Urban Antibodies is a long-term research project that imagines the city as a living organism, looking at sites of toxicity and vulnerability, healing and care – with a focus on plant knowledge and medicine. The project explores specific sites to investigate histories of industrial pharmaceutical companies in relation to plant knowledge, colonialism, and the role of gender in the development of scientific knowledge.
I am currently researching the development of pharmaceutical drugs based on plants, and sites connected to the collection, categorisation and processing of plant material and medicine. As the research develops, I am hosting participatory workshops to share stories – from home remedies and healing practices, to the exploration and import of ‘exotic’ plants through the era of European colonialism, the violence of collecting and the development of botany as a discipline.
During a residency at ZK/U Berlin in 2017, I made wearable sculptures based on magnified medicinal plants, riffing on 18th Century papier-mâché botanical models. I am currently developing new performance work based on the research for public sites in Berlin, Nottingham and London.
The Urban Antibodies research & development period was supported through a grant from Arts Council England. In 2018 Rebecca was been awarded a Wellcome Research Bursary for archival research to develop the project further.
Jerwood Open Forest, 2016
In April 2016 I was selected as one of 5 shortlisted artists for Jerwood Open Forest. I developed a proposal for a large-scale outdoor performance, 'The Forest of Lost Trees' in response to research into Forestry Commission sites around the country, investigating the relationship between memory and landscape in personal, political and global spheres. The work explores the idea that we need to understand the possibility of loss in order to care, inspired by the fact that the Forestry Commission was itself established in response to the national depletion of woodlands in the First World War. The proposed performance brings together stories about lost trees that open up connections between personal experience of loss and wider themes such as deforestation, climate change, love, colonisation, and collective memory.
Alongside the proposed performance, I created an installation featuring a gathering of wood fired ceramic vessels - created for the Jerwood Open Forest exhibition (November-December 2016). Reminiscent of funerary pots - traditionally as tall as the longest bone in our bodies - the installation reflects on how we remember that which might be lost.
For this second edition of Jerwood Open Forest, artists from across the UK were once more invited to submit bold, broad-thinking proposals that explore the potential of forests as a site for art. The initiative contributes to a national conversation about how contemporary visual artists engage with the environment today, and debates around critical practice and art in the public realm.
Wasteland Twinning Network hijacks the concept of ‘City Twinning’ and applies it to urban Wastelands in order to generate a network for parallel research and action.
By subverting the City Twinning concept that aims to parade a city’s more predictable cultural assets and shifting the focus to wastelands, new questions of value and function are raised. Wasteland Twinning aims to develop an understanding of the potential of these sites through transdisciplinary models of practice. Wasteland Twinning is led by independent artists and researchers, offering the potential for cultural comparison to take place on a local and international scale – going beyond the obvious to examine often invisible perspectives on power relations, land use, urban development and ecology. Through engaged and critical approaches, we hope to uncover some of the peculiarities and commonalities of the wasteland sites.
Imagined Geographies was an installation of four sculptures that highlight the stories behind a selection of plants in Biddulph Grange Garden, the plant hunters who grew famous for their finds, and the environments that the plants originate from. The sculptures reference James Bateman's approach to constructing the garden at Biddulph, creating imagined worlds based on letters, images and stories of places he had never visited.
The sculptures take as their starting point the structure of a Wardian case, a travelling plant case invented in 1830 which allowed the transportation of exotic plants from around the world that had previously died on long sea crossings. Expanding on the Wardian Case structure, each sculpture tells the story of a particular region that Bateman represented in his garden. The metal frames - based on geometries observed within the garden - hold ceramic landscapes and a selection of plants, inspired by our research into the potteries of the Staffordshire area and archival research into plant hunters' journeys and correspondence with Bateman.
The miniature worlds created through Imagined Geographies reflect on some questions at the heart of Biddulph Grange Garden which seem equally relevant for a 21st century audience. Bateman, Cooke and their network were in living in the midst of changing understandings of the natural world which shook up human belief systems. They were also striving for new knowledge about the world, and trying to imagine places outside their own experience.
