I’m leaning against a tree, attempting to commune with it, shaded against the hot afternoon sun in the middle of Stanley Park. The trees represent our grandmothers, but I can’t even recall the species we’re among. Fir? Pine? Oak? I was always terrible with names.
Some people are hugging their leafy grandmothers tightly. I spot several closing their eyes, deep in thought and spirit. We’re in the middle of a plant walk organized by Gallery Gachet and led by Cease Wyss, an artist and self-designated “Indigenous Plant Diva.” It’s hard to not be taken with her charismatic way of speech, which imparts knowledge about the use of things like cedar bark in beguiling narrative. We learn that thimble berries and others in the rose family are good for the circulatory system, for muscle aches and high/low blood pressure.
The early summer walk was an introduction to traditional medicinal plants and what’s known as the doctrine of signatures, or the language of flora that can be read by color, texture and shape. Dylan Miner, an artist-in-residence at the CAG’s Burrard Marina Field House Studio, is conducting research on local plants as part of his ongoing series Michif, Michin (the people, the medicine).
The Métis artist and director of American Indian and Indigenous Studies at Michigan State University is interested in projects of reclamation. He uses social practice to address contemporary indigenous issues. First introduced to traditional medicine through stories of his grandfather’s grandmother, Dylan decided to revive that knowledge and, using his privilege as an artist, engage it within the gallery space.
The series involves gathering plants native to the region where he will exhibit, and creating detailed representations of each. “I think of this as collaboration with people who know that knowledge and with the plants themselves,” he said at a gathering over tea and bannock at Gachet, a continuation of another series titled The Elders Say We Don’t Visit Anymore. “I think plants are sentient beings and have knowledge…I’m not simply harvesting them; the plants are participating.”
Read more about Dylan’s thoughts on plants in Vancouver on Justseeds, an artist collective focused on social, environmental and political engagement. The opening of Michif, Michin (the people, the medicine) will be August 5, from 6-9pm at Gallery Gachet. Dylan will also lead an Intertextual: Art in Dialogue talk with the CAG at grunt gallery on August 3.
For more of his writing, visit the Justseeds’ blog.