Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tiny Ecologies & Transitional Spaces (Part 1)

"You put your walls up, with your phone and your attitude. 
Your walls are put up so tight not even a blade of grass could go through them. 
But even if it did, you wouldn’t appreciate it."
Professor Kane, Biology 101, Community, NBC

The Tiny Ecology project is focused on intense ecological attentiveness of a particular place. Frequent visits to the site will be made between late August and early December. Critical attention will be paid to human influence and neglect, nonhuman forces (weather, sunlight, microclimates, pollution, decay, gentrification), and the surfacings of particular histories. This project arises from an engagement with the Ecologies of Conquest / Contact Ecologies seminar being taught by Prof. Jeffrey J Cohen at the G.W.U.


Liminal Ecologies

For the purpose of my study, I chose a strip of earth between my apartment building and the house next door. On the one side, a 16 floor concrete monolith and a 2 floor brick house on the other. The space was chosen because it combines a variety of actants (animal, rock, vegetable), in a semi-domesticated space, but most of all because it is a liminal ecology which often goes unnoticed.

The no-man's land (enforced by a metal gate), that spans these two buildings, shares their material circumstances. Mixed in with compacted, rocky soil are a variety of vegetation, rocks (decorative and native), bits of concrete and brick, screws, bottle-caps, a cable-wire. It plays host also to an assortment of insects, ants and spiders, as well as the space's most recent addition: me.

I have limited my environ (encirclement) to the 147" by 121" plot of land between the two buildings, starting at the sidewalk and extending to the gate. Personal observations and experiences with the space will be noted frequently, with close study occurring once a week on Fridays, as well as during & after any significant weather event.



The elemental focus of this study will be Earth. The compacted and rocky soil is extremely harsh to the touch and when I attempted to take samples of it I was at first completely unable to get more than a dusting. Even when I came back with a more advanced metal gardening instrument, there was minimum response to a high level of effort made to break open a hole. After several minutes I only produced a hole a few inches deep.

When I brought the samples back to my work-space and I applied a series of tests, measuring for PH and nitrogen levels, the amount of potash and moisture, the results were grim. The soil is highly alkaline and low in several critical nutrients. Furthermore, the dryness which I could feel in my hand and knees was sured by the instruments. This was currently a very arid environment. 


Carpets of Clover

This lead to the question: how does so much vegetation and a few delicate flowers survive and thrive in such a harsh, inhospitable environment? How do these green and white friends of mine fend of starvation, potentially toxic surroundings, and not dry up?

The road to discover may begin with the identification of the different species living in the soil (white clover, curly dock, dalligrass, and plantains, to name a few), noting their special needs and abilities in relating to the Earth. What more secrets and changes will my Tiny Ecology and I experience together? Stay tuned to find out!


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