Planting Immigrant Seeds to Shape Manhattan

Juanli Carrión, with a sample of Outer Seed Shadow. (Photo by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer via Manhattan Times)

Juanli Carrión, with a sample of Outer Seed Shadow. (Photo by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer via Manhattan Times)

In May 2014, Lower Manhattan will house a leafy likeness of the borough. For eight months, plants from around the world will make up a 2,000 square feet garden art project in the shape of Manhattan at Duarte Square by Canal Street.

Working with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, artist Juanli Carrión has been interviewing immigrants across the borough about where they’re from and asking them to represent their roots through a plant, as part of the project Outer Seed Shadow. The project’s details were revealed at a reception of the Horticultural Society of New York on October 24.

Manhattan Times‘ Robin Elisabeth Kilmer reports:

Carrión, himself an immigrant of Murcia, Spain, has interviewed 40 immigrants so far from 30 countries; each picked a plant from their home country to place on a temporary recreation of the island of Manhattan.

This rendition more closely resembles Manahatta, the name applied to the verdant, hilly island by the Lenni Lenape who once lived here.

Outer Seed Shadow (or OSS #01), according to Kilmer, is “named for plant outliers, the seeds that pioneer beyond their cluster of species to germinate and grow on their own.”

Priyanka Dasgupta is one of the immigrant contributors to OSS #01. The artist and adjunct professor has tried to grow plants like chili, jasmine and bougainvillea from her native India in her Harlem apartment to mixed results.

“There are interesting parallels in trying to hold onto physical habits and routines, and trying to grow something in a climate it doesn’t belong,” she observed.

When Dasgupta was interviewed by Carrión, she requested that he grow Indian Jasmine.

“One of my favorite things about summer in India is that you walk onto the streets and you’re surrounded by the smell of jasmine. It overpowers the smell of the traffic.”

Dasgupta’s Indian Jasmine plant will sit next to a tangerine tree, which came from an interview with a Taiwanese immigrant, and a palm tree suggested by a Dominican immigrant.

The director of the Horticulture and Public Programs at the Horticultural Society of New York, George Pisegna, said they will help plant and maintain the garden. As the son of immigrants, he notes the parallels between planting and immigration.

As a horiculturalist, he experiences first-hand the trouble some plants and flowers have taking root – not unlike the challenges faced by immigrants in a new land.

“I know how troublesome it is (for immigrants) to find a place,” he noted. “The plants will also be a challenge.”

An artistic rendition of Duarte Square when OSS #01 goes up. (Image via Manhattan Times)

An artistic rendition of Duarte Square when OSS #01 goes up. (Image via Manhattan Times)

Forming a map of Manhattan, the plants will sit according to where its immigrant interviewee lives in the borough. Like the fate of immigrants themselves, the success of a plant’s lifespan will be left up to nature.

“We’ll see what happens. Some plants will survive and persevere, and some will thrive,” said Pisegna.

And some will wither, he admitted.

Carrión, however, hopes that the plants will survive through community efforts to care for them.

“It’s my hope that they won’t die. That’s my challenge to the people,” he said. “It’s a community garden. Every person in the city and beyond is welcome to take care of the garden.”

Initially it will be just Carrión and Pisegna who will be tending the plants, but Carrión hopes to initiate horticulture workshops and volunteer hours.

Carrión continues in his quest to interview more immigrants. The most exotic plant so far for the artist? The buchy, a species of chive native to South Korea.

As for his own contribution, Carrión looked to his native Murcia for inspiration.

If he were to choose a personal plant for the project, Carrión would opt for the encina, a type of oak tree that dots the landscape of Murcia. Many of the towering and expansive trees are centuries old. Carrión is certain that some even pre-date the Roman invasion of Spain in 19 B.C., since they require 50 years just to grow ten meters. These remains of ancient forests now grow among olive groves.

“It’s the kind of tree you go to nap under,” said Carrión.

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