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Plants, People and Power – Bath Spa University

Plants, people and power, an afternoon of talks and conversation focused on the politics and pleasure of plants

Friday 5 May, 2023 – Friday 5 May, 2023
1:10 PM – 3:30 PM

In person and online

Ghosts in Sydney Gardens, uneasy walking in Newton Park

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Drawing on the author's walking arts work in Bath's Sydney Gardens, this presentation proposes resonances for Newton Park, the grounds of Bath Spa University. Whilst the landscaping and planting of Newton Park predates Sydney Gardens, both reflect a particular perspective on land, knowledge and power. A perspective largely unacknowledged in the authorised heritage of both University and City. As a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and an international centre of learning, these absences are significant. The presentation offers a reflection on somatic practice as a catalyst in facilitating acknowledgement, acts of care and reparation.

About the speaker

Dr Richard White, Artist-researcher and Senior Lecturer in the Bath School of Art, Film and Media, Bath Spa University.

Dr Richard White's creative work combines a somatic practice with multimedia, exploring embodiment, heritage and social justice.

My work is a performative form of walking and questioning exploring resonances and legacies from other times in bodies, spaces and places. Walking in and contributing to mnemonic landscapes, I am learning about time and memory practices. I continue to experiment with locative and mobile media extending skills using sound and movement. Learning how to be with the trouble.

Richard hosts the on-going participatory walking arts practice, Walknow. Between 2019-2022 he ran a series of commissions traversing Sydney Gardens and exploring its uncomfortable pasts and reluctant heritage, entitled Botany, Empire and Deep Time. His project Sweet Waters explored accountability and response-ability through walking-with legacies of slave ownership. He is currently co-editing a book with Dr Christina Horvath on Breaking the Dead Silence: Engaging With Legacies Of Transatlantic Slavery in Bath and Bristol.

The Vaccinium Berry Collective: Two perspectives across a North American landscape

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This presentation will delve into the preliminary insights gleaned from an interdisciplinary collaboration entitled The Vaccinium Berry Collective. By examining the cultural, historical and ecological significance of Vaccinium species – such as huckleberries, blueberries, and cranberries  – within their native habitats in British Columbia and the Northeastern United states, this project seeks to bridge the divide between scientific knowledge and indigenous wisdom. It examines the dialogue between a plant scientist and artist/indigenous rights activist who both share a passion for Vaccinium berry species and their past and future relationships with people and the environment. Through the use of augmented reality and other innovative formats, the collaboration aims to shed light on the myriad of ways these berries contribute to the health of people and the environment, the cultural identity of various communities and the future resilience of the planet.

About the speaker

Dr Lori Bystrom, Senior Lecturer in Food Enterprise and Plant Sciences, Bath Spa University.

Dr Lori Bystrom joined Bath Spa University in 2017 and is currently a Senior Lecturer in the School of Science. She teaches and conducts research on a wide variety of topics relevant to ethnobotany, food science, nutrition, medicine, textiles and natural products in general. She has also worked in industry developing natural products for use in everything from skincare to foods and textiles. She is also currently co-chair of the Southwest Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM) group, a collaboration of academic and health practitioners focused on holistic healthcare and preventative medicine.

Prior to joining Bath Spa University, she was a contract writer for the American Botanical Council and a Complementary and Integrative Medicine Research Fellow at Weill Cornell Medical College in NYC, where she conducted research on cranberry compounds and their effects on hematologic malignancies. Lori has a PhD in nutritional sciences from Cornell University where she focused on phytochemical research and also ethnobotanical field work in the Dominican Republic and Florida.  

Spots of Light: Plants posing with people in nineteenth-century Colombian cities

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Until the late nineteenth century, Colombian society was structured around the domestic space. The house, which was the private space par excellence, was dark and usually closed to those outside the family circle. This hermetic nature of private life changed with the introduction of photography. During the second half of the century, many elite families began incorporating photographic images as a new way of building domestic memory. Because photographic technology demanded luminous spaces to operate, the vast majority of portraits of this period were made in the brightest part of the house, the patio.

The images of people posing on patios opened the domestic space to an external eye and unveiled the existence of vernacular gardens of colonial origin, revealing how these plants were situated in the private realm. Patios would lose their role as the main scenery of light as local authorities began opening green spaces in every Colombian city’s central plaza. Being the brightest part of the city, people and plants moved to the public square, and photography followed suit. The plaza central modernised the city according to a European design; it also democratised light and access to botanical encounters, as people from a wider range of social backgrounds started to pose with plants recently introduced from Europe.

In this presentation, Dr Diego Molina explains how the confluence of photosynthetic organisms and photographic devices transformed relationships between the urban and the botanical. He considers how the migrations of plants and images from the domestic to the public space transformed the city, creating unique interactions with plants around particular spots of light, and inspiring gardeners and photographers alike to develop new forms of artistic expression. He'll also analyse the historical creation of urban floras in Colombia with a ‘botanical eye,’ with wider implications for the study of plants, images and urban communities around the world.

About the speaker

Dr Diego Molina, Royal Holloway, University of London and Royal Botanic Garden, Kew.

Dr Diego Molina is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Royal Holloway, University of London and Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. In his current research, he explores the 19th century exchange of plants between Europe and the Andes as part of the transatlantic expansion of capitalism and its linked urbanisation. To unveil the changing and complex human–plant interactions in a highly biodiverse environment such as the tropical Andes, Diego proposes a dialogue between diverse historical data, which include literature, photography and botanical collections.

Before becoming a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, he was a Landhaus Fellow at the Rachel Carson Centre for Environment and Society, where he completed his book Planting a City in the Tropical Andes, Plants and People in Bogotá, 1819-1920, (Routledge, forthcoming). Diego has a PhD in Human Geography from the University of Reading UK and an MSc in Geography from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. He worked for several years as a botanist in Colombia, participating in scientific explorations, species discovery, and designing public policies for plant conservation.

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