CINCINNATI -- Plant enthusiasts can improve their green thumbs as they take in some contemporary art this month.
From July 10 through 23, Valerie Molnar and Matt Spahr will bring their People Via Plants exhibition to Camp Washington’s Wave Pool contemporary art gallery.
People Via Plants is an interactive exhibition in which visitors are encouraged not only to observe but to participate.
“I think we both have had a long-term appreciation for plants,” said Spahr, who co-created the exhibition with Molnar.
Spahr and Molnar, whose respective backgrounds are in sculpture and painting, began working collaboratively in 2012. The two have worked together on numerous projects, many of which incorporate plants.
The duo is bringing People Via Plants to Cincinnati through Wave Pool’s Art Is Your Space residency program.
The program provides residency opportunities twice a year, in May and July. Two artists or collaborative teams are selected by a jury each fall through an application and interview process. The jury consists of five local art professionals and the Camp Washington Business Association president.
Jury members make it a point to award the residency to artists focused on social engagement, whose exhibitions will benefit not only themselves but Wave Pool and the surrounding community.
“It’s important that it’s a two-way street, that it’s beneficial for both of us,” said Cal Cullen, who co-founded Wave Pool in 2014 with her husband, Geoffrey.
Artists selected for a residency present their works at the gallery for a self-designated amount of time — usually about a month, Cullen said. Thanks to funding from ArtsWave in 2015 and Camp Washington Community Council and FUEL Cincinnati this year, the artists get a stipend and supply budget during their residency.
“It’s one of the few residency programs that actually pays the artist,” Cullen said. “It’s usually the other way around.”
People Via Plants kicks off July 10 with an official plant drop-off. People are invited to bring in house plants in need of rehabilitation.
Patrons can leave the plants to receive specialized care however long they like while the exhibition is going on. The level of care is dependent on the plant, but it generally includes repotting, providing new soil, cleaning leaves and removing those that are dead.
“It was super satisfying (last summer) in terms of just taking a minute to clean them and get them back up to par so they looked happy,” Molnar said.
She and Spahr may also write notes to owners on how to better care for their plants, if they have insects on them or are affected by another specific, identifiable problem.
While their approach to using plants in art is something Molnar and Spahr have developed together, artists have found inspiration in vegetation for a long time.
“I would say there’s a long-running history of plants within art as an impetus for the art,” Spahr said.
Although Molnar and Spahr said the influences of their individual artistic backgrounds come across as a byproduct of their work, the use of sculpture in the project stood out to Wave Pool jury members.
“What we really liked about their application and project is it’s very sculptural, the way they’re displaying the plants,” Cullen said.
In addition to displaying and caring for the plants, the artists will partner with community members to provide workshops during the exhibition. Local yoga instructors and local artist and librarian Steve Kemple will team up on July 16 to offer a workshop on metaphysical care, featuring music and poetry. A plant-care workshop led by plant-care specialists will follow.
“I would say I think both Val and I appreciate aspects of art which are experiential,” Spahr said.
The exhibition concludes July 23 with a “dance party plant celebration,” during which visitors can view the finished installation in the gallery and pick up their plants. A group of Walnut Hills High School students also will display their art in a coinciding exhibition in an upstairs gallery.
Cullen hopes that People Via Plants will enable community members to better care for their plants, but also help them see plant care as an art form.
“We hope to make Camp Washington, and Cincinnati in general, a place where contemporary art is really integrated with community,” she said.