Inna Alesina is an earth-advocate, and also, a professor, an author, a designer and a maker. Her work has merited over a dozen patents, numerous design awards, and has been highlighted by exhibitions, residencies, and workshops.

Inna Alesina was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, where she studied industrial design. 2018 Red Dot Design Award winner, Alesina works in many disciplines including object design, performance wear, ergonomics, communication design, food systems, and bio materials. Alesina co-authored a book, Exploring Materials: Creative Designs for Everyday Objects (PAPress, 2010). Alesina is an Professor of Art and Graphic Design at Stevenson University, USA.

Issues of environmental sustainability drive my work. The interconnectedness of human actions, invisible organisms, material flows, consumerism, waste, and natural systems serves as just a starting point for every piece I create. I see design as a connective tissue that allows me to delve into other disciplines not only for inspiration but more for information and opportunities for collaboration. Creating experiences rather than finished objects, “Bread Zoo,” and my more recent work, “Overlooked,” explore yeast, mycelium, lichen, moss, and lesser-visible processes in nature, such as “Overlooked Tempos,” “Overlooked Cycles,” and “Overlooked Connections.”

“The Gifts of Time, Space, and Attention” invites the public to imagine speculative scenarios where the world is overcome by invasives, and new daily rituals and practices can engage people in ways to heal themselves, the land, and its non-human inhabitants. Using participatory activities and multisensory events where the public can taste, smell, and make artifacts, my art installation continues into people’s kitchens where they finish baking the bread they started at the gallery or on the nature walk where they identify fungi or a plant. At this exhibit, people will be encouraged to dig up a non-native invasive plant and plant something native instead.

According to the US Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, climate change will exacerbate the spread of invasive plants northward. Coincidentally, the projected future hotspot of invasive plant abundance is predicted to be in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the US, specifically the Maryland/Pennsylvania border — my current home. In a world with a novel ecosystem (plants, insects, and animals that create a patchwork of food webs after human-made disturbance), new daily rituals and practices can engage people in ways to heal themselves, the land, and its non-human inhabitants.

“The Gifts of Time, Space, and Attention” explores the needs of the land where introduced exotic organisms threaten the biodiversity of the system. In my recent work, I explore introduced invasive plants from many angles, including food, natural dye, speculative design, sculpture, fashion, branding, participatory design, and more.

“The Gifts of Time, Space & Attention” is a compilation of artifacts and interactions focusing on destructive invasive plants and the value of biodiversity in Maryland. Inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass” and her acknowledgment of the power in listening to the brilliance and generosity of nature itself, I have used the branches and berries of the invasives as my medium. The project’s title refers both to my time, space, and attention, but also to the time needed for the environment to grow and adapt, the space to nourish the species that inhabit it, and the attention by exhibit viewers and participants to make better, informed decisions—purchasing plants or removing undesirable ones.

As a forager, wild food cook, artist, educator, designer, and maker, I began my personal relationship with invasive plants as a volunteer for Gunpowder State Park four years ago. As the eradication of invasive species is difficult and ongoing, my time in the forest led me to experiment with ways of interacting with the plants themselves. The sharp barbs of the barberry inspired me to design a tool to safely harvest the berries on the plant. I began making food, dyes, medicines, and recipe books but then became interested in teaching and storytelling using product design and video. I enlisted 18 volunteers to help with invasive berries removal and to test the tool prototypes.

The most symbolically significant artifact designed is the series of pouches, each holding sterilized seeds of three different invasives—Autumn Olive berries (Elaeagnus umbellate), Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), and Linden viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum). Seeds left over after cooking are washed, dried, and used to stuff small, sculptural, fabric pouches. Each unique pouch prevents the growth of its enclosed seeds with their accompanying destructive encroachment power, thereby creating the gift of time, space, and attention.

In addition to spending time on walks and workdays, I started a daily practice of observing the plants closely and making watercolor studies of invasive plants exploring different techniques. The studies could seem redundant, yet this exercise honed my ability to recognize and identify plants better. Many watercolors on display are samples of those studies.

The most unique part of this exhibition is an invasive buyback/watercolor exchange. The artist’s workstation will be set up in the gallery where during the opening reception and at additional scheduled times, the artist will meet with people who are interested in removing an invasive plant from their property in exchange for a commissioned (free) watercolor. The plant (roots and all) needs to be brought to the gallery and will become part of the exhibit. Commissioned work will be picked up at the end of the show.

Another part of the exhibition is a room with floors covered by painted canvases. One canvas symbolizes the manicured garden with exotic plants escaped to the local ecosystem. Another painted canvas depicts the entanglement of invasive vines found around Baltimore and the slogan “Free yourself by freeing the trees.” Both paintings encourage people not to buy invasive plants and to remove invasives from their property.

Walls will be covered with steps and ideas for giving gifts to the land, from learning how to identify plants to foraging with invasives and more. Visitors can scan the QR code to download a free recipe book and a local invasives field guide.

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