“Inflorescence” emerged from a concern with permanence and versatility. In urban communities experiencing revitalization, many initiatives and policy shifts struggle to take root because myriad groups and agendas are operating, and so few entities end up longitudinally invested in the work. Great ideas and positive projects end up collapsing. At 601 Tully, I’d like to see the artist-community collaboration result in a project that initially asserts itself as a distinct creation and eventually becomes exclusively co-opted by the community for authentic use and enjoyment. I’d like to create an open, inviting, relevant community garden that responds to the evolving needs of the surrounding culture.
Words/concepts I prioritized include versatility, permanence, care, investment, open.
The sunflower emerged as an image to synthesize some of the principles that appear in the works of Chin and von Rydingsvard. In a sunflower, the inflorescence—the complete flowerhead of the plant—includes crowded florets arranged in a spiral pattern. Each floret is oriented towards the next by the Golden Angle, which produces a pattern of interconnecting spirals; the number of spirals on the left and right are successi
ve Fibonacci Numbers. The aesthetic of the flowerhead captures the intensity, density, weight and elegance of von Rydingsvard’s sculptures. Most specifically, it speaks to von Rydingsvard’s “Mantle.”
The sunflower is simultaneously derivative of “Revival Field,” as the plant phytoextracts the heavy metal lead from soil. Essentially, “Inflorescence” extends the work of “Revival Field”—adding to the sculpture rather than simply repeating it— if we can accept that the Earth is a solid slab of clay, a single medium. In the case of 601 Tully, the artwork occurs within a community and in a far more immediate public space. While collard greens, broccoli and brussel sprouts would also function to phytoextract lead, these plants seem less whimsical, colorful and dynamic.
While I appreciate that the plot at 601 Tully may contain only traces of lead, I maintain that we must acknowledge the presence of toxins and eliminate them. In suburban communities, any contaminate would be addressed and removed before the land could be converted to a plot for the community and children. Why wouldn’t we take this same initiative in the city of Syracuse? As outsiders, it is our responsibility to examine all of the issues affecting the community space, to avoid the temptation to ignore those that may be problematic or tedious; if the community eventually chooses to plant berries on the land, without having to rely on raised beds, then we should ensure that the community is able to do that. This freedom and flexibility, this ability to grow and plant and eat without limitation, speaks clearly to equity and class and environmental politics. As Ford put it, the sunflower “purifies” the land and is itself a symbol of that process.
Planting sunflowers at the heart of the community garden would lend brightness, color, uniformity and fun. The single crop, clustered in the center of the site, would ensure uniformity and curb appeal, since sunflowers shoot up to bloom at different heights. The plants might function as a porous fence, a “cell wall” inviting positive participation while claiming the plot for the 601 Tully community. The sunflower seeds would be edible and accessible, and the plant is versatile and hearty unlike flowers, which might get trampled by playing children. Opportunities for involvement and educational workshops would be plentiful, since lessons about phytoextraction and tending crops could easily be incorporated into a curriculum. The actual construction would not be difficult. Sunflowers are weeds, so they grow easily and without a great deal of attention.
“Inflorescence” should feel intrinsic to the place, even if it can’t be, and it should evolve with the needs and desires of the community. It would engage dynamically throughout the seasons and with the neighborhood over time. After a predetermined period, during which the sunflowers manage the phytoextraction of lead, the community might elect to plant a new crop or divide the land for shareholders to tend. This kind of domestic decision-making would model Miwon Kwon’s fourth model (as discussed in Chapter 4) and would honor the community’s authority, empowerment and autonomy.