2012 - Ongoing
Adrian Barron visited Street Road from the UK when he exhibited with us in 2012, and as a response to the monoculture industrial farming he observed in Pennsylvania, planted an impromptu installation in our front flowerbed, inspired by the Native American tradition of ‘Three Sisters’ planting. Street Road has since established this space as Barron’s long-term, changing exhibition, designating it ‘Heterotopia West’, inspired as it is by Barron’s own Heterotopia in Northhampton, England, of which he writes:
Much of my work is inspired by my garden (a Heterotopia), which I have been building myself for the last eight years. In its small scale, this environment exemplifies the state of constant flux and ambiguity that characterise nature. Nature continuously generates multiples in which the repetitive, predetermined and imitative play a role, but so too do the mutated and the unpredictable. This uncertainty is reflected in the outcome of my work, which questions what the real 'nature' of nature is, the role of the human in it, and phenomena resulting from the interaction between the two.
Local resident and gardener Donna Goepfert oversees the changing plantings of Heterotopia West, directed by Barron from the UK.
The Heterotopia West series
Winter-Spring 2016/2017 : ‘It was a dark and stormy night’
This new iteration of Heterotopia West takes its cue from a much-maligned sentence of the Victorian gothic novel, its origins forgotten but reminiscent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Polidori’s The Vampyre.
For Heterotopia West’s autumn/winter intervention, and to celebrate the five-year anniversary of Street Road Art Project Space, I have chosen to convert the flower bed into a compost heap: once the leaves are down and the current plants are taken out, a compost box with a viewing window is installed, and the plant material is placed inside it. The bacteria and fungi found naturally on this plant matter go to work turning these materials into basic building blocks for future flora.
By piling it all up, a good gardener takes control of the dark, sinister process of the microscopic life within the compost heap as it transforms and changes garden waste into new life; a Perspex viewing window in the compost box means layers of the compost heap can be read to understand its needs; adding either wet or dry material. Extra nitrogen in the form of manure (many an old gardener swears that urinating on it helps in the same way). The compost heap must not be compacted, or anaerobic processes will occur; with its smells of sulphur it is closer to putrefaction. Air it by turning it regularly as needs require. The gardener can pinpoint its future use: for alkaline loving veg, lime can be added; if left to its own devices it will be naturally acidic (a good mulch for acid loving shrubs). Bacteria and fungi are organisms and heat is generated from their bodies as they feed and multiply. The bigger the heap, the more heat emitted and the faster the reaction, turning garden waste into rich exotic soil.
The composter must read nature and control it, the heap is now a living organism. Push your hand deep inside it on a cold and frosty morning, feel its heat, pull your hand out and see its warm breath rise up out of the gaping hole you have made. The gardener has become Dr. Frankenstein. The compost heap is the back yard corporeal monster.
This is fitting for Street Road’s anniversary, the past is spent and under good guidance a new lease of life is guaranteed.
The Heterotopia West series: Previous
Spring-Summer 2016: ‘Migrants and Immigrants’
In 2016, while the world grapples with multiple refugee humanitarian crises, xenophobic sentiment threatens to divide the United States, a country predicated on cultural exchange and immigration. In a reflection on these issues, Barron invites the public to bring containers of soil to Street Road’s Heterotopia West plot from their own flowerbeds, creating a fortuitous composite garden.
Barron metaphorically compares a plant container, from the simple baked bean can to the ornate ceramic, to the shell of a snail. In so doing, he references the idea of “home” and its multitude of definitions, a repository for life and a fluctuating, potentially borderless concept. Visitors to Heterotopia West are invited to bring their own soil or seeds, particularly those with a cultural significance, in order to contribute to the installation’s biodiversity in a countryside characterized by unsustainable monoculture. They are encouraged to consider American cultural history from a wider lens, to remember that the tumbleweed, a classic symbol of the iconic American West, had its literal roots in Portugal, and that the ubiquitous yellow dandelion with its capacity for childhood wishes is another pioneer from other shores.
Fall - Winter 2015: 'Venus rising in all her glory'
"So we'll live, and pray and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh At gilded butterflies ... And take upon us the mystery of things As if we were Gods' spies." - Shakespeare, King Lear, V 3
‘Gilded’ Butterflies are diaphanous, light, and visually pleasing harbingers of spring. A prerequisite of balmy, hot summer days, they rise over the garden fence after alighting on a favoured flower to sip at its nectar. Their bawdy and folkloric names - such as Painted Lady, Camberwell Beauty, Brimstone, Black Satyr and Wood Nymph - provoke endless associations. The latter two conjure images of Greek myth and tragedy, of star-crossed lovers endlessly caught in chase and flight. In childhood one might spend many days distracted by these flying, decorative courtiers. To wait patiently, chase, catch between finger and thumb, only to find the colors dissolve, only a fine dusting on a surface reflecting the sun’s light, indistinguishable underneath from a house fly's wings.
