Key members of the curatorial team that brought the Multispecies Salon to New Orleans—Nina Nichols and Amy Jenkins—used happenings in the gallery as an opportunity to show off Molly, Bunny, and Sylvie, three prized goats who lived on an urban farm, the Pretty Doe Dairy. While the goats gnashed at plants springing up between askew sidewalk slabs, Nichols told us about how the animals were involved in what she called “a guerrilla bioremediation scheme.”
When not on display in art galleries, the goats were living on vacant lots surrounding Nina’s house in the Saint Roch neighborhood, where they were slowly clearing blighted properties of poison ivy. The goats not only transformed the neighborhood’s overgrowth and refuse into milk, but, according to Nichols, they were helping humans inhabit an otherwise inhospitable landscape. After goats eat poison ivy, their milk has a prophylactic effect against the noxious plant, she claims. “If you drink the milk, or eat the cheese we make, you simply won’t have a problem with poison ivy.”
“Amy and I are in love with our goats,” Nina said. “They are truly the most loving and intelligent farm animals. We built them a fortress in the back forest where they can give birth to their babies on beds of fresh straw and munch away on our poison ivy. When we make cheese from their poison ivy milk, it will give immunity to whoever drinks it.”
By twisting a poisonous plant into a cure, the Pretty Doe Dairy was playing with unexpected alchemy. Rather than uncritically celebrating the aesthetics of decay, Nichols and Jenkins used weedy plants to sustain lovable life forms. As a riotous diversity of unloved plant life proliferated in New Orleans alongside laissez-faire dream worlds, as cat’s claw claimed buildings and poison ivy made people wary of wandering through blighted lots, they generated new urban lifeways.
Making life and death cuts in entangled ecological worlds, distinguishing enemy species from allies, Nina and Amy were thriving in alliance with others in a zone of abandon. While other artists in the Multispecies Salon searched their imaginative horizons for elusive possibilities, this pair of urban farmers grounded modest hopes in living figures—individual animals capable of living in neglected places.
See also: Hope in Blasted Landscapes
Kirksey, Eben et al. (2014) “Hope In Blasted Landscapes” in The Multispecies Salon, Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 53-56.The Ladies Society for Alchemical Agriculture