When plants whisper

Winnipeg-born artist Jane Tingley explores nature/culture divide with Plant (iPod) installation

Montreal-based artist Jane Tingley’s new exhibit explores the relationship between nature and culture. Dylan Hewlett

Legend has it that talking to plants helps them to flourish, but what happens when the plants talk back?

Winnipeg-born artist Jane Tingley explores this idea with her Plant (iPod) installation, running until Saturday, Nov. 17 in the University of Winnipeg’s Gallery 1C03.

The gallery, tucked under the elevators on the main floor of Centennial Hall, features at least four exhibitions per academic year.

Director and curator Jennifer Gibson says the gallery tries to provide the campus and community with diverse experiences and contact with creative arts.

“With the Plant (iPod) installation, (Tingley) is dealing with a myriad of ideas and issues,” Gibson says. “She’s dealing with issues around the environment, around technology, how we prefer technology-centric things over nature-centric things.”

Among all these issues, the exhibition also deals with the importance of oral tradition.

“(Tingley) has actually incorporated stories about trees and learning from nature in each of the sculptural pieces.”

Some of the stories were gathered from a website called SpiritOfTrees.org, while others, including one from a Manitoba Métis elder, have been collected along the installation’s journey, and are told in different languages.

Based in Montreal, Tingley received her MFA from Concordia University and specializes in new media, sculpture and installation.

I started thinking about the idea of plants growing when you talk to them, and I started going through those ideas.

Jane Tingley, artist

Plant (iPod) was created in 2008, and features eight mixed-media sculptures that consist of a different species of plant, a sculpted cork and steel “trunk,” and an electronic media player that plays a spoken word track when a motion sensor is triggered by a visitor. The power cables snake along the gallery’s floor like roots.

Tingley says the idea for Plant (iPod) first came to her after she completed her master’s degree, when she knew she wanted to continue working with the theme of relationships between nature and culture.

She was also inspired by the death of a plant over the course of her master’s.

“The last leaf literally dropped off of it,” Tingley says with a laugh over the phone from Montreal. “Then I started thinking about the idea of plants growing when you talk to them, and I started going through those ideas.”

She says Plant (iPod) helps to rethink the nature/culture divide, and the hierarchy that places natural life under human life.

Creating each of the pieces was tedious and sometimes counter-intuitive work, Tingley says, as she describes trimming every last leaf off of a diseased plant, and hand-washing its roots with soapy water. She says she learned a lot about plants, and how to be sensitive to the needs of something else.

Growing up in Manitoba, Tingley has a deep respect for nature.

“This piece was really an articulation of my politics,” she says. “I believe materials have a voice, and so we should choose our materials in a way that is respectful to the concept of the installation.”

Plant (iPod) opened in conjunction with send + receive: a festival of sound and runs until Saturday, Nov. 17 in Gallery 1C03, main floor of the University of Winnipeg (515 Portage Ave.). Admission is free. Visit www.gallery1c03.blogspot.ca.

Published in Volume 67, Number 9 of The Uniter (October 31, 2012)

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