Between Wildness and Domestication: Wolf Mountain Sanctuary

Humans are fascinated by wildness, but interaction with humans changes a wild animal permanently. Where do such animals find a home?

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Tonya Littlewolf runs Wolf Mountain Sanctuary in Lucerne Valley, located in the southern Mojave Desert in California. She makes a home here for wolves whose lives have been threatened by humans. Most have been raised as pets, only to be discarded when they grew too big, too hard to control and too expensive to feed. A wolf that has lived with humans does not become a tame dog, neither is that animal wild anymore. These wolves, if released from their sanctuary, would approach humans in search of food. Sooner or later, that kind of behavior will get an animal killed, especially a large predator that stirs a mythological fear in human beings.

Born in New Mexico of Chiricahua Mescalero Apache and Sicilian heritage, Tonya was introduced to wild animals at a young age and developed strong bonds with them, especially with wolves. In the Native American tradition of the Wolf Sibling, it is her mission to minister to these glorious creatures and to help heal the strain between humans and wolves. You may find her unorthodox, feeding wolves raw meat from her mouth and speaking freely of her spiritual connection to them, but you cannot deny that she loves them and they her. How different would our world be if we had more people caring for the animals and plants around us with this kind of dedication and respect?

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This beautifully understated short film, echoing the simple starkness of its desert locale, was created by cinematographer Sam Price-Waldman, who is also video producer for The Atlantic. Wolf Mountain is a fantastic introduction to Wolf Mountain Sanctuary, moving and sensitive without becoming maudlin and sentimental. Price-Waldman has given his subjects dignity. The wonderfully textured closeups allow us a peek into the personalities of these individuals, while the communal keening of the wolf pack cuts right into the soul with its melancholy music. I can’t imagine how electric it must be to be there. At the end of the film Tonya clears the air by burning sage, dispelling negativity, and we see Native American prayer threads worked into the fence. This is a ministry, not a scientific study nor a exercise in activism.

 

 

It would be better if these animals had not come in contact with humans, but it’s too late. Our curiosity wounds and our desire to own maims and kills. Tonya and her wolves are trapped in a place that lies between civilization and wildness. She cannot leave it anymore than they can. No matter how nice a cage is, it remains a cage. And yet being stuck in this “in between” place gives the Wolf Sister and her pack a unique opportunity to be ambassadors between wolves and humans. The hairy ones have things to show us.

 

If you are interested in helping Tonya and the wolves with their mission, you can visit the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary in person, where you can go inside the wolf enclosure and meet these splendid, expressive animals. You can also donate online. Large quantities of red meat and chicken, loads of vegetables such as pumpkins and carrots-you might be surprised at how much wolves enjoy these-and vet bills are expensive and Wolf Mountain receives no money from the government. Please visit the Wolf Mountain website, where you can learn a bit about each member of the pack.

Images from the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary Website used in accordance with Fair Use Policy.

Owning Aggression: Sonya Tayeh’s Baggage

Many believe art should always emphasize the beautiful and balanced. Can art help us understand and heal our dark side?

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Photo © Sara Krulwich at The New York Times

 

Sonya Tayeh is best known as a choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance, but this brilliant dancer, dance teacher and choreographer is enjoying a tremendously varied career, premiering works with the Los Angeles Ballet and the Martha Graham Dance Company, choreographing musicals such as Spring Awakening, The Wild Party, Kung Fu and The Last Goodbye, as well as creating moves for Madonna, Florence and the Machine and Kylie Minogue, among others. You might not realize that this is a career that very nearly didn’t happen.

 

As a teenager, Sonya was a house dancer. House dancing grew out of the party scene in large cities of the American Northeast, and involves intricate footwork and fluid torso movement that follows the rhythm of the music very closely, punctuating much smaller, subtler details than many forms of dance. It is often improvised and can require a great deal of skill, but it isn’t recognized as a formal dance style. When Sonya realized she wanted to continue dancing in college and beyond, she applied to dance schools, only to be rejected six times on the grounds that she was too old to begin training.

