Where fallow may imply a period when nothing seems to happen, or in the case of a field, when it is left dormant to restore its fertility, within the structure of the word itself, is fall, all, low and importantly allow.
What may be allowed to come forward during periods of fallow — of rest, dormancy, quiet?
On daily walks to the field down the lane from Sala752 during my artist residency in Zaczernie, Poland, I witnessed growth from mid-April’s last dusting of snow to the emergence of a plethora of botanicals —- Urtica dioica / common nettle, Taraxacum officinale / dandelion, Plantago lanceolata / ribwort plantain, Ajuga/ bugle, Galium / bedstraw, Setaria viridis / green foxtail grass, Alopercurus pratensis / meadow foxtail grass, Lamium galeobdolon / yellow archangel Dead-nettle, Geranium pusillum / crane’s-bill geranium, Trifolium pratense / Red clover, Vicia sativa / vetch, Tanacetum vulgare / tansy, Geranium maculatum / wild geranium, Ranunculus acris / meadow buttercup — to name just some of this spring’s growth until my departure in May.
In this fallow field, a carpet of seemingly undifferentiated green, there was an abundance of plant varieties (some may call weeds), largely indigenous to Europe, which tend to pop up in areas of disturbed or formerly cultivated soil, and which also held a plant trousseau used for traditional medicinals and ceremony.
The leaves of Plantago lanceolata, for example, infused, have been used as healing tea and cough medicine. Its leaves, mashed as a poultice, treated rashes, burns, cuts, bites, stings.
Traditionally botanicals such as Tanacetum vulgare or Common tansy and Ranunculus acris or Meadow buttercup amongst other local plants, were often gathered into herbal bouquets from gardens and fields for the celebration of Matka Boska Zielna, Our Lady of the Herbs, to be blessed in the church and then used ritually though the year as medicine and for various occasions such as ensuring a good harvest or as protection to the home and family.
This field, the family field of Sala752, as the many neighbouring fields where people of the town planted their crops was a meeting place where working, talking, harvesting, and seasons were experienced collectively.
In a short few decades, the gathering place has changed and, like in many locations worldwide, the land is becoming a reshaped into subdivisions or sitting fallow.
During my residency I was invited me to respond the field for the year long project Zaczernie Oasis:
‘Zaczernie Oasis’ intends to bring life back to the field which in the past produced a harvest, just like all of the surrounding fields. For centuries, the field was the focal point of the village, the place where generations spent time together, being productive and having fun. Now, it is no longer used to produce the harvest in a direct sense, but the plot provides the ground for the growth of ideas and fertile responses. The aim of the project is to create an oasis, an alive place, that brings back the sense of fruitfulness and productivity, a spot full of ideas connecting the past, the present and the future. With the future in mind, the project aims to address questions of continuity, longevity, sustainability and ecology. — Sala752
Here, I looked intimately at the earth, the etched lines in the fields in preparation for planting and the growth emerging in the “fallow” field. Observing daily changes, I gathered bouquets to bring back into my space at Sala – part ornament, part study, part blessing – then created a series of botanical portraits.
I thought about the people who came before me and may have plucked the wayside ancestors of these new offspring for their medicinal and ritual bouquets, the shared gesture of daily walks back and forth from the field to the village and I wondered how the landscape would continue to change. I thought of my Polish grandmother who, in her youth would have worked in a similar sort of field in a village just 45 minutes away, and who later in life alongside my Polish grandfather, in Canada, would loose much of their cherry orchard to the pressures of sub-urban development — an eerie echo.
Multiple musings like dormant seeds sprouting in my awareness …
From the words of Stanisław Rzasa (1908 – 20020), Zaczernie resident and poet, in my rough translation, I glean a deep sense of gratitude and rapture for being connected to this particular place on earth and the wonder of generosity each spring.
fall . all . low . allow
What seeds may fall?
What brings flourishing for all?
What to we see and hear when we bend low to the earth?
What do we allow to root in our human/nature habitats?
. . .
The field was progressively reanimated through the spring and summer — parts of the field were ploughed making space for a planted mandala and an infinity shaped corn field. I was glad to contribute to this process and join in laying a bed of straw and in planting some seeds. The celebration of Zaczenie Oasis culminated in August with installations, performance, music, shared food and community. I wish I could have been there for it in person but felt the reverberations nonetheless. Am so grateful to Sala752 for the opportunity to connect with this space and to all amazing people and beautiful encounters.
* reference: Polish Herbs, Flowers & Folk Medicine by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab accompanied me on my journey and was a helpful reference text