The golden era of plant hunting was part of a rapid growth/expansion of knowledge in the natural sciences, and collecting and cataloging were a way of understanding the world more deeply. However, the act of collecting suggests a desire for possession, and the romantic adventure of 'plant hunting' had a violent side, taking place against the background of aggressive British Imperialism. The plants that nurseries and traders were paying the hunters to bring back often played a key role in economic expansion – at the expense of the people and places the plants were being taken from.
The sculptures were created for a commission for the National Trust at Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire.
Origination is a long term project by artists and sisters Katy and Rebecca Beinart exploring geneology, migration and environment. Beginning with stories from the artists’ own family, the project investigates the conflation of memory and myth in narratives passed down through migrant communities.
In 2009-10, we embarked on a journey by ship, retracing the route of our ancestors from Eastern Europe to South Africa, that led into a residency at Greatmore Studios (Cape Town) and an exhibition at Stellenbosch University Gallery.
Read more about Katy's ongoing inquiry into salt as material and metaphor on her Salted Earth blog.
Offere, a Film by Katy and Rebecca Beinart, 2010
Brixton Market Residency, 2011
Bureau of Urban Wilds, 2013
The Bureau of Urban Wilds is a mobile sculpture that brings together research on green spaces in Deptford, urban regeneration and resistance, local knowledge, plant medicine and power. Part archive, part travelling medicine show, the Bureau features Deptford Remedies and stories of gardens past and present.
The project was developed through a three-month residency at Sue Godfrey Nature Park in Deptford. Drawing on the rich history of local activism, trade and green spaces in Deptford, we hosted a series of medicine making workshops, walking tours and clay bottle making workshops over the summer months. Alongside hands on activities, a series of shared meals and conversations tapped into wider political issues surrounding urban ecology vs regeneration and migration.
The Bureau of Urban Wilds was produced as a commission for Secret Garden Project Lewisham: an UP Projects production, working in close partnership with Lewisham Borough Council, and supported by the Arts Council England.
Exponential Growth, 2010
Exponential Growth was a commission for the Radar Arts Program at Loughborough University. The project has created an exchange network to share a locally found yeast culture, in an experiment to see whether Loughborough's 'Culture' could colonise the world, and what the limits are to growth.
There are many varieties of wild yeast present in our environment that have been used for centuries to leaven bread and ferment beer. In this form they are referred to as 'starter cultures'. Working with scientists, bakers and home-brew enthusiasts, I experimented with capturing and growing these cultures, and developing them into Starter Kits, which were distributed to local residents and visitors to take care of, use for food production, grow, divide and pass on. The project created a network through which these Loughborough-born cultures have been spread regionally, nationally and globally. The systems of transport and exchange that help the culture to spread have been tracked on the project website: www.exponentialgrowth.org
Exponential Growth brings into question our value judgements about locality, global economics, growth and sustainability. It is a phrase often used with abhorrence by environmentalists, and with glee by economists. Is continuous growth possible and desirable, or do all systems find their own limits?
Field Kitchen, 2009
Field Kitchen is a mobile kitchen on a bicycle trailer that is equipped to cook food foraged from the urban wilds. Field Kitchen makes physical and social interventions into public spaces, offering an invitation to people to smell and taste their botanical locale. The project examines what we can find in our immediate surroundings for sustenance, pleasure and well being - raising questions about our relationship with plants and food, our reliance on imported goods, and lost fields of knowledge.
Field Kitchen was developed as a commission for Hinterland festival.
As part of Spring Green, a commission for the Architecture Centre Bristol and Groundwork Southwest, I explored the river Malago. Stretching from the edge of Bristol to the city centre, the Malago is a green corridor that provides a space for wildlife, and a route for pedestrians and cyclists.
The route of the river, although interrupted, provides a transect through the city – a line that passes through very different areas of habitation. I walked the Malago with various companions, each one offering a different way of seeing the river, and revealing the multiple relationships that surround this stretch of water, and the land that borders it. I walked with a birdwatcher, a herbalist, historians, a conservationist and campaigner, a representative from the South Bristol Riverscape Project and Bristol City Council.
Walking the river, one gets the sense of being on an edge, behind the scenes of the city. There are glimpses of back gardens, gasworks, industrial estates, and occasionally moments when you could believe yourself to be in a rural valley.
The material from these research walks informed a public performance and walk, developed in collaboration with Pete Harrison.