Progressive foragers show their findings

By WilliamPrentiss

Nance Klehm forages for the dandelions, burdocks and yarrows growing in Illinois’ natural landscapes, but she doesn’t look for them in a forest. She pulls them from obscure places around the city where they sprout out of cracks in the sidewalk and from train stops where noisy locomotives regularly rattle their leaves.

Her urban foraging is among the 99 creative uses of an urban environment that can be found in the new exhibit, “Actions: What You Can Do with the City.” The exhibit premiered in Chicago on Oct. 16 at the Graham Foundation Madlener House, 4 W. Burton Place, and will run through March 13, 2010. It features a multitude of individuals and organizations in cities spanning the world that have subverted conventional ideas about how a city should function. Actions range from humorous and playful to more serious efforts by cities.

The exhibit was created by the Canadian Centre for Architecture in November 2008 to research growing issues in the urban environment. Klehm was featured in the exhibit’s first showing in Montreal, Quebec, where she led a foraging trip.

Mirko Zardini, chief curator of Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture, said the point of showing all of these separate incidences is to collectively inspire more people to critically think about their environment.

“The idea was to show how the combined effect of a lot of small actions—mainly motivated by individual or group activities from the bottom up—could really improve the urban environment in which we live,” Zardini said. “That is also, in a certain way, a call for responsible actions outside of each of us in the urban environment.”

The exhibit in the Madlener House comprises seven different sections, each with a large table at its center displaying a variety of maps, photos, video tapes and models for people to see. Many of the original items are set in display cases on the tables or on the walls. One notable item is a steel suit fixed with multiple roller-skating wheels one can speed across pavement on. Next to it, a small TV shows the inventor traversing Paris in his suit, stopping in front of the Louvre and grinning under the grill of his helmet.

Klehm is based in Chicago and her preferred foraging spots are next to train tracks where seeds settle with the passing wind.

“I want people to realize the train tracks are a really interesting, wild part of the city since they create open corridors for animals and seeds to travel on,” Klehm said. “There’s a lot of ecological diversity along our transportation ways.”

The point of urban foraging is to find weeds in the cities’ disparate bits of ecology that can be used for medicine or food. Klehm said these weeds can help with digestive problems, earaches, colds, healing cuts, bee stings or burns. All the pieces in the show demonstrate great ways to interact with an urban landscape in a more relational way, she said.

Every item shown at the Madlener House is available to peruse on the exhibit’s

Web site. In addition, anyone can sign up for the chance to show the world how they’ve interacted with their city by submitting photos of their own unique action. The winners from the first contest can also be found there and winners for the current contest will be displayed next February in the Madlener House.

“These are tools that have to be available to everybody,” Zardini said. “It’s a Web site where everybody can post … For us it’s an important move. It’s an exhibition that better presents a new direction of the institution that’s more active and proactive in defining the contemporary debate.”

More information and a complete listing of all actions can be found at