Opinion

Eco-art will tell stories of farmers and gardners

I grew up in a family that did not practice a religion, but whenever the weather allowed, my parents knelt on the earth, planting seeds, weeding or harvesting. Although I did not then understand their actions as a form of prayer, I do now.

Some of my first memories are of crawling through my parents’ vegetable garden tasting and smelling the bounty growing in their neatly kept rows. Before I learned to speak, I was digging in the dirt and tossing compost into the bin.

As I grew older, I spent hours lifting up rocks to observe insect life and rarely tired of picking berries. Never did I imagine, however, that gardens would become a leitmotif of not only my life but my art practice as well.

In 2003 I was hired to create and teach interdisciplinary arts courses at the University of Washington Tacoma. My new colleagues advised me to look for a home on Vashon Island. They felt it would be a good fit, and it has been.

This year I am experiencing my first paid sabbatical, after more than three decades of teaching all over the continent. While most people might imagine that professors go away to do research somewhere exotic, I’m doing my creative work right here on my own island. It is an extraordinary privilege to slow down and really feel the texture and pulse of where I live.

As part of this year’s artistic journey, I’ve developed a project that will hopefully give back to the community for years to come. UW’s Royalty Research Foundation has awarded me a grant to create a community-based, eco-art project, and I’m excited to invite the community of gardeners and farmers to be participate in this new work titled “Eden Reframed: Gleaning Abundance.”

Inspired by the work of Vashon Island’s non-profit SEEDS (or Social Ecology Education and Demonstration School), which is currently funded by the Harris and Frances Block Foundation to do a soil remediation project on the south end of the Island, I conceived of a project that involved collecting the stories of gardeners and farmers and placing those stories in interactive sculptures surrounding a meditation garden.

Although the original site for my project has changed and the future site for the eco-art is still in discussion, it is now the season to collect stories. My permaculture design consultants will assist in the restoration of the land once the site is confirmed, and we will disclose more about the project at that time.

As part of this eco-art project, we will build sculptural “story hives” to hold the stories we collect. My collaborator Shahreyar Ataie and I will collect stories like pollen, fill the “combs” with excerpts of those stories and offer up this “honey” to the visitors in the garden.

Tory benches with text burned and carved onto their surfaces will be placed where visitors can rest and contemplate the garden and a video will be created so that visitors from afar can enjoy the stories and garden on the web.

We are curious to learn what inspires the people who plant seeds and how they relate to their work as a spiritual practice. We will ask gardeners and farmers what gives them a sense of future, what mystery guides them in the garden and what about the work of growing food and plants heals them.

During a time when many aspects of our world are undergoing dramatic change, it is important to be reminded about what gives our neighbors faith in the future. The harvest of “Eden Reframed” will be available to everyone who visits the eco-art site for years to come.

— Beverly Naidus is an artist, author and professor at the University of

Washington Tacoma.

Get involved

If you are interested in participating in “Eden Reframed,” contact Beverly Naidus at edenreframed@gmail.com.

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