Sonya did not give up, despite the voices that told her she was wasting her time. She graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Dance, blending her previous skills with a knowledge of art history and anatomy as well as new skills gleaned in formal dance performance. Over time, this blend solidified into a new style, one she calls “combat jazz”. Combat jazz retains the intricacy and intensity of house dancing, combining quirky, often aggressive, non-classical movement with elements of more formal dance. It is a striking union, as you can see in her short piece, Baggage.

 

 

What is so shocking about this work is its honesty. We see these partners are sometimes baggage for one another, heavy and difficult to move. In turn, we see them treat one another like baggage, slinging each other around and asserting control. How many people, particularly women (but not exclusively), can see this piece and walk away gratified that someone has noticed their struggle?

The jerky, house dance derived movements that are Sonya’s bread and butter highlight the conflict. As opposed to the more refined lines of ballet, they connect with our emotions at a visceral, non-intellectual level. When we look at these dancers, we don’t see performers using their technical skills. We see ourselves.

There are those who say that the aggressive, abusive relationships portrayed in Baggage have no place onstage, that we should spend our time looking at things that are more positive and harmonious. There is value in order and beauty. There is also value in truth. If we are unwilling to see that there is much in human relationships that is controlling and aggressive then how will we confront and deal with that behavior? Performance, with its suspension of reality, gives us a place to work through difficult situations and to recognize and identify human darkness, within and without. It can also give those who have lived through abuse a voice to tell their story, creating opportunities for catharsis, empathy, and healing.

The danger in turning away artists who don’t fit the mold and in censoring art that doesn’t conform to predetermined standards is that we will lose voices that we need to hear, or even worse, that we will become unable to hear at all.

Video via Sonya Tayeh Choreography on YouTube.
Tayeh Dance performing at the El Portal Theatre
Dancers: Cheryl Smith, Adrian Lee, Jill Chu, Will Johnston

 

 

Psychedelic Ecosystem: The Elephant’s Garden

Come take an artistic walk on the wild side where the sublime meets the brutal. Refreshingly honest, beautiful and whimsical!

The life of any ecosystem depends on the death and sacrifice of some individuals within that system, and this fantastic garden is certainly no exception. There are a few beasts here big enough, such as the amusing Pneumatic Behemoth who squeezes eggs from its nether region, to rest peacefully and quietly at the top of the food chain. If you wait a few seconds, someone will be eaten- the Behemoth itself has vulnerable young– or a fight will break out. Even the roses like to scuffle.

The Elephant’s Garden is a short film by animator Felix Colgrave with music by Anthony Calhoun, aka Red.M. You can take a listen to Red.M’s wonderful full score for the project, including music that was not used, here. Colgrave crafts a stunning world, full of marvelous, strange beings that often move in ways we don’t expect. This movement not only makes delightful sense, it is deftly choreographed to Red.M’s funky, rhythmic electronic score, which enhances the sensual beauty and dark wit of Colgrave’s work. There are many influences here, put together in a way that is uniquely Colgrave: Indian and and southeast Asian meet Peter Max, Terry Gilliam meets Miyazaki. It’s a colorful world.

A glance at Colgrave’s website will reveal a delightful and biting wit, cunning mind and a willingness to help and encourage others. You can check out his glorious video for Fever the Ghost’s song Source and the whimsically sadistic animated short Man Spaghetti, which is vaguely reminiscent of Ren and Stimpy. Colgrave produces clever animation that looks backwards while pushing the envelope relentlessly forward.

The Elephant’s Garden was a project Colgrave created at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia’s largest University and a global leader in technology and design. It was the winner of Best Australian Film at Melbourne International Animation Festival 2014. We cannot wait to see more from this talented young animator!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Healing Song: The Breathless Choir

Society encourages us to pursue marketable things at which we excel. Is there value in pursuits that challenge our weaknesses?

