Miranda Bellamy is an artist whose work examines ideas of queerness from a trans perspective. Recently collaborative projects with Amanda Fauteux have focused on site-specific engagements with the environment and plant communication. Miranda has practiced extensively since 2008 around NZ and internationally. Her interdisciplinary practice has led to many varied outcomes including with Circuit NZ, Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Gus Fisher Gallery, Enjoy Public Gallery, Invercargill Museum and Gallery, Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Centre (NB, Canada), Kallio Kunsthalle (Helsinki, Finland), and Supermarket (Stockholm, Sweden). She has attended residencies in Invercargill, Wairarapa, Nevada (U.S) and New Brunswick (Canada).
The Jan Warburton trust supported Miranda Bellamy to attend the Vermont Studio Center artist in residence programme for four weeks in Nov/Dec 2019. A VSC residency provides artists and writers the time and space to focus on their creative practice in an inclusive, international community within a small northern Vermont village. Miranda and her partner and collaborator Amanda Fauteux developed a number of new works around the story of the American chestnut tree. Since their residency, they've been invited to participate in exhibition programming at the VSC, and to present an online guest lecture. Pathfinding, which Miranda created during the residency was also exhibited alongside Gus Fisher Gallery's exhibition Queer Algorithms.
American chestnut trees were once abundant giants in the forests of eastern North America. They were a highly valued and important resource. In these forests, one in four trees was a chestnut, growing to towering heights and producing a bounty of nuts late in the season. The leaves contained more nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium than other trees that share their habitat, returning nutrients to the soil in the fall. The lumber was naturally rot resistant. The nuts were nutritious and attracted animals that could be hunted. Nuts were even used as currency in some regions. Almost all were devastated by an introduced fungal blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) in the early 1900s. Four billion trees were lost. The blight persists and prevents American chestnuts from maturing. This keystone species is functionally extinct.
Innovations in biotechnology have made advances toward engineering a blight resistant tree. Regulatory bodies are being lobbied to lift current restrictions so it can be planted in forests with the deliberate intention of spreading freely. Biotechnology has never been used to assist a reforestation effort.We are interested in the stories, visions, and complications that the American chestnut tree introduces and how these things are embedded in the tree, and in our gesture and artwork, for example: the unforeseen impact that bioengineering could have on wild ecosystems, the inherent issues present in technological utopianism as an approach to climate crisis and to repair damage that has been done, the potential that this tree is a trojan horse for more controversial bioengineering projects in the future, the lack of awareness or access to Indigenous stories of the chestnut tree as the old growth trees disappeared alongside the systemic genocide of Indigenous peoples, the tone of xenophobia we came across in many narratives about the American chestnut tree destroyed by an introduced blight from Asia, the reminder that we have already irreversibly altered all ecosystems and ushered in
a new era of the Anthropocene, and the hope that reintroducing the species could have a healing impact on the entire ecosystem and sustain wildlife in the eastern forests in a way that has not been possible since the loss of the chestnuts.
We connected with the American Chestnut Foundation who helped us to locate a mature American chestnut tree in Berlin, Vermont. With permission from the foundation, we drove to the site, walked through the woods, and managed to locate this incredibly rare tree. We spent some time with the tree, observing its surroundings and its stature. We gathered fallen leaves. We took clay impressions of its deeply textured bark. We recorded video footage of the tree and biodata from the moss that grew on its trunk. In the studio, we edited these images and sounds into a video portrait.
At the end of our residency we unveiled a permanent tree plaque installed on the VSC campus. The plaque holds place for planting a transgenic blight resistant American chestnut tree, should they ever become available. It holds place for remembering what is lost as a consequence of human behaviour. It holds place for contemplating our position within the ecosystem.
We thank the VSC for support in providing space and ongoing custodial care of this tree, or the idea that its potential represents. We also thank the Jan Warburton Charitable Trust for their generous contribution toward Miranda attending the VSC.
Miranda Bellamy & Amanda Fauteux
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