In the north-west corner of Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Phytology will be launched on 26 April. Part urban physic garden, part natural laboratory and part pharmacy, it is a new year-long collaboration with artists and botanists, exploring the medicinal properties of wild plants and weeds common to derelict urban environments.
Thirty-two species of wild plants – usually regarded as weeds – have been sown on a specially created site that was once meadow and pasture, and later occupied by a medieval nursery and market gardens. Ranging from Black Mustard, Common Nettle and Feverfew, to Wild Garlic, Marsh Mallow and Sweet Woodruff, the plants have been selected for their continued use in phytotherapy and traditional medicine. Visitors to the Reserve are encouraged to learn how to safely identify, harvest and utilise the plants for medicinal and nutritional purposes.
The new medicinal plant field is celebrated in a series of year-long artist commissions taking place throughout the spring and summer, supported by an Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust. British artist Talya Baldwin is producing a contemporary take on botanical illustrations depicting all 32 species of ‘weeds’ for a billboard hoarding located within the Reserve and an online archive on the Phytology website.
Vhils, a Portuguese artist whose radical form of urban art explores the aesthetics of vandalism, is responding to the plant collection with a large-scale site-based carving, street stencils and billboard posters; and artist-designers Institute of Use, whose work re-purposes underused spaces, investigate the history, ecology and derelict materiality of the site.
Phytology is also a collaboration with locally based, internationally influential organisations including the
Ministry of Stories, who work with young people and renowned novelists, scriptwriters, poets, artists and film makers on experimental creative writing projects; and Jagonari, a ground-breaking organisaton for non-European women, based in Whitechapel. Both will produce projects inspired by Phytology’s themes and ideas and the wild environment of the medicinal meadow.
Phytology is open from 26 April to 14 September 2014, on Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 5pm. To make an appointment to visit at other times, e-mail the Phytology team. Admission is free. Bethnal Green Nature Reserve is on Middleton Street E2. For more information see the Phytology website.
A series of talks called Human Nature, commissioned by Siobhan Davies Dance, will take place at the Phytology site during May and August, in parallel with Chelsea Fringe Festival and the London Festival of Architecture 2014. Ideas around urban wildness, harvestable medicine, alternative urban planning and biodiversity within the modern metropolis will be discussed.
“Phytology” is a rarely used 17th century word meaning botany.
Phytology is a Nomad and Cape Farewell project, supported by the Wellcome Trust and Arts Council England. It is a partnership with the Teesdale & Hollybush Tenants and Residents Association, whose dedicated management of Bethnal Green Nature Reserve has protected and developed it.
Header photo: Galium aparine seedlings (Michael Smythe)