Stored Knowledge was produced through time spent with and learning about the tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills of what is now eastern Kansas. Drought, fire, and long-term uncertainty are the climatic conditions in which the plants, animals, and microbes of the tallgrass live and thrive. Tallgrass prairie ecosystems evolved out of thousands of years of negotiating these conditions, and in conjunction with the long history and present of First Nations people whose fires, Bison management, and cultural practices maintained prairie ecosystems. This history does not exist only in human traditions, but also in the physical, embodied memory of the prairies themselves. This knowledge is not stored in books or stories, but in the relationships and behaviors that the plants and their partners embody.
This piece was designed to be presented in the ‘backpack room’ of a classroom at the Old School in Matfield Green, Kansas as part of the Tallgrass Artist Residency. It plays with the idea of stored knowledge and what a plant-based classroom might look or sound like, including a video and sound projection divided into eight ‘class periods’ with plant ‘instructors’ from different locations in the Tallgrass Preserve and Konza Research prairies. Each class period is punctuated by the sound of the ticking clock and hand-held schoolbell in the one-room schoolhouse located on what is now the Tallgrass Preserve. Mock textbooks present subject titles in which the plants and ecosystems of the tallgrass prairie are experts (A Concise Handbook of Wind Pollination, Bison Relations Parts I-IV, and Making the Most of Mutualisms, for example).
Stored Knowledge pokes gently at our current educational institutions – the types of knowledge we value and the types we exclude. It is a reminder that there is much to learn from listening and being attentive to prairie structures, being, and relationships, not only about prairie ecosystems today but also their, and our, shared pasts and potential futures.
Tallgrass Artist Residency Group Show, October 2019. The Old Schoolhouse, Matfield Green, KS.
Artist: Jessica Zeglin