O Great Mullein!

Sky Christoph, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design

Collaborators: Cameron Wilson, School of Music, Theatre & Dance; Olivia Johnson, School of Music, Theatre & Dance; Liam Connolly, School of Environment & Sustainability; Bryce Richardson, School of Music, Theatre & Dance; Jane Koelsch, Sasha Yakovenko, School of Music, Theatre & Dance; Arianna Stadler, School of Music, Theatre & Dance and Kinesiology

We are creating a ten minute performance centered around our personal relationship of learning from plants, most specifically with Great Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). A choreographed dance will center around telling the two year life cycle of a mullein plant, in which five performers dance around a soft fabric sculpture of mullein in the center of the space. The top of this sculpture is pulled upwards by a pulley throughout the performance, simulating its growth. Spoken word guides the performance, reflecting on colonialism and personal memory through scientific and indigenous knowledge. A cellist and a vibraphonist play in accompaniment, and two more people are positioned around the perimeter of the performance space making ambient sound using plant material. A hired PAT major will manipulate the sound live through Ableton Live and Max/MSP.

Through our study of traditional Anishinaabe plant knowledge as in the books “Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask: Anishinaabe Botanical Teachings” by Mary Siisip Geniusz; and “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, we have learned how consumerism and capitalism have reduced our view of the natural world to a commodity we extract value from, rather than a system based on relationship and reciprocity. We are focusing on one plant—mullein—with the intention of opening people’s minds and hearts to the possibility of what we can learn from everyday plants. Mullein served as one of the first plants that we formed a personal connection with in our own journeys into appreciation of the natural world. Its medicinal properties and identifiable characteristics—teddy bear-like leaves, towering stalk—serve as factors that make it a good invitation for other people to appreciate plants.

The debut performance of “O Great Mullein!” will take place on February 5, 2022, at Cameron’s senior percussion recital.