 

The weeding and winnowing starts when we are very young. What was it for you? Too short to play basketball. Can’t color inside the lines. Can’t do math. Can’t visualize. Has no rhythm.  Can’t sing. Might as well give up now. We’ve all fallen victim to such pronouncements, whether they come from peers, parents or other authority figures.  It is incredible how powerful they can be, lodging themselves deeply inside our psyche, shaping every though and action that comes after them.

Many of these pronouncements come at a young age, but there is one type that we usually deal with later. I’m speaking of those related to health and wellness. Some of these things we cannot change; there is an intersection between perception and reality. For example, I have serious gluten intolerance issues. I can’t eat or inhale wheat, barley, rye or anything made from them without becoming very sick. I will never compete on any reality cooking shows– too many things there that would make me ill– but I can make some awesome tasting food in my own home!

Meet the singers in the Breathless Choir, a project sponsored by the Dutch technology company Philips, famous for innovation in the fields of lighting, sound and recording engineering, healthcare and lifestyle improvement. These are people who have extremely serious breathing impairments: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, cystic fibrosis, acute asthma. There is even a 911 first responder who has lost one third of his lung capacity. Director Gareth Malone had one week to get them to sing, to get air flowing and help them match pitch. He had to get past their diagnosis and their fear.

The result might not be the most perfect musical performance, but it is enjoyable, both for the performers and their audience. The miracle is that many of the singers become healthier in the process. Singing teaches people to make the most of their breath, loosening areas of tension and retraining the mind. Joy and confidence are worthwhile byproducts, but physical healing and maintenance are completely priceless. The intersection between perception and reality can also be a place for growth.

You might complain about their vowels, their technique or their tone quality.

Stop it!

As a professional singer and voice teacher, I can attest that we do far too much of this kind of critiquing. I see young singers every day who have no intention of becoming professional musicians but would like to learn to sing better. Many are afraid of their own voice because someone told them they were too loud or tone deaf. This often keeps people from starting or progressing, even if there is a “diamond in the rough” there. There is a place for being critical when singing is part of competitive, artistic business, but we must also recognize the value of singing and performing for the joy of it. There need to be safe places in the community for people to explore music, dance and art, even if they aren’t going to be stars, even if conventional wisdom says they aren’t talented. Let them move, let them create, let them sing. Some will surprise you.

We all reach points in our lives where we feel stuck and need to find a new point of view, a new tactic to continue growing. If we can consciously identify those pronouncements and assertions that are governing our lives, we can examine how valid they are for us. If you can’t do something that you desire to do, it may be that you need training to do it better. Even if you won’t be able to be the best in that field, pursuing it may supply something else for you: joy, calmness, confidence, even healing. Those things may not bring you public recognition or monetary compensation, but they can change the quality of your life.

What is it you have always wanted to do?

Floating on Water: The Medieval Art of Ebru

Traditional art forms remain astounding and disarmingly beautiful in an era dominated by technology. What makes this art so beguiling?

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Ebru, a form of paper marbling, is an ancient art that originated in the 15th century in central Asia. Europeans first encountered it in Istanbul and were mesmerized by it. If you have seen old books with marbled beginning and end papers like the one above, you have seen ebru.  Ebru, or abri, can be translated as cloudy or colorful (paper), depending on whether or not you translate the word from Persian or Turkish sources. In Iran it is called abr-o-bâd, or cloud and wind. The video below, an advertisement made for a class at American Islamic College in Chicago by artist Garip Ay, makes it easy to see why people have been so enraptured by this art.

Ay was born in 1984 in Siirt, Turkey and studied painting at the High School of Fine Arts in Diyarbakir. He then pursued and graduated with a degree in Traditional Turkish Arts from Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul. This video shows him working in a more traditional style, but he has made a name for himself by melding the techniques and materials of modern painting and ebru. You can see more of his lovely work on his blog. Evolution keeps the form alive.

