Planting an Urban Physic Garden: Intimacy, Haptic Creativity, and the Case of Phytology

Authors: Matthew Beach*, Queen Mary University of London
Topics: Cultural Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Animal Geographies
Keywords: more-than-human, care, kinship, vegetal, art, practice, phytology, haptic
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Harding, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Phytology is an arts-led cultural institution based in the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, East London, UK. This paper presents one strand of research enquiry explored during a Geographer-In-Residence period within the organisation in the summer of 2018: speculations on the possibility of building human-plant kinships within its urban physic garden. The garden, titled Medicinal Field, is a socially engaged art project involving the participation of the site’s staff, volunteers, and visitors; thirty-two species of ‘weeds’ with medicinal properties native to the UK; and other nonhuman participants such as secateurs, snails, and soil. Within this artwork I examine these aforementioned possibilities through intimate and vulnerable acts of touching and being touched. Bodily and embodied practices such as watering, tea-brewing, sowing, cultivating, or merely being-with the meadow’s botanical participants (and inhabitants) of the project become radical co-creative haptic actions of becoming and world-making with beings whose current relationality to humans is relegated to that of an unwelcome and undesirable presence. Drawing from recent developments in scholarship across art practice and criticism, more-than-human geographies, science and technology studies, and ethics of care, I argue the practices unfolding within Phytology’s Medicinal Field present a case study and extended ontological account exemplifying participatory art’s unique position to enact more-than-human caring multispecies relations between humans and plants. I also tie these entangled relations and their embedded politics to wider ongoing debates and politics around the destruction, conservation, and development of London green spaces.

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