Published October 2, 2019
“Marlene McCarty: Into the Weeds,” a multi-faceted project in which the Brooklyn-based artist uses plants to affirm ways to not only survive but thrive in toxic conditions, opens Oct. 3 in the UB Art Galleries in the Center for the Arts, North Campus, and on Oct. 5 at Silo City.
The project is part of the UB Arts Collaboratory’s fall program, titled “Female.”
A clinical professor of visual arts at New York University, member of the AIDS activist group Gran Fury, and a co-founder of the transdisciplinary studio Bureau, McCarty has worked across various media and probed a range of topics throughout her decades-long practice. With “Into the Weeds,” she turns to the poisonous plants mugwort, Queen Anne’s lace and jimson weed as both subject and material.
At once toxic and healing, these plants grow profusely in so-called industrial wasteland. For generations, women have learned and passed down knowledge about the medicinal qualities of these plants and how they can be used to maintain human reproductive and sexual health.
At the UB Art Gallery, McCarty has created an installation of large-scale drawings in which these plants are depicted in complex compositions using meticulous graphite and ballpoint pen lines. The drawings are accompanied by an installation of seedlings under grow lights, and a large mound of soil that will be home to a variety of potent plants under the gallery’s skylight.
The exhibition will open with a reception from 6-8 p.m. Oct. 3; an artist’s brunch will take place from noon to 2 p.m. on Oct. 5. The exhibition will be on view through Feb. 1.
To extend the project outside the gallery walls, McCarty — with the support of the Arts Collaboratory — has partnered with the School of Architecture and Planning, UB Sustainability and Silo City to build and maintain a compost system on the plaza of the Center for the Arts. Serving a campuswide need to look at its ecological footprint, the compost bins, custom-built by architecture students, will conceptually bridge the in-gallery presentation with the artist’s first piece of public art: a garden of poisonous plants at Silo City, the historic site of Buffalo’s grain elevators.
Produced in collaboration with Silo City, this living monument to earth’s resilience is comprised of the various plants that the artist has been studying, rendering and growing. Forty-five feet in diameter and with its boundaries defined in gravel and woodchip, McCarty’s work will be a new addition to the Silo City landscape and will be entrusted to Silo City for long-term care.
The public artwork will open on Oct. 5 at Silo City, 85 Silo City Row, with a garden and site walk from 3:30-5 p.m. The walk will be led by McCarty; award-winning writer Jennifer Kabat, who composed an original essay that was informed by the scholarly work on the contemporary and historic Haudenosaunee relationship to the site by UB faculty member Alyssa Mt. Pleasant; and Mt. Pleasant. An opening reception will take place after the walk from 5-7 p.m. at the site.
Visitors to the UB Art Gallery and Silo City will receive a newsprint publication of Kabat’s essay and narrative descriptions of the plants used in McCarty’s earthwork. A book containing McCarty’s drawings, Kabat’s essay, photo-documentation of the project and an index of plant descriptions will be published in 2020.
McCarty also will give a talk, part of the Department of Art’s Visiting Artist Speaker Series, at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in 112 Center for the Arts.
The exhibitions and related events are free and open to the public.