A major new cultural event celebrating diversity and migration through the UK's people and plants
77% of plants found in the UK’s city gardens originated overseas according to a forthcoming major study by Professor Jane Memmott, Professor of Ecology at Bristol University and President of the British Ecological Society, and colleagues.*
Taking this remarkable statistic as inspiration, Trigger Collective has created the major cultural event and installation PoliNations, which has been commissioned as part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, as a way to reflect on the UK’s complex histories surrounding migration and diversity whilst celebrating our differences, our roots, and our future, and emphasising the importance of access to green spaces and a healthy planet for all.
Taking the form of an epic forest-garden bursting with living plant life and sheltered by 40-foot tall architectural ‘supertrees’ taking over Birmingham’s 1300m2 Victoria Square, PoliNations uncovers the origin stories of many mainstays of traditional UK gardens, including the ‘Hybrid Tea Rose’ (hybridised China and Asian forms), classic ‘Weeping Willows’ (introduced from China and the Middle East), lavender (brought over from countries around the Mediterranean), productive apple trees (imported from Kazakhstan) and tulips (Central Asia). Together they paint a picture of the journeys, migration, dispersal of plants we now consider to be part of our shared ecological identity. PoliNations will be a vibrant living oasis in Birmingham’s city centre filled with thousands of plants that have been co-grown and co-planted with local schools and community groups. It will be brought to life each day through forest tours, audio baths, light shows, talks and performances while the towering ‘supertrees’ will capture rainwater and create electricity through wind power to deliver a low carbon event.
PoliNations is produced by Trigger Collective, which is led by Bristol-based arts organisation Trigger, whose ArtisticDirector Angie Bual is working with multi-disciplinary designer Carl Robertshaw, set and costume designer Bronia Housman, events specialist Dock Street Events, architectural studio THISS, and horticulturalists Arbor-Nova. For the project, Trigger has brought together experts in the fields of horticulture, science, architecture, and the arts from the likes of Chelsea Flower Show to Notting Hill Carnival and London 2012 to RuPaul’s Drag Race (UK).
Each evening, under the canopy of the ‘supertrees’ (fabricated by Format Engineers), visitors will experience an incredible light show designed by Matt Daw - the light designer behind international theatre and concert events including opera, film, exhibitions and large events with the likes of The XX, Sigur Rós, Björk and The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Troilus and Cressida. Throughout PoliNations, all are invited to visit the ‘Glam Dome’ - home to a working costume studio where expert designers Joey A Frenette, aka Bourgeoisie (RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Hatchling) and Clary Salandy from Mahogany Carnival are on hand to help the public make their own creations. Meanwhile, the ‘Creation Dome’ will be a place to learn about the diversity of plants and explore some of the meanings, histories and significance that have been attached to them through talks, workshops and tours.
Angie Bual, Creative Director of PoliNations and Co-Director of Trigger, said: “2020 was a tumultuous year. We saw the global rediscovery of how vital green spaces are for our individual and collective mental wellbeing and experienced a long-awaited reckoning of the impacts of slavery, empire and colonialism through the Black Lives Matter movement protests. We felt inspired by these events to create a place that brought these topics together – harnessing the metaphor of seed dispersal to create a conversation about the importance of biodiversity and living in a bio, diverse city. “PoliNations takes its inspiration from the fundamental truth that the very landscape and plant life that surrounds us each day is multicultural. It celebrates the colour and vibrancy that plants and flowers have brought to the UK and invites us to reimagine our societies as more diverse, greener and wilder places to be. Combining engineering, horticulture, theatre and music from around the world, PoliNations is a spectacular co-grown forest garden that will ignite the senses and deepen understanding of our shared history, bringing people together from all walks of life with an utterly unforgettable finale.”
* From “Turnover in floral composition explains species diversity and temporal stability in the nectar supply of urban residential gardens” by Tew et al. In press, Journal of Applied Ecology – due for publication early 2022.