'If we confine the concept of weeds to species adapted to human disturbance,'' writes Jack R. Harlan in Crops and Man, 'then man is by definition the first and primary weed under whose influence all other weeds have evolved.'  

Weeds on wallsImage from Breached exhibition

The invasive, resilient, opportunistic, and persistent nature of weeds that breach the rigid structure of the Derry Walls undermines the original function of the walls - a barrier to invasion or breaching

Weeds in the human context evoke a wide range of metaphorical associations with the battle to control nature and our environment. They are seen as undesirable and are largely overlooked, disrespected and undervalued.

But their persistence and slow degradation of the walls' structural integrity places them firmly in the middle of any conservation agenda.

We end up with a discussion about the duality of the preservation of the past (and the cultural significance and value of this) and everyday living, freedom and progress, and the value of nature.

Conservation and eradication

Within the Derry Walls Conservation Plan, the walls as a habitat for various flora and fauna is listed as having complementary significance.

At the same time, under the Management Plan section outlining the provision of this conservation plan, it stipulates the treatment of weeds via annual spraying and mechanical removal.

Who decides which plants are preserved and which are eradicated? This is a difficult question to answer.

For example, the often mentioned Cymbalaria muralis (Ivy-leaved Toadflax) is valued and recognised as adding to the beauty of the walls with its flowing foliage and pretty purple flowers.

It is, however, a wild opportunistic plant and is no more or less autonomous or worthy of existence than the common Taraxacum offiniale or Dandelion.

Applying culture to nature

‘Weeding’ is the process by which we make informed choices in nature, discriminating between good and bad, applying our intelligence and sweat to the earth.

To weed is to apply culture to nature. Therefore, guardedness is essential when striking the right balance between the systematic management and eradication of plant species in the interests of monument conservation, plant autonomy, and biodiversity and environmental conservation.

Breached, the exhibition

This exhibition presents a series of findings and artworks produced following a botanical survey of the plants found growing on the Derry Walls over a period of several months. It places these findings within the context of current conservation strategies for the monument and the broader context of plant autonomy and environmental conservation.

It also attempts to challenge cultural assumptions responsible for designating certain plants as ‘weeds’, and the mainstream anthropocentric approach to plant life.  

Breached, the artist

Aislinn Cassidy is from Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, a graduate in microbiology, teacher and artist.

She uses a broad range of approaches in her practice; focusing mainly on installation and sculpture. Her work deals with themes that are personal, socio-political and environmental, that offer a multiplicity of interpretation with each piece having scientific, artistic, and poetic value.

She takes advantage of her scientific knowledge, combining experimentation with materials and processes, to create her own aesthetic.

Her intention is to share with others her enthusiasm for a multi-disciplinary approach to art making and to offer others an opportunity to engage with, enjoy aesthetically, and reflect upon, the visual and metaphorical elements and layers of meaning in her work.  

Breached, the first in a series

Breached is the first part of Verbal's 'Walking the Walls' series of exhibitions, funded by Derry City and Strabane District Council's Walled City – 400 Years Event Funding.

These exhibitions, curated by Gregory McCartney articulate alternative approaches to and explorations of Derry's famous Walls.     

Opening times

Breached will open on Thursday, November 29 2018 at 6pm and run until January 11 2019

Opening hours: Mon - Thurs: 9pm - 5.30pm and Fri: 9pm - 4pm

The exhibition is funded by Derry City and Strabane District Council

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