Miranda Bellamy & Amanda Fauteux
11 June - 25th September, 2022, Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, NB, Canada
Just because we humans can’t hear them doesn’t mean plants don’t howl.
—Natalie Angier, 2009
What do plants have to say about their lives under colonial capitalism? In the exhibition Terrarium, artistic partners Miranda Bellamy and Amanda Fauteux seek answers to this question in the electrochemical signals of plants living in habitats that human intervention has profoundly altered. Translating these signals into sounds and images, their work considers the impossibility of truly communicating with plants, while nonetheless centering their perspectives through practices of listening.
A Wardian Case, the four-channel video installation at the heart of the exhibition, was made after Bellamy and Fauteux visited Kawau Island, Aotearoa New Zealand, and recorded the electrochemical signals of plants living there. In the mid-nineteenth century, copper mines destabilized the ecology of this island, which was then irreversibly changed when Sir George Grey acquired it in 1860. Grey was a colonial settler, naturalist, and governor with an affection for “Wardian cases”⎯more commonly known as terrariums⎯a Victorian invention that first made it possible to transport living plant specimens around the globe. Using this technology, the imperialist Grey turned Kawau Island into a “botanical zoo.” In collaboration with the plants that endure there today, Bellamy and Fauteux work to unsettle this legacy through a “chorus and cacophony” of sonified plant-cell signals.
Terrarium, a new series of sandstone sculptures, extends A Wardian Case and links it back to Sackville, New Brunswick. Made from the remains of demolished Mount Allison University buildings, these sculptures were carved and extruded from sandstone according to drawings derived from the electrochemical signals of lupin, raspberry, spotted hawkweed, february daphne, and fern fiddleheads found growing in Sackville’s defunct Pickard Quarry. Once the source of Mount Allison’s famous sandstone, and the origin of these stones, the quarry is now a liminal space of both ecological turmoil and “natural beauty.” Listening to Our Plant Neighbours (2019), the video antecedent to A Wardian Case, joins these two works in a powerful exhibition that offers a unique perspective on the lives of plants in capitalist society.
Emily Falvey, curator.
A Wardian Case is accompanied by a text by Bruce E. Phillips is available online here.
Terrarium was made possible thanks to funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, Creative New Zealand, the New Brunswick Arts Board, and the Sheila Hugh Mackay Foundation.
Read a review by Jon Claytor on Akimbo.com
All photographs by Roger Smith.