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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

In 'Notweed' Exhibit, Artists Explore Concepts Of Invasive Species — Including Us

Artists Sean (left) Clute and Otto Muller (center) stand among hanging dried stalks of Japanese knotweed with Julian Scott Memorial Gallery director Phillip Robertson.
Jane Lindholm
Artists Sean (left) Clute and Otto Muller (center) stand among hanging dried stalks of Japanese knotweed with Julian Scott Memorial Gallery director Phillip Robertson.

A new art exhibit at Northern Vermont University's Johnson campus uses the invasive plant Japanese knotweed to explore concepts of invasiveness and colonization in a multimedia interactive experience.

NVU-Johnson associate professor of digital art Sean Clute and Goddard College faculty advisor Otto Muller teamed up in an exhibition they're calling Notweed at the Julian Scott Memorial Gallery on the Johnson campus.

The two artists already work together as the Rural Noise Ensemble, where they explore "the ways that noise aesthetics can be a critical frame for understanding the rural," as Muller puts it.

With Notweed, they harvested hundreds of stalks of knotweed from the land Muller lives on in Woodbury, in the Northeast Kingdom. The dried, hardened stalks are hung from the ceiling in the gallery. Visitors have to pick their way through the hanging plants, moving them aside with their hands or letting them brush against their faces.

As people walk through the gallery, four musical tones emanate from speakers placed throughout the gallery.

"The drones are actually from a spectral analysis of the knotweed itself," Clute says. But there's another sonic component as well.

"There is a video camera in the gallery that is sensing the presence of the occupants," he adds. "Depending on what the presence is like, there is synthetic knotweed that is generated as well, in the space."

Beyond the sensory stimulation the artists want gallery-goers to experience, Clute and Muller say they hope people will also start to explore the idea of invasiveness.

"What we were thinking about," Muller explains, "was the way that the language surrounding invasive species, the semiotics of invasion and foreignness, of management and eradication, relates to the xenophobia in the country at large. And how attitudes that might come up around killing the goutweed in your yard could also inform the way that you think about borders and nations and who belongs and who doesn't."

Theexhibit runs from March 11 to April 4. And on March 28th, choreographer Pauline Jennings (co-artistic director, with Clute, of the multimedia dance company Double Vision) will have a performance in the space where dancers feed off the movements of guests moving through the gallery to create an interactive dance component. An ensemble of musicians led by NVU faculty member Justin Rito adds to the immersive experience.

Broadcast on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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