Long before Europeans made ebru a status symbol for the wealthy and educated of Europe, this decorative paper began as the background to important official state documents throughout central Asia. This developed not, at first, in celebration of its beauty, but as an anti-counterfeit measure. When artists discovered its potential, ebru became an incredible outlet for creativity. As it grew in imagination and color, it was used as a background for poetry and scripture, written in the graceful legato of calligraphy. Some designs were complicated enough to stand on their own in the style of paintings. Ay and artists like him are continuing to blur the line between painting and ebru.

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“This calligraphic fragment includes two bayts (verses) of poetry that describe the desire of unidentified antagonists to break or humble the beloved: “They want to break the wild-eyed / They want to break the black-eyelashed / They want to break the heart from the spirit / They want to break the objects of beauty.” In these verses with repetitive phrasing, the beloved ones or objects of beauty—the kajkulahan (literally, the “ones wearing crooked helmets,”)—are the target of violence and animosity. Written in black Nasta’liq script on orange paper decorated with light-gold sprinkles, the text is provided with a gold frame and is pasted onto a blue-and-white abri or ebru (marbled) paper strengthened with cardboard. The fragment is neither signed nor dated, but the script and the marble paper suggest that it may have been produced in Iran or India during the 16th–17th centuries.”

The current Turkish tradition of ebru was developed by a branch of the Naqshbandi Sufi order. These Sufis, Sunni Muslims exploring the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam, saw their art as a form of meditation and passed it on to their followers. The process of floating paint on treated water to make beautiful papers and artwork requires discipline, skill and intense concentration. Keeping mind and body focused on producing beauty allows for spiritual growth.

Gum tragacanth, a paste obtained from the sap of several Middle Eastern legumes, is mixed into a shallow pan of water, making the water thick and sticky. Natural pigments are mixed with ox bile to create paint, which is splattered onto the surface of the water with horsehair brushes. The ox bile, or gall, not only keeps the dye floating, but makes the colors spread and keeps them from blending together. Paint can also be applied in a more controlled fashion with sticks made from rosewood. The floating colors can be manipulated with these rosewood sticks, with combs or with the breath. After a pattern is finished, a piece of acid free, unlacquered paper is laid lightly on top of the design. The design is thus transferred to the paper, making a one of a kind print, or monotype. Ebru requires a gentle touch, as well as a mind open to the movement of paint and water, which produce unexpected patterns. The artist must know when to shape the design and when to accept the direction it has chosen for itself.

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The value of ebru lies not only in the beauty of the product, but in the process itself. There is not yet a computer that would have the dexterity or imagination required. Even more valuable is the effect of such a process on the mind, engendering patience, gentleness and a respect for beauty, color and imagination. These are things that our world needs desperately.

 

 

Images and videos: 1) Public Domain Image via Wikimedia.  2) Video via AICUSA. 3) Public Domain Image via Wikimedia. 4) Image © Ji-Elle with CCLicense

 

Top Ten Videos of 2015

2015 has been an incredibly busy year for me and for synkroniciti. We’ve been busy with Open Mics and the beginnings of our first collaborative project, Euridice Revealed, an exploration of the Orpheus and Euridice myth from a feminine point of view. I’ve managed to keep posting despite a jump in my workload as a performer, teacher and artist, as well as some recent health issues. You have responded warmly, even when all I can manage is a Quote for Today. Thanks for being here with me!

This is our first top ten list of 2015; I’ll post more in the next few days. These videos received the most hits over the past year and I think you’ll see why. If you find a video engaging, feel free to click the link above the video to read the original post.

All of these videos come from creative people that have put their work up on YouTube or Vimeo and are not produced by or affiliated with synkroniciti. I am grateful to those artists and pleased to be able to comment on and share their work.

