URBAN PLANTARIUM WORKBOOK
Improvisation with Goldenrods/ Schönholzeheide Pankow / Michela Filzi ©2022
Urban Plantarium is a movement research that brings together the principle of urban foraging with the practice of somatic movement. It aims at combining ethnobotanical knowledge of plants with dance in green areas and public parks.
How to invite plant life as animate co-creator in the artistic process?
The research is funded by the city of Berlin, in the frame of DIS-TANZ-SOLO, and takes place in green areas in Wedding and Pankow between June and November 2022.
The following page functions as a mind-map for the practical research I have been leading since June. It is structured as a blog so that the most recent content appears on the top of this page, and as you scroll down, you go back in time. The content is being updated on a regular basis and it is in constant transformation, so there might be parts missing or incomplete.
PLANTS AND MOVEMENTS
SHAPES - MOVEMENT INSPIRED BY DANDELIONS
Our physical shapes are the results of energetic patterns giving rise to those forms over time. Roots, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, energetic gestures: ascending, descending, contracting, expanding. From a tiny roundish thing we stretch out sinking our root pole into the ground and reaching the leaf pole up towards the light. Expanding upon germination, contracting into flower buds, expanding into flowers, contracting into pollen, expanding into fruit, contracting into seed.
Improvisation with Dandelions / studio sessions / Michela Filzi ©2022
Improvisation with Dandelions / Schönholzeheide / Michela Filzi ©2022
FORAGING AND FORAY
Foraging kit / Michela Filzi ©2021
Walking is a central movement to this practice, as it is emerging from foraging. Foraging requires walking to and through parks, gardens, forests, fields and wherever plant-life thrives, which often is in the cracks between the asphalt and cobble-stones. This practice aims at nurturing spontaneous encounters with wild plants, therefore requiring a type of walking which is not destination oriented, but flâneur-like instead. When walking it asks one to "look around, rather than ahead", to direct the gaze sideways and from ground-level to above-the-head, to scan the surroundings with an open and welcoming attitude. It is not about searching for something, it is about being prepared to find and encounter.
Foraging is the practice of collecting wild plants for culinary and medicinal purposes. It can be done everywhere and my focus is the urban environment where i live, in Wedding (Berlin).
As I learned from the author Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book "Braiding Sweetgrass", to harvest plants, flowers or fruits is not something we can take for granted as it being our birth-right. Western society especially, has developed an approach to non-human-life which is disregarding the intrinsic value and agency of it. Within myself, it is my intention to deconstruct this socialisation towards non-human-life, and establish a loving and grateful relationship. Especially plant-life, offers itself unconditionally, to sustain and nourish human and other-than-human life, so how can we perceive this as a gift and remember to be mindful of it?
In her book she extensively talks about her research in indigenous approaches to harvesting, laying out the practice of the "Honorable Harvest"; which compiles few simple rules to respect when going into nature to gather from plants, trees or mushrooms.
- Take only what you need, and use everything you take.
- Never take the first plant that you see.
- Never take more than half.
These simple principles accompanied by a general sense of appreciation and practices of gratitudes, grant that my interaction with plant-life stays healthy and respectful.
Furthermore there are also practical advices on where to harvest and where not, for examples avoiding areas next to big trafficked roads, or picking above knees level or where there are not many dogs being walked.
EATING AND METABOLISING
Eating and drinking preparations of local plants is important to me in different ways.
- As a way to nourish my body of spontaneous plant-life, its autonomy and strength. Wild plants are not cultivated in human horticulture, they evolved alongside human and non-human life for millennia.
- As a way to metabolically connect to my direct environment, by ingesting plants-preparations that grows in the parks and green areas directly surrounding my house.
- As a way to connect spiritually to the world, learning to acknowledge the natural force that animate the places I inhabit. To learn how to receive their abundance with gratitude and respect.
- As a way to develop survival skills for future scenarios of scarcity.
When beginning the research process I intuitively started by focusing on the color green, being the color of most vegetation I encounter in my walks. (According to the colors/chakras graph - see section below) Green is the color associated with the heart chakra, which is the energetic point that connects the body to nature, where a sense of compassion and connection to the earth resides.
The heart chakra relates to the heart and the lungs, whose rhythmical involuntary movements keeps our bodies alive, differently than the heartbeat, breath is both involuntary and voluntary, we can consciously direct it.
