A space for cohabitation

  La Friche explores the duality between human and nature

Large pieces of bubble wrap, scattered still life illustrations of flowers, and a desk clad with a variety of guide books about foraging line the walls at articule, an artist-run centre situated in the Mile End. The space resembles a cross between a research lab and an artist’s workshop.

La Friche, the research-based multimedia project by Montreal-based artist Angela Marsh, aims to establish a relationship between human and nature. Through the collection of found objects and foraged plant fragments, the artist has created tapestries in an effort to reconcile the omnipresent duality between the organic and the manmade.

“[The tapestries] consists of all the little pieces of plants I’ve found in friches, in parking lots, in alleyways, in an effort to create a sort of cohabitation between humans and nature,” said Marsh.

“Friche”, the french word from which stems the title of the project, can be translated roughly to “wasteland.” In this context, Marsh uses it to describe a piece of land which was once inhabited by humans, and has since been abandoned and “colonized” by wild plants.

The tapestries consist of wild plants and seeds which have been sewn into the individual pockets in the bubble wrap. This is meant to serve as a form of protection; a method of preserving the plants from “a tension between the wild plants that are trying to survive, and this human controlled system that is always trying to control them,” according to Marsh.

The work tackles socio-political themes surrounding human desire and control, alongside our relationship with nature and the environment. These notions are explored through themes of preservation, which can be seen through the artist’s archival approach to the project.

“Where is our need to always control our environment and our spaces, and where can that cohabitation happen?” asked Marsh. This is considered through her work, wherein she unites the diversity of plants with her sewing and drawings. What she wanted was to have the two aspects living together. 

Marsh identified over 60 varieties of plants throughout the province, foraging them and drew them from observation. “It’s like having a quest for relationship with each plant, a quest for understanding and intimacy,” said Marsh of her still life sketches. “Each fragment of nature that we draw… it’s like we are creating a dialogue.”

The work demonstrates a cohabitation between the organic and the artificial. The plant fragments and weeds, representing the organic; the bubble wrap and the sewing, representing the artificial. Having the two cohabitate creates a conversation, leaving the viewer to question their roles, both individually and together.

“Botanists call [weeds] resilient plants that are able to survive in disturbed land,” explained Marsh. There was once a time when nature was the main disruptor, but the roles have since reversed. “These plants have adapted, the seeds have stayed dormant for years and when there is a disruption that is when they germinate.”

The act of sewing the seeds into the plastic served as a form of reparative gesture, according to Marsh. To sew is to mend what has been broken. In other words, this action served as a means of repairing, seeking responsibility for damage, and allowing for the possibility of a new life.

“Today it will not be the same piece as it will be tomorrow,” said Marsh. “This doesn’t trouble me at all.” She spoke of the constant state of evolution of her work, explaining that the piece has to obey natural laws. “I can’t impose my natural desire to have it preserved, it’s more nature than culture.”

The project is a work-in-progress, one that the artist aims to expand over the course of the next few years, as she collects field notes, sketches, and knowledge of the various flora that she finds throughout the province, and specifically within urban spaces.

“I see it as a source of hope in this age that we live in that I find is increasingly difficult to make sense of, one where we have all sorts of ecological crisis happening around us,” said Marsh, further explaining her interest in wild plants that are managing to survive within the city space. “They are a symbol of this regenerative capacity to be able to adapt and survive in conditions that are unsurvivable.”

Angela Marsh will continue to develop La Friche over the course of the next five to eight years, in an effort to further understand the evolution of wild plants within the city space in parallel with her work.


Photos by Laurence B. D.

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