Enjoy synkroniciti’s most viewed videos of 2015! Exciting world music, social issues, feats of athleticism and skill, animation, imaginative film making, and profound stories…they are all here for you.

10. The Mystery of Gender: Robina Asti and Flying Solo

 

9. Transformative Life: The Power of Imagination in Dhafer Youssef’s Whirling Birds Ceremony

 

8. Lovingly Carried: The Enchantment of Božo Vrećo’s Lejlija

 

7. Reverent Strength: The Soulful Mbira of Hope Masike: a double feature!

 

6. Body in Motion: Climber Natalija Gros in Le Tango Vertical

 

5. Obstacles from Within: Mind is a Jungle

 

4. Modern Creation Myth: Thoughts on Abiogenesis by Richard Mans

 

3. Through the Dream of a Child: Brent Bonacorso’s West of the Moon

 

2. In Love with a Train: The Fateful Whimsy of Pica Do 7

 

1. Reverence, Laughter and Disgust: Trashion by Marina DeBris

 

Thanks for watching and for making 2015 a great year! We’ll be picking up the pace in 2016.

Lovingly Carried: The Enchantment of Božo Vrećo’s Lejlija

Our world seems increasingly fractured by mistrust and hate. Can music, especially that of the human voice, heal those fractures?

Sevdalinka or Sevdah music is a genre of folk music that flourishes in the Balkan region of southeastern Europe, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. These elaborate and virtuosic songs are set in moderate or slow tempos and speak of love, loss and longing. Traditionally, these melodies have been unaccompanied by instruments, giving the singer complete control over rhythm and tempo and creating the potential for intensely emotional and spontaneous performances. Sevdah is related to Portuguese fado in subject matter and in origin, stemming from a synthesis of Asian, Greek and Sephardic sources.

Image © Petra Cvelbar used in accordance with CCLicense

Image © Petra Cvelbar used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Božo Vrećo, lead singer for the band Halka, is a popular singer of Sevdalinka. He combines traditional elements with an extremely modern sense of identity and gender. His voice is virtuosic and tender, powerful and gentle. Moy Sevdah, or My Sevdah, is his first solo album, completely unaccompanied, and it is a stunning exploration of the genre.

Sevdah was originally sung by women and provided a place where the feminine spirit could pour out its frustration, desire and disappointment. Some songs speak unabashedly of physical desire and a few have comic or ironic elements. Men followed suit later with their own sevdalinka, exploring their psyches through music as well. Božo Vrećo embraces both masculine and feminine sevdah, employing his otherworldly high tenor in songs sung by both women and men. To farther emphasize this choice, his wardrobe is ambiguous, interchanging gowns and dresses for suits and long caftans that recall dervishes. Sometimes bearded, he wears eye makeup and posts pictures of himself online smiling with his long black hair in curlers.

bozo-vreco-6Despite all this, Božo Vrećo does not identify himself as transgender nor as a cross dresser, as some have labelled him. In his view, we all contain masculine and feminine elements and he is only being true to that which he is. In conservative Bosnia, where LGBTQ rights are not popularly accepted, he enjoys enormous popularity. This immense talent and sensitive persona wins hearts remarkably easily. I don’t know about you, but this gives me hope for the human race and awe at the power of music and expression.

This video, Lejlija, or Leila, is a short taste of the passionate beauty of Božo Vrećo’s art. It is a heartbreaking lament sung by a young girl who is dying, addressed to her mother. She will never be married and will never have the life that they hoped she would have. Tomorrow, when the village celebrates Eid, breaking bread as the daily fasting of Ramadan ends, she will no longer be on Earth. She clings to life, symbolized by bread, even as she knows she must leave it, and dances in a style reminiscent of the Sufi dervishes, who do so to abandon their own egos. Her intense sorrow is partnered and sweetened by the certainty that she is being lovingly carried to the next life, both by her fellow villagers and by the emissaries of God. The dark man, stern, yet loving and patient, is a portrait of the Angel of Death, Azrael, who serves God by collecting the souls of those who are departing this life.

