Article by Laura Relyea; video by Ethan Payne.
Envisioning the world in which nature is a commodity is, unfortunately, not too far a stretch for even the least imaginative amongst us. We’re living in an era of headlines that could easily have been pulled from dystopian fiction.
Still, despite these harsh realities, the notion of nature as a consumable could still seem somewhat far-fetched. In an effort to make the implausible tangible, Transient Project Residents Oliver Blank and Asha Jimenez aimed to make a prototype with their project, The Last Conservatory. “There are tons of people who live in cities, go to work every day and are inside, don’t get to really be outdoors very often, or are maybe in front of screens a lot,” says Jimenez. “To just get them to be physically reconnected with the Earth,” she says, is their goal.
What at first appears to be a barren tree trunk is actually a distinctive sensory experience that only reveals itself if one fully embraces the trunk and rests the head on top of it. The soft cushion of moss pillows the ear, and the small, aromatic mint plants distributed throughout it fills the nostrils with their signature invigorating and crisp perfume. If the trunk seems to radiate, that’s due to the Luci solar light embedded within it. Also hidden in its depths, beneath the plants and earth, is a small speaker and MP3 player which has been preloaded with therapeutic sounds and readings of poetry that were crowdsourced from the couple’s friends and family.
Over the course of their month in-residence with AIR Serenbe, Blank and Jimenez used their combined talents in computer programming, art installation, original composition and experiential design to create the work, which they then presented to the community at Serenbe’s weekly farmer’s market. “This was unexpected and pretty phenomenal,” said Kristin Genet, a Serenbe resident, after her interaction with the nature exhibit. Another resident, Rebecca Bradley, remarked that the work was a “sublime sensory experience of nature, music and beautiful poetry.”
Prior to their residence at AIR Serenbe, Blank and Jimenez had been exposed to a lifestyle much more void of nature than what many Georgia residents themselves would be accustomed to. Both artists were in the process of leaving their high-level tech jobs in California — Blank worked at Google.org and Jimenez at Thought Works, experiences which directly informed their artistic pursuits.
Blank, who in the past has created installations composing orchestral music for deserted buildings as well as a phone line that collected messages for lost loves and friends, also serves on the advisory board of SXSW Eco in addition to being a Practitioner-in-Residence at Berkeley. Jimenez, too, is wrapped up in motions of modernity, both with her work in engineering and her individual artistic and documentary film pursuits.
It was these interests, in combination with their own heritages and upbringings, that inspired the couple to embark on their ongoing conceptual project, How To Leave It All Behind. Blank is of Russian and Iranian descent and was raised in Manchester, United Kingdom. Jimenez is Venezuelan-Canadian and of Hungarian and Venezuelan descent. Both come from families who were forced to flee their own countries for refuge from oppressive regimes and dictatorships. “For a little bit of time, the States is or has been my home,” says Blank. “Then the new administration came in, and despite having my green card, I felt like maybe this isn’t necessarily home.”
When the couple realized that they found themselves disenchanted with their nine-to-five jobs and living in a country with an increasingly hostile political environment, they made the joint decision to search for a new home for themselves as their ancestors had been forced to for generations. Their search has led them not only to Atlanta, but to Hawaii, New Orleans, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende, and Baja. Currently, they are in residence with City State in Indianapolis where they are exploring experimental design. In September they will be embarking to Frankfurt, Germany, to speak and present a workshop at meConvention where they will be creating their second How To Leave It All Behind mural. All the while, Blank and Jimenez are in the process of developing their own agency, Outside, taking on only projects that, in their words, “reduce suffering and promote peace and well-being.”