Art

An Artist Turns Invasive Plants into Paper Sculptures

Megan Heeres' manufactured 'trees' bearing bio-leaves of different invasive species papers. Photo by Eric Wheeler.
Megan Heeres’ manufactured ‘trees’ bearing bio-leaves of different invasive species papers at the Re:View Contemporary (photo by Eric Wheeler)

DETROIT — How often is an artist willing to introduce an element of chance to her solo gallery opening? Detroit-based artist Megan Heeres prefers her work to be unpredictable. As the title would suggest, the primary aim of her current show, The More We Get Together at Re:View Contemporary, is to get as many people involved in her process as possible.

On opening night, gallery patrons were donning plastic aprons and stepping into a custom papermaking station that Heeres constructed with the help of Michael Olszewski, and that’s a gallery-based iteration of the mobile paper station that travels around Detroit in support of the artist’s “Invasive Paper Project.” In both projects, Heeres harvests the base materials of invasive plants, such as phragmites, honeysuckle, and garlic mustard, which run wild in Detroit’s environs, and uses these as the material for papermaking. In truth, Heeres’s first point of collaboration is with the environment itself; the plants she chooses affect the texture and tone of her papers and inform aesthetic choices, such as the height of the five striated totems that form the base of the ‘trees’ that are the core of the main gallery in The More We Get Together.

Collaboration in progress between Heeres (right) and a gallery visitor. Photo by Eric Wheeler.
Collaboration in progress between Heeres (right) and a gallery visitor (photo by Eric Wheeler)

These trees are a work in progress, and will continue to grow over the course of the show. During drop-in papermaking workshops on Fridays and Saturdays of the exhibit’s run, visitors are invited to get their hands wet, forming delicate earth-pastel toned pulp into Heeres’ signature circles to hang them from the string limbs of the trees, causing the circles to gradually proliferate.

Detail from "Invasive Plants Rendered Useful" by Corrie Baldauf. Photo courtesy of Megan Heeres. (click to enlarge)
Detail from “Invasive Plants Rendered Useful” by Corrie Baldauf (photo courtesy Megan Heeres) (click to enlarge)

The second gallery features a set of works made in collaboration with a group of six artists handpicked by Heeres, including Corrie Baldauf, Susan Goethel-Campbell, and Laura Beyer. Each of these collaborators was sent a set of Heeres’s paper, each thoughtfully customized with a material that Heeres associated with the artist’s personality. The results are as widely varied as their creators: veteran papermaker Beyer shredded and weaved the circles into little basket-like structures that Heeres refers to as “barnacles”; Goethel-Campbell pierced her iris-based papers into plant stems burned by the winter and executed an in situ video documentary about the project; and Baldauf, with her frank humor, replanted four of her circles into austere, white-glazed flower pots — a move that Heeres associates with their shared trait of Lutheran upbringing.

Baldauf’s move also nods to a fundamental aspect of Heeres’s work: there’s an increasingly acute sense of conflict over making new objects. One of the hallmarks of a growing post-industrial art scene in Detroit, Heeres’s work is environmentally aware. Using art to first learn about responsible harvesting techniques to limit the spread of invasive species, Heeres then draws together communities — having spent, she says, at least as much time agonizing over the best way to welcome a diverse range of participants into Re:View’s space as on the installation itself — and finally creates a body of work that can return to the earth as seamlessly as it came. Ultimately, one realizes, the true remaining artifact is in the process of making, communicating, and learning.

Visitors from the Hannan House http://www.hannan.org, a senior care organization, attend one of Heeres' papermaking workshops. Photo by Paul David Rearick.
Visitors from the Hannan House, a senior care organization, attend one of Heeres’ papermaking workshops (photo by Paul David Rearick)

The More We Get Together continues at Re:View Contemporary (444 W. Willis, #112, Detroit, Michigan) through April 18. 

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