Restoring Damaged Eco-systems through Art
Trent environmental artist-researcher turning an invasive plant species into a gift to mother earth
For many of us the term “environmental remediation” evokes images of technology, but did you know that art could also play a role?
Dr. Jessica Marion Barr, Cultural Studies professor and program coordinator for Trent’s prestigious Bachelor of Arts and Science (B.A.S.) program, is showing her students, and the rest of the world, how ecological art can help restore a damaged environment.
Ecological art is an art genre that seeks to preserve, remediate, or draw attention to pressing environmental issues, such as plastics in the ocean, disappearing habitat, and invasive species.
“As an environmental artist and researcher, I’m interested in ways that the arts can raise awareness and even help to solve current environmental problems,” says Professor Barr.
New project to turn invasive plant into handmade biodegradable paper
Prof. Barr has recently embarked on a multi-year project that connects her research with a studio art course she teaches at Trent, CUST-ERST 2114 Workshop: Ecological Art – exploring the historical and theoretical foundations for environmental art and practical techniques for creating it.
To start with, she’ll be harvesting an invasive plant called dog-strangling vine (DSV), also known as European swallowwort or Vincetoxicum rossicum, and process it to create handmade paper.
The idea came about after seeing the plant pop up everywhere she went. “I would see it around the train tracks near my house, places where my child plays, and even the Trent campus, so I wanted to see what kind of a contribution I could make as an environmental artist using this plant,” says Prof. Barr.
Diverting threat to local monarch butterfly population
DSV shares some similarities with common milkweed – a plant that’s attractive to monarch butterflies. Monarchs can confuse DSV for milkweed and lay their eggs on it. If that happens, the larvae won’t survive. Given the pervasive tendencies of DSV, this plant could pose a further challenge to this valuable pollinator’s already threatened ability to reproduce and survive.
A gesture of remediation in art
“As a gesture of remediation, I am planning to embed native milkweed and other native wildflower seeds in the handmade biodegradable DSV paper, which can then be planted to encourage the re-growth of Indigenous pollinator-friendly species,” says Prof. Barr.
For the inaugural year of the project, and due to pandemic restrictions, Prof. Barr is undertaking a trial version as a small solo artist residency at Madderhouse Textile Studios, run by Leslie Menagh.
“I see this as a promising opportunity to create connections between Trent and a small local business which is a cornerstone of the downtown arts and culture community,” she says.
Hope for project to gain community momentum
Prof. Barr hopes this multi-year project will grow in scale, and ultimately become a community eco-art project with participatory events.
“Obviously, this project isn’t going to remove all the DSV from the area, but it can help build momentum toward a solution and can also be something that will encourage community members to feel more empowered to take these small but meaningful actions to restore good relations with the land,” she says.
Learn more about the many creative outlets for budding artists through Cultural Studies and B.A.S. at Trent.