Artist Freedom Baird installing Room to Grow.
Artist Freedom Baird installing garden fencing defining the boundaries of her installation.
Composed of salvaged furniture painted with several layers of color.
The work was installed in June and removed in September. It was transformed in the course of the summer, as an assortment of native plants grew through the armature of the furniture.
Freedom Baird invited passersby into the outdoor room to experience the installation up close.
Freedom Baird planted a native variety of sunflowers in position to grow up and through a floor lamp, the yellow flowers illuminating the sky above and attracting many happy pollinators.
ROOM TO GROW
ROOM TO GROW was developed with artist Freedom Baird as the Arlington Commission for the Arts' first Artist-in-Residence for the Minuteman Bikeway. Initially I approached Baird with a request to exhibit her sculptural installations in trees. But as I learned more about her interactive and socially engaged work I asked her if she had an idea that she might want to bring to the Bikeway. She did, and the result was Room To Grow, a piece which changed dramatically over the course of the summer, propelled by both natural processes and garden cultivation technique. A sculptural armature of salvaged furniture – the "bones" of a room" – became the trellis supporting and framing the exuberant growth of native plants.
Room To Grow explored a number of questions:
How are natural materials transformed into human-made structures and objects? And at what cost?
Can the memories of harvested trees, mined minerals, and extracted oil be traced in a wooden chair, metal bedframe, or plastic paint?
How can we better steward human-made objects and the natural resources they represent, for example by reusing instead of discarding?
What is native and what is invasive -- in plants and living creatures, in furnishings and structures, in ideas and culture?
Baird cleared an area the size of a small room and furnished it with a bed, dresser, chair and lamp rescued from the trash. She painted these discards with several layers of paint in a palette inspired by the transitions of light in an early morning or twilight sky. She acutely observed that objects in nature are never one color, and she sought to achieve the complex coloration and texture of something like bark or lichen so that these furnishings would sit between uneasily between the worlds of nature and humans.
Due to our dialogue, Baird decided to plant native species amongst the furniture, including brilliant sunflowers in a tall standing lamp. These plants grew and evolved over the course of the summer, gradually taking over the furniture and increasing the sense that this was a kind of hybrid space. Was it a whimsical garden or an abandoned settlement? To me, the effect was like a scene in a folk tale, prompting the viewer to imagine what mysterious story was unfolding here.
Baird spent Sundays on the site, wearing farmer's overalls and tending the plants; she conversed with passers by on a range of topics relating to her installation. Bee keeping and pollinators, thrifting, farming and native plants, sustainability and climate change were just a few of the topics.
ROOM TO GROW was commissioned as part of PATHWAYS: Art on the Minuteman Bikeway, a public art initiative activating Arlington’s newly designated Cultural District, which stretches from Capitol Square in East Arlington to Arlington Center. The Bikeway offers a green corridor connecting two vibrant centers of town life, with their cafes & restaurants, neighborhood shops & libraries, and spaces for making or experiencing art, music, film & dance.