Artist Links Plants, Immigration in Exhibition

It’s not often
that an invasive plant species sparks a conversation on immigration. However, artist Jenny Yurshansky has made this connection with her work.

Yurshansky, the 2014 Pitzer College artist in residence, explored the tension between immigration and plants she found growing on the Claremont College campuses. In her exhibition, “Blacklisted: A Planted Allegory,” she uses the blacklist of
invasive species for an allegorical study of immigration.

“[My project] is about immigration,” she said. “It’s about plants and the absurdity that is applied to them related to the absurdity applied to people.”

Yurshansky calls
herself an “immigrant twice over.” Although she moved from her birthplace in Rome to Los Angeles, Yurshansky does not view herself as a typical immigrant. It was through her parents that she was able to see the role immigration plays in shaping one’s identity. 

“Nothing about me screams immigrant, other
than maybe my last name,” Yurshansky said. 

Now, she splits
her time between the United States and Sweden, a historically homogenous
culture. Despite its history, Sweden now accepts the greatest number of
refugees in Europe. It is this change in societal ideals that interests
Yurshansky.

She began her
creative research into immigration as artwork in her 2012 exhibition in Norway, which caught the eye of Ciara Ennis, director/curator of Campus Galleries at Pitzer. 

During her first meeting with Ennis, Yurshansky was invited to do a solo project for the Lenzner
Family Gallery. Ennis was interested in having Yurshansky do a large-scale
version of her work from Norway with more funding and access to multiple experts. 

Although she had done a smaller model in Norway, this exhibit had its own unique aesthetic, with a new format for the presentation of ideas. The entire
project took only thirty days. Within this short time period, though, Yurshansky
worked with forty experts and found a total of 133 invasive plant species. 

“[The experts] thought I would only find 60 or 70, but my
goal was that I was going to keep trying,” said Yurshansky. 

In contrast to a public gallery, where viewing work is usually an individual experience, Yurshansky said that a college
gallery provides a space for group discussion. Several classes attended the exhibit, such as
Restoration Ecology, Painting and Photography. 

“It is so exciting to me that there is engagement on all of these levels of dialogue,” Yurshansky said, responding to the
class attendance.  

Students who viewed the exhibit appreciated the interesting link between immigration and plants, but questioned the science behind the art. 

“I think there’s an interesting discussion between the juxtaposition of integrated hybrid species and the fear of ‘losing’ California native species,” Mary Jane Coppock SC ’17 said. “I think the near-extinction of the native flora is also really interesting in the context of Native American tribes that have been killed and pushed off their land, but at the same time, it’s most likely that these plants are going extinct because they’re mixing with other non-native species, which really didn’t happen much with these tribes.” 

Such commentary is in line with the interdisciplinary discussions of art that exist on college campuses. According to Yurshansky, the opportunity that Ennis gave her rarely arises. 

“Ciara is an amazing example of someone in her position,” Yurshansky said. “She knows what she is interested in and does whatever it takes to support the project […] The exhibition was very special to me because I was very lucky in getting quite a bit of funding. I didn’t have to make any concessions.”

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