The parallel between the unwanted plants and graffiti is used to prove a point.
Phytology is a project based in the UK that brings artists and botanists together to explore the medicinal properties of plants normally considered nothing more than weeds. In order to reach a wider audience, and challenge people’s preconceptions, the talented Portuguese street artist Alexandre Farto, also known as Vhils, has been commissioned to produce a site-based mural. The result is a unique, but powerful approach that combines scientific research with art.
“Weeds are basically a plant growing in the wrong place, just as graffiti is an artwork or method of communication that exists outside conventional institutions,” says Smythe. “Both are somewhat uncontrollable and persistent, and both offer a certain amount of complexity. To my eyes there’s a direct relationship between street art and weeds, between wild plants, graffiti, urban environments, communication, and culture.”
Some of the preferred techniques that Vhils uses for his murals include stencil painting, wall carving and pyrotechnic explosion drawings. He also likes to features ordinary people in his work, something he explains in more detail on the Phytology website.
Instead of creating icons out of people who have changed history, like what Warhol was doing with Mao and others, I take an ordinary person and try and make people think about the ordinary citizens who struggle everyday to eke a living in contemporary society.
For this project, however, the artist went a slightly different route and covered a church wall with a series of complex molecular diagrams. “People can grow wild plants and produce their own plant-based remedies and teas in this nature preserve,” says Vhils. “I wanted to depict molecular structures related to medicinal plants and blended that with the illnesses they fight.”
To demonstrate the power and resilience of weeds, visitors are invited to explore, and freely harvest from the Phytology site, which can be found at the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve in the heart of East London. It’s open to the public every Friday and Saturday, until September 2014. The organizers also plan to bring other visual artists on board, with the hope of exploring more themes, and showing just how useful weeds can be in an urban context.
Images by Alexandre Farto