Windowsills: pollination (2000) was one of four residencies commissioned by Plymouth University and Spacex Gallery as part of a research project into art in an urban context. It aimed to explore new genres of public art and inclusive/relational practices. It was funded by the Arts Council and the National Lottery.
It was a year-long project working in the St Thomas area of Exeter. The area is made up of terraced streets, built for railway workers in the late 19th century. Prior to this the area was dedicated to plant growing, because St Thomas is parts of the River Exe’s flood plain and until 1950, the area was regularly inundated.
The terraced housing offers little privacy from the street. The Windowsills project explicitly engaged with public and private boundaries relating to the home. Pollination involved working with scents. It reflected both historical and contemporary issues about notions of boundaries.
The project was based on research into Jacobson’s Organ, which is found in the nose. Apparently our responses to people and place are primarily informed by these olfactory instincts. The research explored scent as a medium, which transcends physical and perceptual boundaries, and yet is associated in the animal world with marking territories.
The project responded to the terraced housing being on the site of plant nurseries for the last 400 years. Some, such as the Pince and Lucombe nurseries were extremely high profile, sending out plant hunters around the world to bring new species of plants back to England.
Pollination involved collaborating with over local 200 people. This initially involved schools and other organised groups, but as the project developed the conversations increasingly took place in people homes. It involved evidencing the scented plants which been grown in the area previously. The project explored the resident's social behaviour patterns, and involved them enrolling their neighbours in participating in the project.
Pollination: is the process by which pollen is transferred from the anther (male part) to the stigma (female part) of the plant, thereby enabling fertilization and reproduction
Stage 1: re-scenting street corners
This involved reintroducing the scents of plants grown on each site e.g. freesias, night scented stocks, lavender, pinks, using scent dispensers,which are normally used to sanitise toilets or changing rooms.
The 14 scent dispensers showed different photographs from the family albums of local growers such as Gerald Sclater, Brian Randall and Anne Pleace, in addition to archive photos from local residents Mavis Piller and Kevin White. (Many thanks to them for permission to use their images).
The person who lived in the house where the scent dispenser was located selected which scent/image they wanted.
Stage 2: planting
This involved the actual scented plants, which were supplied by the two remaining local nurseries. They were planted up in window boxes which were handed out as part of a weekend long event.
The plants for each street corresponded to the synthetic smells of the scent dispensers located there. The residents were free to keep the boxes and replant them as they wished.
As the window boxes needed to be frequently watered over the summer months it meant that neighbours would coincide and have conversations whilst watering their plants.
Stage 3: private/public
Photographs of the residents’ back gardens were displayed on the window boxes. In terraced housing this is usually the only private area not visible from the road.
In terms of legacy, 85% of boxes were still being planted and tended several years later.
Locality, Regeneration & Divers©ities
This book surveys the various ways that artists engage with urban spaces, notably ones that are being regenerated. It explores notions of what locality might be.
It features the Windowsills project in Exeter.
Publisher: Intellect Books.
Texts by: Jane Rendell, Judith Rugg, Malcolm Miles, Ron Kenley, Jane Trowell, Sarah Bennett and Gill Melling, Peter Dunn, John Gingell.