Nature's quiet revolution
Wildflowers, wayside plants, mosses and lichens seek out, embed their seeds and spread their spores amongst the cracks and crevices of our crumbling concrete facades. Once they take a foothold they begin to flourish. Then, for anybody with the time and care to tune in, they also start to whisper: stories; memories; myths; folklore and rich cultural histories. As countless daydreamers across the centuries have recognised, the weeds that thrive in the City’s back alleyways offer an ideal springboard for poetic contemplation:
I wandered through this ragged Arcadia in my lunch hours, amazed at its triumphant luxuriance, and feeling, in a naively romantic way, that its regenerative powers echoed the work we were trying to do inside.
The plants felt like comrades in arms, vegetable guerrillas that had overcome the dereliction of the industrial age."
Richard Mabey, 'Weeds: the story of outlaw plants', 2011
Whilst, from an aesthetic point of view, the decorative qualities of these 'plants out of place' can bring a sense of pure delight to the eyes of the romantic observer; they can also usher in a darker tone - offering a gentle warning of the shape of things to come if we fail to listen to the unsettling truths about climate change.
In the 2007 “eco thriller” 'The World Without Us' Alan Weisman painted a picture of how the world might look if humans vanish and nature is left to take over. In one example he references an article in New Scientist Magazine wherein Laura Spinney:
"...envisioned her city abandoned 250 years hence, turned back into the swamp it once was. The liberated Thames wandered among the waterlogged foundations of fallen buildings, Canary Wharf Tower having collapsed under and unbearable tonnage of dripping ivy. The following year, Ronald Wright’s novel ‘A scientific Romance’ jumped 250 years more, and imagined the same river with palms, flowing transparently past Canvey Island into a sweltering mangrove estuary, where it joined a warm North Sea."
The synergy between urban nature and the daydreams that it can promote is a theme that perpetuates throughout this website. The following projects explore that relationship in a variety of ways (to varying degrees of success and failure..!).
'Dandelion' (from the 'Roadside Flowers' series), Whitechapel, London, 2004
On my way home the other day I looked down towards the floor just in time to notice that I was a moment away from stamping this weed flat. The unfortunate weed had pushed its way up through a crack in the concrete tiles only to find itself slap bang in the middle of the pavement, and was destined to end its life as quickly as it had begun. There was something about the way in which the weed proudly maintained its precarious position with such dignity that moved me a little. I went away at once and made a tiny fence in the hope that it might protect the weed from its inescapable fate for just a little longer. Two days later the fence had disappeared, but the weed had continued to grow bigger and stronger...
'Weed Enclosure', Whitechapel, London, 2005
'Memory Plaques', various locations around Melbourne, Australia, 2011
'Moss Graffiti', Limehouse Cut, London, 2002
In 2002, I stumbled across a recipe for growing moss on a gardening blog. It was suggested as a way for gardeners to beautify walls and add textural interest. It struck me as a wonderful idea to experiment with - and I thought about how the recipe could be used as a kind of paint, to grow words and pictures in moss... as a sort of "Moss Graffiti". Unfortunately, I'm not a talented gardener by any standards and, although I had a few successes with the recipe, more often than not it ended in mould. 'Mould Graffiti'. Not quite the same ring, I'm aware.
Here is a demonstration of one of my more successful attempts at following the gardener's recipe I found, showing the stages from "paste" to "growth".
Operation Ivy League
(in collaboration with The Spacehijackers), City of London, 2007
In 2007, after a walk through Liverpool Street on an eerily quiet Sunday afternoon, I was inspired by vision of covering the corporate architecture of the City of London with cascading ivy. I proposed the project to my wonderful, activist, troublemaking crew: London's Spacehijackers.... and 'Operation Ivy League' was born.
The idea was to transform the underlying narratives of the existing architecture and replace them with those of fairytales, to: "promote daydreams where they have been outlawed" and "set the City free".
I then spent a few weeks nurturing ivy plants from clippings before we set about on our mission to plant the saplings in strategic spots around the City. Needless to say it was an ambitious if slightly ill conceived plan. But, if ever I find myself in the City of London, I squint a little when I look at the skyline... and I can still see the silhouettes of those dreaming towers (in my mind's eye at least).