PLANT FAMILY is an iterative experimental essay project that aligns fragments of collective California cultural histories with threads of personal narrative. Meditations on my mother's recent death sit alongside historic images of Bay Area flower growers. Instruction on the care of miniature roses segues into the story of the Grateful Dead's reunion tour. I explore the contemporary climate of my birthplace of San Francisco through an index of its vernacular past. I work to understand my own grief by constructing a place for it.
My mom was a florist. She made Christmas wreaths and wedding bouquets. She sold poinsettias and mini roses and bare-root blueberry plants. My family heirlooms are old leather gloves and left-handed pruners. I knew to cut flower stems at an angle under cold running water before I knew how to read.
PLANT FAMILY VOL.4 is an installation of plants common to San Francisco's homemade container gardens. The garden is a monument to my life in the City, an homage to a type of vernacular stoop garden that may be a disappearing form in the new version of this place. It is the manifestation of my labor of grief, and a symbol of the place where that weight sits: at the blurry threshold between public and private.
I was born on California Street in San Francisco. Out near the beach and the park is where I learned what the sky was, what roses smell like, and what it means to be a sister. Daylight has a bright, diffused quality. Succulents survive outside with only the salty humidity in the ocean air. Dirt is mostly made of sand, and it's important to learn some words in Russian.
PLANT FAMILY VOL.5 is a narrative that weaves together the distant and recent past, stopping in the present, speculating on the future. It rests at the places where storylines overlap, flowing stream-of-consciousness-style between private and public, and now and then. If the work is a "string-of-pearls" essay, then the pearls are things like flowers, memories, landmarks, real estate listings, and the weight of grief. It is a video, and can be performed live with accompanying image slideshow.
Performance of PLANT FAMILY VOL.5 on April 3, 2016 with Pete Fields of Slow Motion Cowboys
Boxwood, juniper, holly hedge, and birds of paradise.
There's a blooming yucca, there's a cypress hedge, there are dahlias, and zinnias, and marigolds to keep the bugs away from the tomatoes.
Roses, eucalyptus, wax flower, lilies, rosemary, euphorbia, dusty miller. Green chrysanthemum, purple anemones, yellow oncidium orchid, flowers from an acacia tree.
There's a dead avocado tree that was choked by those palms. Geranium, jasmine, aloe vera, jade plant, salty air ice plant.
Rhododendron, Shasta daisy envelope, hellebora, dead oaks, birch tree cracked in the ice storm.
Rubber plant, spider plant, money plant. Ikea palm, funeral palm, variegated ficus, dragon's blood tree.
Sword fern, silver dollar eucalyptus, black mondo grass, dried willow stems.
The passing of time means death and transformation, growth and replacement. I lose, I mourn, I move forward, I tend to the living things that remain. This garden is a memorial. This story is a eulogy.
Nicole Lavelle, PLANT FAMILY
VOL.4 and VOL.5 installed at Fused Space in San Francisco,
part of "CCA MFA Show Part 3" in March and April, 2016
Documentation by Philip Maisel, Miles Mattison, and Jenny Edwards
Thank you to Dad, Rebecca, Rose, and Alex. Thank you Edward and Amy. Thank you Charlie and Charlie and Miles and Thea. Thank you to my big family of family and friends, this was a long ride for everyone around me.
Mom, I made this for you.