Preface / A Garden Growing in Place



Preface: To the Reader, from Our Place of Shelter

April 9, 2020
From four bedrooms in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco



Dear Reader,

On March 17, 2020 all businesses deemed “non-essential” in the Bay Area were shuttered, and all events were postponed or cancelled. On March 19, a formal “shelter-in-place” order was issued by the governor of California, and just like that, life as we knew it changed. It is easy to lose track of how many days we have been sheltering in place. We were told this would be over April 7, a date later revised to April 30, and it is almost certain that date will shift again.

The Word for World is Forest was scheduled to open one week from today at the CCA Wattis Institute. The exhibition was to be the culmination and celebration of a year of research, collaboration, and imagination, and the capstone to our final year in the Curatorial Practice Graduate Program. As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the world, it became clear that the show and its opening would not take place as planned. Amidst a flood of emails in our inboxes about cancelled and postponed events, exhibitions, and programs, it is hard to pinpoint whether we received this news before we learned that hundreds of cultural workers were laid off at museums around the world or after. While we are disappointed and heartbroken, mourning the loss of an exhibition in the wake of global crisis feels selfish, untimely, and foolish.

Along with many facets of life, The Word for World is Forest now exists in an unpredictable state. We are trying to learn how to move forward holding uncertainty. Even the Bay Area weather doesn’t seem to know what to do. Days of sunshine pull us out of our sweatpants to feel the tingle of something on the edges of our skin, followed by grey rainstorms pushing us back inside. We pivot back and forth, between sadness and joy—sadness at the state of affairs and joy found in a plant’s new sprouts, the first hummingbird arriving to a newly built feeder, or a loved one’s call. We try to move forward against an invisible force compelling us to slow down. Sometimes we cave to the tension between forces, and sometimes we push through. Neither is the right answer right now.

It is important to understand we are also humans after all, with our own existential crises, worried about our families and loved ones, about visas, about our own financial precarity and graduating soon, and about many others. No matter what happens, we keep talking with each other, listening, giving space, trying to understand. We feel grateful for those who support us, artists who stand next to us in this chaos, and the mentors and people who are there for us.

The Word for World is Forest brings up the notion that societal changes can emerge from looking to the past and present. At this moment in time, we are facing multiple ruptures in the fabric that structures how we navigate our day to day lives. Our mission for this exhibition remains and has become all the more timely as the reality of a worldwide crisis sets in. How can we do this world-building from the confines of our isolation?

Looking to Ursula K. Le Guin, we remember the power of imagination ignited through books and stories. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we need to reimagine the possibilities with what we have available to us and not lose hope because of bleak circumstances. Here, in these pages, lies an exhibition that may never come to physical fruition. At the moment, we cannot install the artworks, paint the wall, nor turn on the lights in the Wattis gallery, but that does not limit our ability to reify the project through our imaginations. Page by page, we will walk you through the selected artists and their works, leave space for some of them to tell their own stories, and invite you to plant your own seeds.

This catalog proposes many possibilities. We hope you can take some comfort in that. Sit in your best chair, and prepare to be transported to the world this exhibition begins to build, in the hopes we will meet one day. Until we are released back into our own world, we will stay home to make sure that we are not a threat for the vulnerable ones, and hope for a better future for us all, as Ursula did.

—Fiona Ball, Naz Cuguoğlu, Chloe Kwiatkowski, Orly Vermes

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A Garden Growing in Place

Beatriz Cortez and her collaborator Elizabeth Pérez Márquez guided the curatorial cohort through planting garden plants indigenous to the Americas. This garden was originally intended for display within the exhibition. We followed these steps and planted seedlings at home. Here, we share the images of the gardens in Oakland and San Francisco. Please see the instructions available in the exhibition publication if you would like to join us in our collective dreaming by growing your own gardens wherever you are.


Corn and quinoa, April 30, 2020
Corn and quinoa, April 30, 2020
Amaranth, April 18, 2020
Amaranth, April 18, 2020
Beans, April 18, 2020
Beans, April 18, 2020
Chayote, April 18, 2020
Chayote, April 18, 2020
Corn, April 18, 2020
Corn, April 18, 2020
Spearmint, Jalapeños, Amaranth and Chayote; April 18, 2020
Spearmint, Jalapeños, Amaranth and Chayote; April 18, 2020
Quinoa, April 23, 2020
Quinoa, April 23, 2020
White Sage, April 23, 2020
White Sage, April 23, 2020
Potatoes, April 23, 2020
Potatoes, April 23, 2020
Potatoes, Beans and Quinoa; April 30, 2020
Potatoes, Beans and Quinoa; April 30, 2020
Jalapeño, April 18, 2020
Jalapeño, April 18, 2020
Potatoes, April 18, 2020
Potatoes, April 18, 2020
Potatoes, April 18, 2020
Potatoes, April 18, 2020
Potatoes, April 18, 2020
Potatoes, April 18, 2020
Potatotes, April 18, 2020
Potatotes, April 18, 2020
Quinoa, April 30, 2020
Quinoa, April 30, 2020
Quinoa, April 18
Quinoa, April 18