Sunday, September 2, 2007


Institute of Contemporary Art Soft Sites exhibition at Bartram's Garden
Philadelphia, PA
July 31, 2006

As I researched John Bartram's garden, I learned that Bartram discovered a small grove of trees in Georgia in 1765.  He gathered the seeds and propagated them in his Philadelphia garden and gave them to friends back in England. The tree was last seen in the wild in 1803 and only survives today in cultivation.  This story led me to make this piece as a meditation on the extinction of plants and the loss we experience when they disappear.

I led the audience through the 18th-century botanic garden, telling stories about plants that vanished either because they couldn't survive in the the wild or because they fell out of fashion and people stopped planting them.

Dropping seeds like Hansel and Gretel, I led the audience into a wooded glen, where I sang a lament at the rivers edge. Then I paddled away in a canoe and disappeared.

Lament drew on the Victorian language of flowers--a means of communicating through coded messages that allowed people to express feelings they were not free to speak aloud. I shared the symbolic meanings of flowers in Bartram's garden and embroidered them on my costume.

I wanted to make something that could live on after the performance. Using the same blue floss and white linen of the costume, I embroidered some stories I told in performance and made a book with photos from the performance and the embroideries. The embroideries were inspired by Victorian handkerchiefs, on which women often stitched secret messages for their beloved, and by vintage needlework samplers, which feature blocks of inspirational text or sage advice. Victorian women sewed samplers to record life events, rites of passage or life history. My embroideries record the loss of flowers.

The embroideries were shown at Fleisher-Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia in September 2007 on the occasion of the book release.

Photos: Aaron Igler

A larger version of this video can be viewed at