Theatre in the Park Temporary Art Installation
"Symbiosis" by Matthew Dehaemers
On Display NOW thru August at Theatre in the Park!
Where to See It:
7710 Renner Road, Shawnee Mission, KS 66219
Community Engagement Project - Seed Balls
Thanks to all who participated!
Event occurred on Saturday, June 18th from 6:30 - 7:30 PM.
This seed ball creation activity for all ages was an opportunity to literally take part in the furthering of the art installation "Symbiosis" alongside artist Matthew Dehaemers. The event was hosted by the JCPRD Public Art Program with artist Matthew Dehaemers and the Grassland Heritage Foundation.
Artist Statement by Matthew Dehaemers
Over the years my art process has aligned itself more closely with the other hat I wear as a landowner. On this land I am the steward of a 12-acre virgin, unplowed prairie. As the prairie’s caretaker, I work to protect this remnant prairie. Today only one-half percent of original prairie still exists in the United States. Once the soil is turned over you can never truly get the complex construction of that soil back to make it true prairie. Every day of every season I learn something new about this prairie and the 110 plus species of grasses, wildflowers and forbs that live on its surface. It is amazing to think that some of these plants have root systems that extend 12 feet below ground—roots that even weave in and through the limestone below. These moments of learning and discovery are reflected in my work.
The definition of symbiosis is “interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both. I reflect on this word as it represents the relationship between living organisms and the soils they grow in. To offer a sense of perspective--one tablespoon of soil contains more organisms in it than there are people on earth. Another fact is that it takes a minimum of 500 years to form one inch of topsoil. The microbes that construct our soil have a mutually beneficial relationship with all plant life, including trees. Fungi which attach themselves to the inside and outside of the roots extend their individual reach out beyond the roots, creating a vast and delicate network between trees. Fungi supply the trees with nutrients and in return the tree gives the fungi necessary sugars for its existence. This altruistic relationship is what helped established the environment and ecosystem we have today.
What lies beneath us is a complexity of life we are only beginning to understand. We are learning that it is vital to take care of our soil because it's necessary for our existence. I wanted to take the scale of the micro-world of micro-organisms and blow it up to a massive scale. This shrinks us to the world of the microbe. This change of scale drives home the point that this world of micro-organisms is really in charge of all life on earth, not us. The structure is the crown of a tree from the park that has been flipped upside down, so what were the branches now become the roots. Atop the structure is an abstracted shell of a seed form that is giving birth to a new leafy sprout. The complimenting, colorful elements and the structures illumination at night help create a sense of magic and wonder as you walk among the structure. There is a complex beauty to this symbiotic relationship between all organism that I wanted to celebrate in this work. My hope is that we can learn how important our role is in our symbiotic relationship with this complex, magical, micro world beneath our feet.
Thank you to my wife Shayla and my kids Sienna and Cole for their support throughout this project. I would like to especially thank Susan Mong and Jen Newell as well as the entire JCPRD Public Art Committee, The Shawnee Mission Park Operations crew including Kelby Hellwig, Jeff Girard and Matt Kermashek, Harold Sparks, Colby Dalton, and Adam Pollard from Blue Hat Crane, Ben McAnany and Matt Tadlock of McAnany Construction.
Sourcing of the Tree
The tree was located within Shawnee Mission Park, east of Shawnee Mission Lake. It was slated for removal due to some significant physical injuries and a fairly recent carpenter ant infestation. This tree was a perfect candidate to repurpose for public art use. A permit was provided to allow the artists to utilize a tree on site for this purpose, collaborating closely with park staff on selection and transportation within the park. The unusual shape illustrates beautifully the complexity of the root structures within our prairie soil ecosystem here at this park! Many larger, much healthier trees are in the immediate area and this removal will not impact the look or feel of the landscape.
Installation Process Photos
Project Inspiration & Educational Resources
- "Talking Trees: How do Trees Communicate?" by Let's Talk Science
- "The Soil of Life" poem by Saumya
- The Save Soil Movement, initiated by Sadhguru, by Conscious Planet
About the Artist
Matthew Dehaemers employs a vast arsenal of mediums, from water, wood, steel, and bread, to recycled glass and water bottles. Inspired by aspects of history, contemporary issues, community life and the ecology of the Midwest, his goal is to make art that operates on different levels of audience engagement. Sonya Andrews of Review Magazine wrote, “Dehaemers places a great deal of importance on the transformative forces of culture, history, and place.” She goes on later to say, “Kansas City’s visual art community will no doubt greatly benefit from Dehaemers’ ongoing participation. It will be exciting to see what the next decade will bring for his career. His desire to engender dialogue on our culture, history, trajectory, and identity is passionate and clear.” His work addresses issues that are social, economic, and environmental, from the global water crisis to telemarketing and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In 1996 after graduating with his B.F.A from Creighton University, Dehaemers spent a year living and teaching high school art on the Navajo Reservation in St. Michael, Arizona. In 2001, Dehaemers earned his M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Theatre in the Park Art Selection Committee includes:
Pictured: Kelby Hellwig, Georgia Sizemore, Tim Bair, Susan Mong, Jonathan Thomas, Shelly Trewolla, Jen Rivas. Not pictured: Darcy Stewart.
- Tim Bair
JCPRD Culture Division / Theatre in the Park
- Kelby Hellwig
JCPRD Parks & Golf Courses
- Susan Mong
JCPRD Superintendent of Culture
- Jen Rivas
City of Shawnee
- Georgia Sizemore
JCPRD Planning & Development
- Darcy Stewart
- Jonathan Thomas
Theatre Advisory Council Member & Lyric Opera of Kansas City
- Shelly Trewolla
Public Art Committee