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Planted Stories: Jef Geys Touches Down in Detroit

by Hrag Vartanian on May 27, 2010

Jef Geys, “Cadillac Square / Chenopodium ambrosioides” (2010) (via mocadetroit.org)

Belgian conceptual artist Jef Geys has been commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit to create his latest project titled Woodward Avenue, after the Detroit street that serves as the site of his work and the location of MOCAD. The street-based exhibition opens tomorrow.

For the Detroit project, Geys asked Dr. Ina Vandebroek, an ethnomedical research specialist, to collect weeds at twelve intersections along Woodward Avenue beginning at Cadillac Square, in the heart of the city, and ending at Saginaw Street, nearly 30 miles north in the neighboring city of Pontiac, Michigan. Woodward Avenue will include installations of dried plant specimens with their corresponding descriptions and documentation.

A view of Jef Geys’ “Quadra Medicinale” (2009) at 2009 La Biennale di Venezia (via flickr.com/visionet-art)

Geys’ exhibition also features two films that record an ethnobotany workshop in Bolivia run with traditional health practitioners. The exhibition will be accompanied by a special edition of the Kempens Informatieblad (Kempens Information Journal), as well as public programs and workshops that — MOCAD tells us — are an integral part of the art project.

The Detroit project is similar to Geys’ project for the Belgian pavilion of last year’s Venice Biennial that was titled Quadra Medicinale. For his Venice project, Geys asked four aquaintances in Brussels, New York, Moscow, and Villeurbanne to search for twelve wild plants that grow in the streets of their neighborhood in order to explore their surroundings. The resulting work was an inventory of ordinary plants, what we normally call weeds, which were very often edible or medicinal plants with special properties.

Jef Geys’ Woodward Avenue opens tomorrow and runs until July 25, 2010. It is organized by MOCAD and curated by Luis Croquer, MOCAD’S director and chief curator.

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