Reclaiming Commons: A Portrait-Story Project of Gardening in Philly
Reclaiming Commons: A Portrait-Story Project of Gardening in Philly is an ongoing media solidarity project painted by the artist Francesco di Santis & penned by the numerous folks who work and beautify the land in Philadelphia. Please enjoy the many narratives written below.
“In the winter of 2020-’21 Cesar Andreu Iglesias Community Garden Collective summoned the media solidarity of The Portrait-Story Project (PSP), after reviewing the project’s mission statement and seeing Portrait-Stories from years ago, both online and as hardcopy reproduction. Portrait-Story Projects emerge within geographic delineation & within the context of non-authoritarian, direct action-based grassroots social struggles towards self-determination, especially when these strongly indicate a connection to land base, against the grain of alienation. After some brainstorming and discussion the concise title Reclaiming Commons: A Portrait-Story Project of felt ‘spot on.’ Gardening in Philly “Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this Portrait-Story Project had very gradual initial momentum, which felt quite acceptable, due to both the protracted nature of underdog yet indomitable solidarian movement and the perennial nature of gardening. For the first time, a Portrait-Story portrait was painted outdoors in below freezing weather, with a barrel fire crackling between Portrait-Story artist and Portrait-Story participant, with the chairs deliberately spaced two metres apart. When the portrait completed, the participant put on a mask to go into a warm interior space to regain finger dexterity and write her narrative. In another moment, for not the first time, a participant wore a mask while sitting for her Portrait-Story portrait. The PSP artist respected that folks had varying levels of epidemiological caution, that some otherwise enthusiastic, wanted to postpone manifesting a face-to-face art-media-social phenomena. “As weather warmed, gardening activity increased and pandemic-related concern ebbed, PSP participation accelerated. These Portrait-Stories visibly grew as a series, exhibiting in the same reclaimed common in which some participants wrote about their involvement within. During some portrait sessions, The PSP artist would stick one of his palette knives into the cooled coal dust or ash of a garden fire pit and work this extremely locally sourced natural pigment into the other paint mixtures. While he liked the texture and color of the pigment and the frugality, spontaneity and intuition of the practice, he most of all liked that the substance of the garden itself became part of an aesthetic and empowering record of the joyful and liberating victory of this gardening.” -Francesco di Santis
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