum arabic, a gum harvested from certain species of Acacia.
The project will be on view at the Center for Strategic Art and Agriculture from November 7th 2014 – January 15th 2015.