Breathing is the most direct way we (humans) relate to plant-life, as plants and trees transform carbon dioxide and other gasses into oxygen, which sustains our existence. Every human inhalation a non-human exhalation, bounding us by our breath.
Conscious breathing to activate the heart chakra became part of the practice, as a warming up and attuning exercises. In some occasions these exercises awakened strong emotions that were stored in the heart, such as grief, sorrow and pain. But it was important to accept these emotional states and let go to crying or sobbing, to then feel forgiveness and unconditional love rise up from the same energetic center.
Summer 2022 was an especially hot and dry one. All over Europe the temperatures reached unprecedented records, It was worrisome and unsettling to hear about the wildfires in the south of Spain, Portugal, Greece and France. But also in front of our very eyes the trees and the plants all over Berlin were suffering the droughts. In several occasion as I walked through the parks in the early morning hours, when the sun and the temperature were on the rise, I was filled with a sense of environmental grief. But I was determined not to let worry misuse my imagination. This project has brought immense healing to my personal life and so I sought ways to channel healing energy back into our wounded world.
Singing came as a surprise but also a very natural impulse, a spontaneous way of attuning and vibrating with my direct environment through the most intimate, internal body, the voice.
I would sing a song to the plants when studying their shapes and behaviours and when harvesting them. Humming is a way of soothing oneself or others, I thought it must apply to all critters. It became a practice of gratitudes I would always conclude my sessions with. In particular I got attuned to the song "Green Grass" written by Tom Waits and which I learned from Cosmo Shelkdrake. I did change some of the lyrics and started improvising with the melody and rhythm.
PLANTS AND POETRY
Tall and green
spirals under spiky hairs
flowers under the burning sun.
Have we met before?
Surely so, when we rubbed
in an itchy embrace
to hurt, to heal.
Red stalks, breathing out
as I breathe in,
nourish my flesh
cleanse my blood.
from my stomach
to my taste buds.
storming inside me.
COLORS AND CHAKRAS
Sketch by Michela Filzi ©2022, notions from "The Language of Plants, A Guide to the Doctrine of Signature by Julia Graves p. 73-98
INSPIRATION AND RESOURCES
Following Jared Gradinger's advice, and Shelley Etkin's workshop “Garden as Studio”; I have discovered the doctrine of signatures, which is of great inspiration to my research. “The Doctrine of Signature, as ancient as humankind, is the art of knowing from the outer appearance of a plant or environment what its medicinal properties are. It is the art of decoding the secret of nature.”
How can the morphologies, the colours, the behavioural and energetic patterns of plants be translated in a movement vocabulary?
How can the dance emerging from this translation and become a form of healing for the dancer and the spectators to the dance?
How can dancing together with plant life become a ritual for healing our human approach to nature?
By healing I personally refer to the overcoming of a sense of alienation from non-human life. Healing as the acceptance of human interconnectedness and interdependence to the ecosystem. The recognition of a physical and spiritual relationship to the world, founded on gratitude and respect.
“The doctrine of signature operates through at least two different subjective faculties, INTUITION and IMAGINATION” Wood 1997
"INTUITION is the ability to see patterns"
"IMAGINATION is the ability to see images"
Principles for plant attunement as described in the book by Julia Graves „The Language of Plant, A Guide to the Doctrine of Signature“.
In this book, the author outlines four rules to enter a meditative, dream-like state to experience and learn the poetic language of plants. In my practical sessions in parks and gardens, I use these rules as a method to tune into my environment, along with breathing exercises (inspired by my Kalari training) and other form of plant and tree meditation.
We can attune to plant life only by allowing its poetic language to pass through the constant chatter of the mind, so to start: still and calm the mind. Closing the eyes, seating or lying down, focus on what we hear, the sound of the leaves, the wind, the animals. Acknowledge every sound that reaches your hearing, and acknowledge its impermanence, and as thoughts or judgements arise in the mind, treat them the same way, acknowledge them and let them go.
We can perceive correctly only what does not get distorted by our layer of neurosis.
Let reasoning and interpretation come only after the direct communication with plants, restraining from talking and writing down immediately the slightest inkling of a signature.
We forget when we go from a mental state to another, it is therefore helpful to learn to come across the threshold slowly and mindfully, in order not to interrupt the link of memory.
Photo by Michela Filzi ©2022
Peony, video by Michela Filzi ©2021