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The Chimera Plantarium Project Are Working with Primary School Kids to Create Art

17 September 20 interview: Rachel Willcocks

Lenton locals may have spotted the remnants of The Chimera Plantarium Project on Church Drive. Two vividly coloured and curiously shaped murals command a presence that hints towards their leafy beginnings and leaves passers-by turning their heads. They are just some of the work delivered by artist Chiara Dellerba and the children from Years 5 and 6 at Edna G. Olds Academy, as part of Primary’s Making Place project. Working together, they explored and created artwork based on the idea of spontaneous plants – wild, urban flora. Spontaneous plants are resilient creatures and their perseverance to thrive almost anywhere, even in abandoned, overlooked, or routinely neglected areas, is something us humans could learn from. We spoke to Chiara, to find out more about the project…

How did the idea of creating art inspired by spontaneous plants come about?
I live near Lenton, and on my walks to and from home I came across different species of urban spontaneous plants. I saw how they were changing the aesthetics of ‘the concrete urban jungle’. I then started to imagine how this population of plants might perform if we allowed it to take over the decision-making in spaces neglected or never exploited by humans. I find it fascinating that plants inhabit all spaces, whether they are free, or occupied by people. The presence of the spontaneous plants creates a welcoming territory for diversity which is expelled elsewhere. Being interested in ecology, utopia and collective care practices and their civic impact on the society has led me to develop long term projects to investigate the city, the environment, and the future of our society. For some time now I have wanted to investigate evolutionary mechanisms, reciprocal connections, and the hidden similarities between human and non-human species, to open up a common ground of reflection on the implications of how we can effectively transform the areas we live in if we learn from these other ‘citizens’ of the planet. 

The Chimera Plantarium was selected as the project chosen by a panel, composed of Year 5 and 6 pupils, Nottingham City Council and Rebeca Beinart (Engagement Curator for the Public programme at Primary). What about the project do you think appealed to the children at Edna G. Olds Academy and how was it to work with them?
I am very privileged to have worked with a wonderful school such as Edna G. Olds Academy and Rebecca Beinart from Primary. Also, what a privilege to be selected by a panel of children! I think kids should have more space and time to raise their voices and share their ideas about the changes they would like to see implemented. For them to be completely immersed both physically and metaphorically in nature in a highly-populated area with very limited green space has been fundamental to rediscover and rethink the area where they live and try to give a different connotation to what is free for them to access in public spaces. 

They were fascinated by the possibility of becoming involved in the practice of urban plant mapping. To have some special knowledge to share with their friends and their families, alongside feeling empowered by knowing that connecting with the nature surrounding them they can change people’s perspective of the area. 

How did the project re-map and re-imagine the local area? 
We explored how human and non-human come together as a hybrid species – half-plant and half-human – to reactivate and regenerate the area. Looking at how plants work; how they are made; why they are different from humans, and what they have in common with us; what kind of organisation they respond to, and how their organisation is widespread, deconcentrated and distributed. We have contextualised their properties and capabilities, creating a collaborative herbarium as a starting point to map the area from the perspective of urban plants.

During workshops, we came up with the final murals on Church Street. Part of the project was also to create a narrative of the Chimera Plantarium, starting with designing a plant alphabet. We transformed each letter of the alphabet into half-plant/half-letter, and from this, we created a publication printed by Dizzy Ink. Also, I am looking at expanding the project focussing more on activating new forms of citizenship with the nature that surrounds us. So far it has been an incredible journey!

The project’s aim is to be ‘a tool to practice civic imagination, to re-imagine a city [Nottingham] governed by plants, reframing an often-invisible urban ecology as a beneficial amenity that can offer a fresh perspective on how cities perform’. How can we shape the future of humans and non-humans in the city and how can this benefit the future of the area we live in?
We can learn many things from plants, both as human beings and citizens of the planet. What is fundamental is that plants help us to forget about the anthropocentric point of view on which our culture is based. Also, plants do not have centralised, specialised organs like we do. Their organisation is widely distributed: they see, hear, breathe and reason with their entire bodies. This makes them much more robust than us. We can learn from plants to not act as individuals, but rather as a network. Plants teach us to cooperate, not to compete. It is only with the cooperation that we offer a fresh perspective to ourselves on how cities perform. We can start to do so, looking at the ‘obvious’ and ‘silent’ nature that surrounds us.

The publication will be part of the upcoming exhibition at Primary, which marks three years of Making Place, a long-term community programme that looks at how we learn from the city and how we use public space. Find out more details about the project on Primary’s website.

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