Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Spinning linen memory webs & giving gifts

Student teachers becoming memory spiders, March 9
Spring has arrived and the outdoor classroom/school garden installation, Threads Sown, Grown & Given, is slowly changing and re-inventing itself.

On March 9, 2013, student teachers in our workshop series worked together in pairs to spin spider webs throughout the installation site. The linen thread came from the flax that had grown as “desks” in the grid of the outdoor classroom installation the previous summer.

But why webs? As I learned to spin flax to linen thread with a drop spindle during November, I started feeling like a spider (in German, the word for spider is Spinne…which I now realize explains where words like spindle and spinning get their animal origins!) and began imagining that the thread could become webs at the installation site for the final gift giving stages of this arts-based research project. 

Becoming spider, November 2012 (Photo: Spring Gillard)
While webs are not highly original metaphors for interconnectedness and relationships (all important themes in my conceptualization of “becoming teachers together”), there was something different about learning the power of this metaphor from a material engagement with spinning. This was not a rational, academic process of discovery but, similar to my attraction to the flax plant at the start of this whole journey, seemed to emerge from some other source of knowledge that was more embodied, spiritual, and situated. These are rare experiences for me, so I try to hold onto the moments when they occur and learn from them as “gifts.”

The webs in the garden also work materially and metaphorically to entangle the difficult knowledge and histories of school gardens that had been part of the “windows” in the 2012 installation. Histories of gardening at residential schools, during Nazi Germany, in controlled industrial landscapes are hard to ingest, and yet, what else can we do with these aspects of school gardening? At the installation, we wove personal gardening memories, mostly positive, onto these historical images and knotted the entire mess into our webs.
Linen spider webs with garden memories and histories
Having to rip up or fold my garden memory was difficult. Yet it was nothing compared to what residential school students & families experienced. Perspective on what we have, what we keep, what we let go and we need/want” -- Student teacher, March 9, 2013

As the webs and our collective memories slowly fall apart and return to the garden, a final gift to the garden is taking shape at the installation. Threads Sown, Grown & Given is not only about addressing difficult histories and learning from these and the garden how we become teachers together. It is also about reconciliation and reciprocity in our human and more-than-human relations. While much of this project recognizes the value of gifts, the plant that has come to symbolize and embody gifts for me is fireweed. A plant of regeneration, fireweed grows after fires or wherever soil has been disturbed (such as clear cuts). It is edible, medicinal, a fibre plant, a bee plant, a significant plant for northern Indigenous peoples…and it’s a perennial “weed”. Returning year after year, fireweed grows rhizomatically by moving in unpredictable manners throughout the soil. Odd thing for an orderly Eurocentric garden but isn’t time that we reconceptualize our relationship with the land (what is a garden, really???) and recognize the harm to Indigenous peoples and the land that this perspective has caused - and continues to cause, anyway? 
Planting fireweed rhizomes, March 25, 2013

Our production team at The Orchard Garden loved fireweed's symbolism and recognized how it fit into the installation project; however, I had to promise to make sure the plant wouldn't take over other areas of the garden before the idea was OK in reality. Thank you, team!

We harvested the fireweed rhizomes from the UBC Farm, our sister project here on campus, and I planted them in a circle at the centre of the installation site. While I played with ideas of growing the plants in webs or as long threads, I realized finally that the circle was a simple geometric shape that would set interesting conditions for new relationship to emerge, via the fireweed itself. 

While my active role in the garden installation as a researcher is nearing an end, the installation itself is always changing. I invite everyone to come and visit (email if you would like to set a date, otherwise, come by anytime). Your comments on this blog are also always appreciated!

1 comment:

  1. I love this post Julia. It is great to see how your ideas and garden have grown over time. Thank you for including me in the process! Sonja