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Steel chains, straws & styrofoam form functional art at the Schuylkill Center
Lifestyle

Steel chains, straws & styrofoam form functional art at the Schuylkill Center

The center’s LandLab program gives artists a chance to spotlight ecological stewardship through their creations.

Metal chains, plastic straws and white foam are now part of the Schuylkill Center, the man-made materials shaped into aesthetically-pleasing installations that address solutions to urban and climate challenges.

Kate Farquhar, a Philly-based artist and landscape architect, designed Synestates through the 340-acre urban environmental education center’s LandLab residency.

Each of her three outdoor installations reminds viewers to be aware of their impact on nature, while demonstrating ways metal and plastic can be repurposed to benefit the environment.

“[It’s a] feeling that someone was here and if you pause and look around you, you can see you are surrounded by other organisms who spend time here, and you are not alone and can also  participate,” explained Farquhar, who specializes in green infrastructure.

Art & environmental awareness

Farquhar’s sculptures ­- pvines, Dolmbale, and Urlog – blend beauty with functionality.

Closeup view of pvines / photo courtesy of Liz Jelsomine

pvines weaves together steel chains, plastic straws and capillary fabric, which absorbs and then delivers water to plants. Hanging across tree branches, pvines encourages the growth of a native vine, Virginia creeper, and created homes for various insects.

A stack of logs, drilled with holes, is Urlog. The holes provide nesting grounds for insects whose habitats have been damaged by human development.

Urlog / photo courtesy of Liz Jelsomine

The artist’s favorite piece, Dolmbale, is a collection of cubes and pyramids cut from white foam that float on Wind Dance Pond.

They are an abstract representation of several nutrients found in Philly’s waterways – nitrogen, phosphorus and salt – that can fuel bacteria and algae growth, and in turn, cause other forms of aquatic life to die.

The shapes mirror the nutrients molecular structure and their size corresponds with the negative impact it has on water sources.

Dolmbale / photo courtesy of Liz Jelsomine

Dolmbale also acted as a water quality experiment.

With leaf packs positioned underneath some of the foam shapes, Farquhar was able to observe aquatic macroinvertebrates that gathered. By counting and identifying the small creatures, the artist and her installation provided data on water pollution.  

Sculptures to stay

Currently on view at the Schuylkill Center at 8480 Hagys Mill Road in Roxborough, Synestates may become a permanent fixture.

“Kate’s LandLab work will continue to be up until the state of it no longer makes sense as an artwork or it no longer serves the function it was intended to,” said Liz Jelsomine, the Schuylkill Center’s exhibition coordinator.


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Jamie McClelland
Jamie is a junior at Villanova University double majoring in English and Communications with a specialization in Media Production. She is currently an Editorial Intern at Green Philly. In her spare time she enjoys writing poetry and short stories, along with watching movies and exploring Philly. View all posts by Jamie McClelland

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