We Are Earth Just as We are of the Earth
Olivia Guterson in Detroit Studio. November 2021.Photo by Sal Rodriguez
Tu BiShvat has always held a special place in my heart. For one, how can I not celebrate the splendor and magnificence of trees? Growing up predominantly in the Pacific Northwest, I have had my share of being utterly blown away by our great living ancestors, such as red cedars and the grounding scent and strength of Douglas firs. Practically though, as someone with asthma (not triggered by pollen), trees act as pillars of love.
Recently, I’ve been contemplating the spiritual dimension of environmental awareness and the responsibility to act compassionately and with consideration of all living beings. So when the opportunity to work with Hazon and the JCC of Metro Detroit on a Tu BiShvat collaboration for a gallery exhibition opening and a live artistic performance, I felt called to show up.
Before I talk about Tu BiShvat, I have to talk about the wisdom, richness, and possibility in a shmita year, which we are currently in. For some the radical idea of releasing and lying fallow is just that – something to ponder, discuss, and maybe aspire to. For others, it is an embodied practice, a grand reset, a mandate rooted in ancient ecological knowledge that when let be, we reset and maybe even rewild. That to me feels like embracing and finding a way to root into the liminal spaces all around us. What is available to us in the pause? When it comes to the state of our planet, it doesn’t always feel like there is room to pause, and yet, I believe we need to do just that. In order to get in the right relationship and rhythm with the earth, we need to pause, release, listen, and remember. I believe there is richness available when we are truly attuned to earth and live deeply in our interconnectedness.
For Tu BiShvat this year and in collaboration with multi-disciplinary Michigan artists and independent curators Laura Earle and Leslie Sobel, I am proud to be curating and showing works in an exhibition we’ve titled Environmentally Speaking. The exhibit, opening on Tu BiShvat and running through March 3, offers vulnerable, honest works by 15 artists that explore moving into right relationship with land, place, and one another. Engaging in a critical conversation about our changing climate and the related perils we face, Environmentally Speaking is a multi-sensory and accessible exhibition examining our interspecies connectedness, offering viable ways we can positively impact our collective future now. This is not a show that seeks to act as a smoke signal or launching of a movement, but more an invitation to come home to ourselves, one another, and earth.
I believe wholeheartedly in the power of art to connect us, open our eyes and hearts, and cause us to collectively dream and orient towards a better future for us all. The moments when the news gets so loud and it seems like the whistles have never not been going off, I turn to my ancestral knowledge and my faith. My Jewishness has always been an expansive, living, and breathing practice that offers seeds of knowledge and reminds me of my responsibility to be a good steward always.
Folks may plant trees to mark this New Year for Trees. I have created 15 offerings this Tu BiShvat. It is not lost on me that 15 artists will be in conversation and in doing so creating a constellation of entry points into the hard work and conversations needed around the health of our planet. Likewise, It is not lost on me that the three of us curating this show are not only Jewish and artists, but we are also mothers. And finally, it is not lost on me that my offerings to this show ended up totaling 15. I create 14 earth portals and in collaboration with Laura Earle, an illuminated tree of life. Uplifting the divine role of trees as vital for our collective healing and health, my works are all rooted in an awareness of the current state of our climate and also seek to serve as a reminder to the splendor, awe, and beauty that is possible when we remember that we are earth just as we are of the earth.
Learn more about Olivia Guterson and her work at midnightolive.com.