The words and music of Lejlija were written by Božo Vrećo and are dedicated to his mother. Absolutely enchanting.

Video via Božo Vrećo on YouTube.

On the eve of Eid, she fell sick, mother’s only child Lejlija.
She suffered, grieved, wailed and said: My dear mother, if I die, clothe me in traditional clothing!
Unbraid my hair like golden wheat, let it fall down my face!
Let them carry me, the young men on both sides, and let them sing songs and not sleep at night while guarding me.
Like a new bride, bathe me with water from the pitcher for my long journey, mother, from hand to hand I’m lovingly carried, mother, lovingly carried.

Moy Sevdah is available on Amazon and iTunes. I wholeheartedly recommend the entire album, which includes seventeen songs, some of which are more virtuosic than Lejlija, which is somewhat subdued.

Flights of Fancy: Bandaloop Dances in Air

Rock climbers have a special relationship with surfaces they climb. What happens when this elevated awareness is fused with dance?

Have you ever dreamt of flying, of twisting and turning through the air with no fear? Amelia Rudolph had this dream often as a child. One day, when rock climbing in the Sierra Mountains of California, this multi-faceted dancer who holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Comparative Religion re-imagined her dream. Her vision was a synthesis, a merging of rock climbing with dance.

© Bandaloop used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

© Bandaloop used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Bandaloop was founded in 1991 to explore the possibilities of vertical dance. Dancing was brought to the mountains and climbing was brought to urban environments as dancers and rock climbers learned to fuse their skills. The result is something transcendent: performing that allows the dancer/climber to realize the dream of flight, assisted by ropes and equipment, and brings the audience along to share the wonder. Normally, rock climbing is a very self focused and isolated discipline, while dance, with all its theatrical tradition, can feel intimidating to an audience. Somehow, in fusing the two a situation occurs that draws the audience into that focused dreamscape with the performer, breaking down walls. It’s truly impressive and inspiring. Just the kind of thing we love to explore at synkroniciti. 

Video via BANDALOOP on YouTube

Amazed? Intrigued? Please check out their website for more about Bandaloop.

Body in Motion: Climber Natalija Gros in Le Tango Vertical

The human body is capable of impressive feats. Is there an artistic and creative element present in athletic accomplishment?

When Natalija Gros retired from competitive rock climbing in 2012, she was recognized as one of the finest climbers in the world. The Slovenian athlete made it to the World Cup podium an astonishing 23 times during her career, also carrying off a silver in 2004 at the European Championships and a gold in 2008 in Paris at The European Bouldering and Combined Championship. She won the coveted Serre Chevalier Master in both 2004 and 2009.

Rock climbing isn’t a glamorous sport. Hands, elbows, shoulders and knees get scraped, wounded and calloused. Even with hooks and ropes, climbers regularly find themselves jerked into the air, swinging painfully against rocks. This doesn’t even hold a candle to what can happen without equipment. This short film by Jure Breceljnik called Le Tango Vertical, or The Vertical Tango, shows a completely different side than most climbing videos: artsy, sensual and alluring.

After a swim, Gros comes out of the ocean in her bikini and proceeds to climb, completely unaided, a rock formation along the beach. Granted, it isn’t the Alps nor Yosemite, but it isn’t safe either.

There are two main forms of rock climbing: aid climbing and free climbing. Aid climbing involves the use of ropes and pegs in the rock to pull the climber up the face of a cliff. Free climbing may also include the use of ropes and pegs, but only to protect the climber in case of a slip or fall.  Free climbers prize the sense of achievement and artistry that come from developing a close relationship to the vertical surface. This allows them to compose a route that traverses that surface, called a line. This route is unique, suited to their own body and skill set.

