Fallow

2005, 2009 versions

Site-responsive installation of soil and plants transplanted from local vacant land, Berlin 80 sq.m; Vancouver 2000 sq. ft

Instead of displaying a crop of new work, for one exhibition period the space lies fallow. The floor space of the gallery is completely covered with soil and plant matter from nearby vacant land. Plants and seeds in the soil continue to grow over the course of the show, during which time the trade practices and commercial goals usually associated with an exhibition are slowed to processes of waiting and watching. Still, within this environment there may be a multitude of quiet and sensuous details to be observed, as well as wide-ranging opportunities for reflection — for example, upon the functions of productivity, or about the value and relatively endangered nature of open space. The temporary situation might give pause to consider that, like crop rotation, enforced downtime — time outs — may be an important part of a sustainable production cycle. Although withdrawn from "constructive" use, the exhibition space is far from empty, but rather full of richly non-productive time and process.

From "Fallow Field Notes", forthcoming in Charles H Scott Gallery publication:

In its first presentation in Berlin in September-October 2005, I knew the situation would inevitably carry a strong relationship to the large stretches of currently vacant land that significantly mark that city. There, 800 square feet of ground was taken from Bethaniendamm, now a curved boulevard that was formerly part of the "death strip" of the Berlin Wall. The source land thus held a certain memorial status, like many other fields and lots that exist suspended between previous histories and an unknown fate, in a city bound both by expectation and its current financial straits. These lands, far from being "waste", seem an important part of the city’s everyday fabric. They are unplanned reminders of a former cityscape, and also harbingers of their own eventual and inevitable re-absorption into the next form chosen for the city. In this way, these grounds could be seen as unplanned repositories of memory and history, and also socio-historical breathing spaces, place markers noting the absence of former buildings and holding the place for others that will be built in some unknown future. To my mind, they represent the perpetually in-between state of a city whose most persistent self-image is arguably its fate “forever to become and never to be" (Karl Scheffler, Berlin — ein Stadtschicksal, 1910).

In the February-March 2009 Vancouver presentation at Charles H Scott Gallery at Emily Carr University, we used soil from a stretch of the engineered terrain of the False Creek Flats that has interesting coincidences with the gallery site. The lot had recently been sliced off from the Great Northern Way Campus and sold to a private developer. GNWC is itself a recent development, a commercial educational enterprise growing out of a donation of 20 acres of former industrial land by Finning to a partnership of four academic institutions that includes Emily Carr. The vast False Creek Flats area was once a tidal basin that began in 1913 to be filled in order to extend rail lines and industrial activity. Now, in today's post-industrial era, city planners are considering a number of different proposals for how to change the area's use and deal with its industrial history and buildings. This situation bears some parallels with Granville Island, the 35-acre island of reclaimed land created in False Creek in 1915, upon which the gallery stands. It is now a mixed-use area combining tourism and artisanal activity, remnants of active industry, and the University. So the 2000 square feet of Vancouver source land, like much other vacant land in this city, reflects the peculiar combination of post-industrial economics, development and zoning that shapes the young city of Vancouver. Even without those particular coincidences, however, the high-pressure real estate context of Vancouver means that the values ((both commercial and social) around any unbuilt land here are very different to Berlin.

Besides the social dissimilarities between cities, the spaces create different physical effects. The ground settles in and unique walking paths emerge based on the space's layout and dynamics. The character of the local soil itself produces some effects:  the Vancouver weeds grew more lush than their counterparts from the sandy soil of Berlin, for example. The large Vancouver gallery has a floor-to-ceiling corner window onto the touristic streets of Granville Island, which created perceptual inversions for people on both sides of the glass. The Berlin space was a windowless rectangular gallery with prominent columns (topped with organic motifs), in a historic hospital building that backed onto the Berlin Wall and has long housed an artists' residency and other social organizations. The door to the gallery was removed in order to make the space accessible outside normal gallery hours.

The surprise of encountering the displaced ground in an unexpected context, framed by interior details such as white gallery walls, electrical outlets and ceiling lights, is of course important. However, I've observed that it is the absorbing sensual details that eventually turn the experience towards reflections about the city outside and the implications of how the spectacle must have been created. Many come to realize that the negotiation of and with administrative processes and institutional space is an integral part of the project, which poses practical and conceptual challenges to institutional concerns such as climate and pest control, structural loads, maintenance procedures, and propriety (both physical cleanliness and the comportment of audience members, who are often moved to behave in ways that might seem unbecoming to an art gallery).

The Berlin presentation was realized with the permission of the Straßen- und Grünflächenamt, Bezirksamt Berlin-Mitte and the crew of Phil Klygo, Andree Wochnowski, Elmar Schlenke, and Peter Rosemann. The Vancouver presentation was realized with the permission of Great Northern Way Campus and Mark Anthony Group and the hard work of Daniel Oates-Kuhn, David Lehman, Kevin Romaniuk, Curtis Grahauer, Ron Tran, and Cate Rimmer.

Solo Exhibitions: Charles H Scott Gallery, Fallow, Feb-Mar 2009. Image
Solo Exhibitions: Fallow, 2005. PDF
Catalogues & Books: Germaine Koh, Cate Rimmer & Lisa Robertson, Fallow, 2012.
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Kathleen Ritter, esse, Spring-Summer 2009. PDF
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Aaron Peck, Akimblog, 12 Mar 2009. PDF
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Artsy! Dartsy! editors, Artsy! Dartsy!, 17 Feb 2009. PDF
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Sarah Milroy, Globe and Mail, 14 Feb 2009. PDF
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Samir Gandesha, essay, 2009. PDF
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Sascha Hastings, Canadian Art, Spring 2006. PDF
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Jen Weih, , 2010. PDF
Other Media: Brian Johnson / Twofold Films, cArtographies, 2009.
Texts by Koh: Germaine Koh, Fallow, 2012.

Germaine Koh, Fallow, 2005, soil and plants transplanted from local vacant land. Presentation at Kuensterhaus Bethanien, 2005. Photo: Cedric Bomford.