Ziemia: Our Stories Are Written In Soil
Ziemia is a public-art project which I am creating in collaboration with residents of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY. In the form of a ceramic sphere atop a native meadow in McGolrick Park, the piece aims to bridge divides between the neighborhood’s disparate subcultures by serving as a collective portrait of the community through embodying residents' personal homelands and migration stories.
Greenpoint is currently experiencing a demographic transformation as gentrification pushes out many longtime residents. With the rising displacement and relocation of peoples across the world, Ziemia is responding to the need for collective reflection in communities on migration as not merely a global phenomenon, but as a local, micro experience that unites us all.
Community members from various backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic classes are invited to select and provide soil samples from specific, personally meaningful locations that they have left behind or that embody their identity. These sites can be in Brooklyn, another U.S. city, or foreign country. I will audio record each participant’s explanation of the significance of their chosen location, which will later be exhibited alongside an interactive map made from the geographic coordinates.
The collected soil will be used to create the glaze for the ceramic sphere, which will be fired out of local Greenpoint clay. In using soil--universally symbolic for one's roots and identity--as the medium, Ziemia gestures to the primal connection to Earth that underlies each individual’s migratory experience. As the transitionary phase in nature between death and life, soil additionally refers to the cyclical patterns of neighborhood growth and change.
The materials have been chosen specifically for their significance in Greenpoint's history. The meadow, composed of native and doppleganger plant species, references Greenpoint's pastoral past as the once fertile land that sustained Native Americans and settlers. The flax grown in the meadow invokes the neighborhood's manufacturing height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, home to the largest rope factory in the world that employed immigrants experienced in the craft. During this time, Greenpoint also had a concentration of potmaking factories, giving Clay Street its name.
The public art piece will become a central location for events to encourage cross-cultural exchanges and provoke dialog about immigration and the human relationship with the natural world.
Ziemia will contribute to the network of projects currently exploring Greenpoint through a social and ecological lens, and serve as an umbrella for cross-disciplinary collaborations. The team of chemistry research students at Lehman College will test for traces of pollution in the Greenpoint soil, known for being highly contaminated with industrial toxic waste. This partnership aims to further the project’s goal of bringing attention to the ties, both sentimental and vital, that we have to the land we call home.
About the Artist: Martynka Wawrzyniak
As a conceptual artist, I develop collaborative, research-based projects that traverse varied mediums and disciplines, engaging the audience through sensory experience. The medium—whether photography, installation, video, performance or sculpture—is matched to each project’s conceptual foundation. My works utilize corporeal sensation as a vehicle for communicating ideas about primal experience, memory, and sociocultural issues. By reframing common everyday materials through experimental procedures, the works generate subjective, visceral, and often confrontational experiences. With Ziemia I am interested in surrendering more of the creative process to a wider group of participants who can interact with the work in deeply personal ways.