Yevgeniya Kaganovich: grow

Yevgeniya Kaganovich conceived of grow as a series of durational installations in public buildings throughout the Milwaukee area. At each location, a system of interconnected plant-like forms, simulating a self-propagating organism in multiple stages of development, would grow over time. These systems were created from recycled plastic bags, and their growth rate was determined by the number of bags accumulated in an official recycling bin at each site. The layers of plastic were fused to create a surface similar to leather or skin, molded into plant-like forms, connected with plastic bag “thread” and stuffed with more bags. Like weeds, these organisms were meant to grow into unused and overlooked spaces: niches, stairwells, and other peripheral and forgotten architectural elements.

The project launched in October 2012 at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, where it continued for four years. This was Kaganovich’s first foray into extended community engagement. In addition to placing a bin at Lynden and inviting people to drop off their used plastic bags, she and her student researchers offered free monthly workshops, teaching the public how to manipulate plastic bags as a raw material to create more forms and plantings. During that time, there were additional “plantings” at multiple locations throughout the city of Milwaukee, and also in Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

“My goals for grow,” Kaganovich observed at the beginning of the project, “are to transform an artificial manipulated material into a seemingly unchecked, feral, opportunistic growth; to visualize and punctuate reuse by juxtaposing it with slow, methodical, labor-intensive making that plays with control, ‘craftiness,’ and precision; and to speculate about how artificial lifecycles are sustained.”

Yevgeniya Kaganovich: grow
Each site had its own collection bin.
Like weeds, the organisms grew into unused and overlooked spaces: niches, corners, stairwells, and other peripheral architectural elements. But plenty of them were out in the open. They could be treated very informally—Lynden’s cleaner could move them out of the way to do her work--but you had to deal with them, you had to acknowledge that they were in the way.
What started out as tending to and growing an artificial organism, ended up being about tending to and growing a community. Public participation also underscored the urgency at the heart of this project: no matter how much I’ve worked on this project, daily, no matter how many people helped, no matter how long it took, we were never able to keep up with the speed of the refuse.
Milwaukee City Hall was the venue I felt like the project was waiting for, and it was the last public venue before the project finale.
We marked the project’s culmination by transplanting all the forms and plantings back to Lynden and installed them as a combined system.
The original idea had been to recycle all the forms at the end of the project. Instead we had a “come get your grow transplants” weekend at the Lynden. Many people came and picked up their transplants. Now, the people who took the plants home will have to deal with the consequences of our actions—our use of plastic. Even though we temporarily transformed this refuse into material and labor-dense objects, the plastic didn’t go away. grow didn’t solve anything.
After the culminating installation, I took some of the remaining forms outside and situated them among the trees and modernist sculptures. I thought about how things grow. grow ended up somewhere between sculpture and nature. I wanted these plants to appeared as a plausible ecological development, and that really resonated once I took them outside. I had been speculating about this, of course, but the scary part is that halfway through the project I found out that a version of this was already happening. Plastic had made its way into the geological layer: there is now volcanic rock with plastic compounds in it.
And then this happened: on the very last day of the project: I came across a perfect mushroom ring. I came to Lynden monthly over a period of four years and never found mushrooms there before.
It was the most perfect ending.