Climbing, like life, is never without risk, never completely safe. Ropes can break, pegs can become dislodged. Gros has chosen to forego such gear completely, feeling that she can handle this formation without them. And she can. What amazing physical strength and confidence! Watch her stomach muscles to see how much squeeze she maintains while holding on, thinking, and moving. She possesses unbelievable core and arm strength. I don’t know about you, but I’d be jelly up there.

Still from Le Tango Vertical

Still from Le Tango Vertical

Le Tango Vertical is an apt title. Like a tango dancer, Gros moves in a practiced, sensual way, sometimes slowly and smoothly, sometimes aggressively and decisively, feeling her way across the stone shelves. She must know them intimately in order to gauge that they will hold her weight. She must also know the limits of her own body to avoid overextending herself.

This isn’t the only film of Natalija Gros. She is the subject of Breceljnik’s documentary Chalk and Chocolate and was also featured in his documentary New Dimension, which delves into urban bouldering in Argentina. Amazing work from both artists.

Natalija Gros being filmed by Jure Beceljnik for Chalk and Chocolate. This portrait was commisioned by Mladina weekly. © Borut Peterlin, used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Natalija Gros being filmed by Jure Beceljnik for Chalk and Chocolate. This portrait was commisioned by Mladina weekly and is designed to poke fun at the contrast between climber and artist, thus the comfy red chair. In reality, both the climber and artist had to do some crazy things to get the footage they captured.
© Borut Peterlin, used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Sadly, Jure Breceljnik died two months ago in 2015. If you would like to know more about this talented man, a graduate of the Film and TV School of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, please read this tribute from his friend and colleague Borut Peterlin.

Grab Your Shovel: Guerrilla Gardening in Los Angeles

As the appearance of a community decays, its people decline too. Can collaborative gardening help restore community health and spirit?

Guerilla Gardening in Ghent, Belgium © Mathias Baert with CCLicense

Guerilla Gardening in Ghent, Belgium
© Mathias Baert with CCLicense

Guerrilla gardening is the planting and tending of gardens on public land, usually without permission. You might think of it as the green thumb version of graffiti, using plants instead of spray paint. Here are two wonderful videos about this global phenomenon from two very different communities in Los Angeles.

Kenneth Rudnicki decided to guerrilla garden for his birthday. Instead of going out, he invited his friends to buy plants and help him set up a garden on the street. The joy of planting that garden by night and seeing the neighborhood’s curiosity and wonder the next morning was extremely addictive. People enjoyed it so much that he started a business with his girlfriend, Rebecca Pontius, called LA Guerrilla Gardening.

Video via Soul Pancake on YouTube

LA Guerrilla Gardening has brought together people from all walks of life who are interested in gardening, or at least in beautifying and taking ownership in their community. These are people who would never meet in any other situation. Unattractive and trashy spots in the city have been converted into beautiful plantings of succulents and drought resistant ornamentals.

Ron Finley, a successful fashion designer for professional athletes, is from South Central, or South Los Angeles, an area famous for fast food drive-throughs and drive-by shootings. He began to realize that the drive-throughs were taking more lives than the drive-bys and decided to do something about it. He and his volunteer group, LA Green Grounds, planted a garden of edible plants along the street. The city promptly issued a citation and demanded the removal of the garden, threatening to issue a warrant for his arrest. Finley refused. His spirit and his humor are infectious, as you will see.

Video via TED on YouTube

There are 26 square miles of vacant lots in Los Angeles. That’s enough land to build 20 parks the size of New York’s Central Park. Finley sees these lots and other neglected spaces as canvases, where he can paint with plants and give people the wonder of growing things.  A generous artist, he plants the gardens where hungry people can get to them and harvest what they need. His work isn’t only beautiful and collaborative, it feeds people and trains people to eat well and become leaders in their communities. What inspiring resilience!

I wanted to share both videos with you so that you could see the universal nature of guerrilla gardening. It is therapeutic, nourishing and defiant. And, if you are interested, it is something that you can do.