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Eco-Performance class prepares to present at CERA

By Louise Carhart

carhartl17@grinnell.edu

 

Professor Lesley Delmenico, Theatre, talked to The S&B over email to discuss her short course Eco-Performance, co-taught with two professors from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. Professors Baz Kershaw and Susan Haedicke introduced students to the concept of “Prairie Meanders,” a project that combines local and global approaches to environmentalism. The final product of this course will be on display at the Conard Environmental Research Area starting on Sept. 10 from noon to 6 p.m.

Scarlet and Black: How did Grinnell become involved with Baz Kershaw and Susan Haedicke? What is their background?

Professor Delmenico: I have known Baz and Susan for some time from conferences and walked the Meadow Meander that Baz installed at Warwick University [in England] during the International Federation of Theatre Researchers’ conference in 2014. Baz had also previously created these ecological performative events in Devon and Leeds in England and in Berlin.  At that conference, I suggested that Baz might want to create a meander at the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA), since we have a Midwestern “meadow on steroids” in the form of our CERA prairie. When he arrived here this fall, Baz’s comment when first seeing our prairie was simply, “Wow!” This project has been generously supported by funding and work from sources across the campus, and particularly by the efforts of Elizabeth Hill, CERA’s manager.

S&B: Have other projects of Kershaw and Haedicke’s involved students and a course like at Grinnell?

LD: They have previously worked primarily with graduate students at Warwick University to create the meander there.

S&B: What ideas has the class risen in regards to the intersection of performance and ecology?

LD: That’s a wonderful question, and I think that the answer needs to come out of what meander walkers discover as they perform their walks and engage with the patterns they’re tracing in the prairie, the richness of the prairie itself and encounters with installations along the way. The project is called an “Open Secret,” and it’s about those individual discoveries. There are no actors performing for visitors, but visitors enacting their walks in the prairie. (Because visitors walk IN the prairie for the most part, rather than along mown paths, it’s important to dress for that kind of walk: long pants, closed shoes, socks that pull up of the bottoms of pants, sunblock, a hat.)

S&B: How has CERA been modified or impacted by this project?

LD: With Elizabeth Hill’s guidance, we have tried to minimally impact the prairie on a permanent basis.  Most paths have been walked rather than mown, and there will be nothing left there for long. In the Dam Prairie, the grass has proven to be very resilient and tends to spring back shortly after being walked on, which has made keeping a path visible there challenging. But we’ve worked on it.

S&B: Why did you and Kershaw and Haedicke choose CERA for a class on site specificity?

LD: As a rich environmental site that, with its migration patterns linking the local to the global, CERA beautifully exemplifies the complexity of ecological systems.

S&B: Will the art be permanent?

LD: After the Open Days on Sept. 10 and 11 from noon to 6 p.m., the installations will remain up until Nov. 1. There will be mailboxes left outside the classroom building with instructions for walking, the Open Secret packet and a place for visitors to leave feedback about their meandering experiences.

S&B: What do you hope this project will impart on viewers and visitors?

LD: The opportunity to slow down and really engage senses, the physical experience of walking the pattern of one of earth’s ecological features and the willingness to be surprised by discoveries about the environment along the way. Maybe a sense of delight about being in this beautiful place?

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