Heterotopia West 2015-16 sets out to capture this childhood innocence of searching among allotments (Britain's community gardens) for the common Cabbage White butterfly, who sought refuge amongst cruciferous vegetables - cauliflower, broccoli, rape seed and many, many more. The female Cabbage White is prevalent at Street Road and is drawn to cabbage plants, which are the host food for its larvae. It seems quite natural to plant a small cabbage patch in Street Road’s very own plot, set within this rural farmland setting.
This is an autumn planting, so we must be patient and wait for spring for these guests to arrive and become caught in our nets. The ornamental cabbages can be enjoyed now in their gaudy colours, as if transported from some mythic land to eventually be colonized in spring by these female pagan Deities.
Spring - Summer 2015: 'Invisible Gardener'
"Two people return to their long neglected garden and find, among the weeds, that a few of the old plants are surprisingly vigorous. One says to the other, 'It must be that a gardener has been coming and doing something about these weeds.' The other disagrees and an argument ensues. They pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. The believer wonders if there is an invisible gardener, so they patrol with bloodhounds but the bloodhounds never give a cry. Yet the believer remains unconvinced, and insists that the gardener is invisible, has no scent and gives no sound. The skeptic doesn't agree, and asks how a so-called invisible, intangible, elusive gardener differs from an imaginary gardener, or even no gardener at all." - English philosopher John Wisdom's 'Parable of the Invisible Gardener'
The word ‘art’ can be replaced easily by the word ‘garden’. Art is about self-expression, about responding to your existence in this world. Ask any gardener about any plant in their garden and you will find a rational, and emotional, response to its existence. Sometimes this response involves a memory or commemoration; sometimes it involves a more abstract idea, such as a consideration of the relationship of one plant’s leaf to another plant’s stem. The gardener creates a three-dimensional living image, full of an assortment of brush marks relating to texture, surface, colour, plane and thought. At times a gardener may portray a sense of place: referencing the Mediterranean garden, the English garden or the Tropical garden. The gardener, like the artist, will not show you the garden, will not consider it 'finished', if not convinced of its aesthetic and conceptual significance.
Heterotopia West this summer is an ode to dueling philosophies of John Wisdom and Antony Flew. Wisdom's parable ‘Invisible gardening’ is what happens to your beloved friend the garden when you pass on - at the climax of life or to other pursuits. We all have to make room for new shoots, and while every good gardener has hands-on experience of life and death in his veritable plot of seasons, it is difficult to truly extend the metaphor to his own organic experience.
now left behind by a new awakening, a new controller in charge, pushing past the cultivation of years gone by, prize greened possessions dislodged. The simple, fecund weeds (really, just plants in the wrong place). Out of kilter from that original self-expression, when existence is no more. So perfect, that pagan Nature – The invisible gardener, natural order, cuts her own grand design. Extinguish all doubts: observe this newly painted canvas.
Summer 2014 - Winter 2015: 'Rhizome'
Spring 2014: ‘Something Colonial’
As British colonies were given independence in the post-world war era, the parties which had controlled law and order and micro-managed indigenous populations were rigorously dismantled. This list included governmental organs, British trading companies, administrators, and the military. Many of those from these organizations who were repatriated back to the United Kingdom either went directly into retirement or to overcrowded army barracks to await new orders. In a strange mutation, the military precision of the colonial era emerges in the small garden plots of these retirees and soldiers. The later created hard edged privet hedges, tiered or curved, and over-pruned roses in row upon row. Fast and instant for the soldier, geraniums, pot marigolds and pansies poured out into their civvy time as if on a parade ground, performing their own regimented training. In Barron’s own memories of childhood growing up on enormous army bases such as Catterick and Aldershot, each army house had a 10x10 foot plot maintained with high precision. There were occasional casualties in the ranks in the spring as frost cut blackening swaths through the rows of guardsmen red geraniums. More hardy perhaps, the deep blue pansy remained remarkably untouched. Municipal Councils in retirement towns on the English coast continue to have these hyper managed beds, in electric red and fuchsia pink with touches of kitsch in the form of clocks or words such as ‘WELCOME’ written in blue flowers. When you walk past this flower bed take a moment to reflect on this manifestation of ‘Something Colonial’ carefully transplanted to Street Road.
Summer 2013 : ‘East meets West’
East Meets West was a planting of Afghani Papaver Somniferum and California poppies, mixing eastern and western iconographies. A climbing guest improvisationally joined the planting, brought as a gift by an unknown visitor to one of Street Road's openings, .
Autumn 2012: ‘Three Sisters’
According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans and squash are inseparable sisters who grow and thrive together. The long tradition of interplanting these three in the same raised and fertilized mounds was widespread throughout the Americas. All planting was accompanied by relevant worship to various localized deities. If one of the three were to be missing during planting, fertility and yield would drop which would have an adverse effect on the tribe and its survival. Rotation planting (the changing of plants seasonally to increase fertility and production) is now considered good practice in our fields and back yards. Looking out on the endless fields of Monoculture Maize in Cochranville, there is a nagging realization that the lesson of the 3 sisters flew straight over the heads of the settlers from the East, and the Western Utopian dream of the new world was methodically transformed into the place from whence they came.