Tia Bennett & Constance Osuchowski

Herbarium, 2019

The concept of Herbarium is to explore the relationship between the female body and botany, inspired by women in art and science who have had a strong connection with plants, agriculture and botany. Our piece explores our connection with this, and the presumption that women are traditionally put into the role of ‘nurturer’ and what that means to us. The figure --made of acrylic, glass, wire, dried flowers and resin, and only visible from one view-point-- is like an exploded greenhouse, a structure that creates a hospitable environment where plants can grow. While the plants the figure shelters thrive, she herself is composed of shards of glass and plants that are dead and preserved, and she can’t quite find a balance between nurturing herself and the plants around her. The flowers in resin suggest that preserving oneself for viewing, like pressing a flower, may retain its beauty in the same way forever, but, it makes new growth impossible. Videos that juxtapose our own bodies and plants are then projected over the figure, fragmenting her even more around the space she hangs in.

Q & A with Tia Bennett & Constance Osuchowski

Q. Could you tell us about any current projects that you are working on?

A. Constance: This semester I’m focusing on my role as Creative and Curatorial Director at Maximum Exposure 25. However, I’m interested in exploring the limits of face detection technology and how those algorithms can be fooled by relatively accessible and simple means.

Tia: For my thesis this semester, I’ll be going back to more digital and screen-based mediums with a project that combines improvisation, dance and motion-capture at the FCAD Creative Technology Lab. The project will be an analysis of the body and movement, and will focus on visualizing the inherent movements of individual dancers. Their improvisations will be linked to various abstract visuals, representative of each dancer’s unique relationship to dance.

Q. Describe your project in its current state and what you’d like it’s final outcome to be.

A. Right now all of the main components of the project are complete, and we are working on developing its final presentation for future exhibitions. We are considering the more environmental aspects of our installation, and trying to add dimension and ambience to expand it from a single sculpture into a fully immersive experience. We’re also considering including a performance element to pair with the piece.

Q. How did you reach the conceptualization of your current project?

A. This piece is as much about the process of building it as it is about the finished product you see. We wanted to truly immerse ourselves into a variety of crafts, starting by collecting and pressing plants and flowers, cutting glass, creating cyanotype emulsions, carefully hanging each piece, balancing and twisting them, programming Arduinos to move servo motors etc.; nearly all of these tasks were a brand new experience for both of us. We wanted to reflect the same meticulous and painstaking process found in botany, and other “womanly” crafts like embroidery, weaving, ceramics and dressmaking. The bts photos show a glimpse of our journey, from the infamous Plastic World, to the electronics dumpster at 401 Richmond. Last, we originally sought to fragment our figure, but after projecting our videos onto it we realized that not only was she physically fragmented, her reflections were thrown around the room, expanding the piece in a more spatial and unexpected way.

Q. Are there any artists that have inspired this work? If so, why?

A. In our research we found that many women had intimate connections with plantlife; from folk healers around the world, to Sylvia Plath in the poem I am Vertical, to the idea that botany was a “polite science” and one of the first that women were permitted to pursue. We were also inspired by Anna Atkins’ Cyanotypes that documented the intricacies of British Algaes, to include glass cyanotype panels (notice the blue panels edges with silver, those are cyanotypes). Philip Beesley’s kinetic architecture inspired us to include moving elements in our sculpture (servo motors are controlled by Arduinos to move some of the panels), while Bill Brandt’s photography inspired the concept behind the video portion of the installation. The inclusion of preserved organic elements, all harvested ourselves, were somewhat informed by the project Paperwork and the Will of the Capital by artist Taryn Simon, whose unique method of pressing, preserving, and displaying flowers we witnessed at the National Gallery in Ottawa.

Q. Describe any challenges you have faced and any solutions that you have found to be helpful in the creative process.

A. The greatest challenge, while very interesting and rewarding, was learning the many different processes that we had not attempted before. The most difficult of these was definitely learning to cyanotype onto glass; which took several days, 4 packages of Knox gelatin and a hot plate (thanks Darren!).
What really helped us stay on track was figuring out everything we would need early on, and then creating a detailed schedule that we stuck to. Meeting regularly, and essentially living in the Open Space (sorry Joseph!) really helped us keep each other accountable.

Q. Have you had any success in getting your work out into the world? Do you have suggestions for other artists?

A. As of yet, our project has only been displayed in the classroom during our critique which served as a good trial run. Currently, we are putting together applications to send out to galleries and publications, and at the moment our plan is to officially exhibit in Maximum Exposure in the spring.

Our advice to other artists is; if there’s any skill you want to learn it’s always on YouTube, and always remember to invest in good cable cutters!

Work In Progress

Herbarium, 2019