natural art + public engagement
All images copyright to Kaitlin Pomerantz.
Kaitlin Pomerantz graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in Art History and Visual Art. After earning a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Painting from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she is now working toward an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art and a Certificate in Landscape Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.
Pomerantz described the influence of her upbringing on her interests today: “I grew up on the East River in lower Manhattan and from an early age was sensitive to how natural areas, like waterways, interact with built space.” Her father was active in sailing, oyster aquaculture and marine habitat restoration in Long Island’s North Fork, so Pomerantz spent a lot of time outdoors helping with his projects. Pomerantz took an interest in creating materials from traditional methods, like making pigments from soil or dirt or making dye or ink from plants. She looks to artists whose work spoke to issues in sustainability in subtle or indirect ways, such as John Cage, a famous composer and naturalist, who founded the New York Mycological Society dedicated to mushrooms, and Abbott Thayer, the father of camouflage patterning. Pomerantz said, “Knowing that these artists were involved in a dialogue with the natural world and its relationship to the human species makes me see their work differently.”
Integration with the City of Philadelphia
After moving to Philadelphia six years ago, Pomerantz became interested in urban flora and started doing projects on plant ecology in the urban space with botanist Zya Levy. This led to the foundation of We the Weeds, an ongoing project which includes ethnobotanical tours, art installations, science experiments, culinary events, and outreach initiatives. We the Weeds has partnered with many local institutions, including Philadelphia Mural Arts, the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, and the Schuylkill Center of Environmental Education. We the Weeds will presenting work for Monument Lab, a public art and civic research project, this spring.
Last summer, Pomerantz spent time at RAIR (Recycled Artist in Residency), a waste management facility in North Philadelphia, with collaborator John Broderick Heron. “Getting access to infinite waste material that could be transformed was an amazing experience,” said Pomerantz. “I think RAIR is one of the best initiatives in Philadelphia, and I hope it will get more institutional support in the future.” On her own art journey, Pomerantz reflected, “Opportunities have arisen from one to the next because Philadelphia’s art community is small, tight-knit, and progressive.”
Art for Change
When asked whether her work has a common theme, Pomerantz replied that she likes to respond to space: “My work allows me to consider humans’ relationship with landscape. I try to zoom in on under-recognized phenomena, whether that be weed species that come here from across the world or the polluted surfaces of local rivers that reveal the effects of our own behavior to us.”
Some of her work tangibly restores the physical environment. For example, Pomerantz conducted a remediation project in the Chesapeake Bay that involved creating underwater reef and oyster sculptures. She also does art that is more aesthetic in nature and aims to open people’s perspectives. Pomerantz enjoys regularly engaging with the public, and working with youth.
She will be teaching a drawing class at Penn this summer. She believes that “if you can bring [environmental] concepts and ideas into a traditional art class, it is just as effective [as leading a class in environmental art].” For example, Penn printmaking and drawing instructor Matt Neff, with whom Kaitlin currently works as a teaching assistant, frequently has students do all their drawings on a single sheet of paper or using found materials, and discourages the purchase of wasteful or toxic materials traditionally used in beginning drawing classes. Pomerantz sees this as a simple but powerful way of bringing the topic of sustainability into art making.
Pomerantz expressed support for the way in which the environmental movement is becoming more interdisciplinary and is creating more support networks, academic programs, and residencies for artists. She explained, “I think you can integrate sustainability into any topic, because its inherently part of every topic.”