from the ground up

Leeay Aikawa

Kathryn Greenwood

Alex Gregory

curated by Marilyn Adlington

from the ground up: exhibition essay by Marilyn Adlington


Lately I have taken refuge in the slow rhythms of plants. As notions of time deeply entrenched in the capitalist mode of production begin to fissure and crumble, cycles of growth and decay become useful reminders of the ways that time moves on through other forms of life. The well-known phrase ‘stop and smell the flowers’ has become ever more valuable throughout moments of enforced pause. Perhaps this is because the garden continues to ebb and flow, rooted in a routine entirely its own. Not always in bloom or yielding crops, a garden requires dedicated maintenance and some dirt under your fingernails. Underscored and embalmed by acts of care, tending to a garden is a practice that transforms the mundane to the sacred. 

Between Pheasants Contemporary is firmly anchored in the actualities of tending to the earth and other forms of life that occupy and share the the land. In northern Ontario, growing crops are a ubiquitous quality of everyday life. Upon arrival to New Liskeard to install the exhibition, our first stop was not the gallery but the garden — to dig up potatoes for the evening’s meal. Paired with other delicious foods sourced from the farm or region, we fed our bodies from the same land that the gallery stands on. There is a noble levelling that occurs in such self-sustaining spaces; I bring the hens my breakfast leftovers and in return they become my installation audience. In an elongated moment of sanitized digital experiences, these encounters are welcome acts of connection that set Between Pheasants Contemporary apart from more traditional gallery spaces. 

exhibition essay 

from the ground up brings together three artists investigating distinct methods of engagement with the natural world. With a focus on collaboration — be it physical, spiritual, or cognitive — artists Alex Gregory, Leeay Aikawa, and Kathryn Greenwood explore the slow act of deep-listening and unlearning from plant ecologies. Deeply informed by process, each artwork embodies a nuanced perspective that animates decolonial ecological, stepping back and opening up to other ways to relate to the earth; something that takes on imperative critical nuance in the broader midst of a global pandemic and climate emergency.

Entering the gallery space, two prints from Alex Gregory adorn the wall perpendicular to one another. Both prints depict analog portraits of dahlia flowers grown by Gregory at her home. From a larger series entitled Emotional Garden, the images reflect on motifs of deception and reflection, employing the mirror as a key instrument of photographic agency and obscuration to kaleidoscopic effects. At once, the flowers become larger than life while relishing in inevitable decay. Paired with the inaugural exhibition of Gregory’s second instalment of the video artwork Emotional Garden ii, she follows up on the planting of dahlia bulbs by performing the removal of dahlia tubers for winter storage. This gesture responds to the reality of harvest throughout late August and early September in northern Ontario and beyond, drawing allusions to rural pedagogies from a distinctly urban setting.

At dusk, the fiery hues of late-summer stream through the window in the gallery, landing on two paintings from Leeay Aikawa’s W(h)oly Dot Series. Made from natural dyes, the series engages found botanical materials and foodstuffs, distilled to become ‘living ink’. Embracing the subtleties of pastel hues, both paintings feature monochromatic large circles — bright cyan fading to dusty peach — mimicking the rhythms of the sun setting into the earth. For Aikawa, circles hold distinct significance as a representation of bindu, a Sanskrit term for the point from which all creation begins and ultimately unites. As a practicing yogi and yoga instructor, Aikawa integrates spirituality and physicality by uniting bodily sustenance with deeper ecological faith in her chosen materials. Ultimately and always a collaboration, these paintings invite meditations on what feeds the body both physically and spiritually.

Chicken wire demarcates a walkway into the pheasant coop, providing a permeable wall for several iterations of Aikawa’s series, The Record of Tree Ring, to hang. The delicacy of rice paper captures every crevice of found wood rot and fungus to the point of puncturing the page in several instances, allowing fragmented streams of light shine through. Approaching questions of authorship and agency, Aikawa’s simple process blurs distinctions between subjectivity and objectivity, reframing the act of rubbing as a shared and reciprocal enterprise. Similarly embracing decay at a time of harvest, the focus on wood rot brings the slow process of decomposition to the forefront as a precise meeting point between the death of a tree and the birth of an artwork.

Kathryn Greenwood’s paintings are vibrant explorations of plant life according to the neurological eccentricities of perception. Greenwood’s background in neuroscience informs her analysis of the human relationship to nature, highlighting and critiquing specific cultural and psychological factors that inform the cognitive and visual experience of plant life in particular. Articulating the specific notion of ‘plant blindness,’ Greenwood initially works from photographs, employing collage methodologies and digital distortion as key tools to visualize and mimic attentional biases. The resulting images are fragmented and ephemeral abstractions of a scene that serve as crucial contemporary updates to the long tradition of representational floral paintings throughout art history. Deeply embedded in the act of paying attention, Greenwood proposes a new method of thinking and seeing that integrates mental processes and cultural discourse to re-evaluate the the status of plants within western urban society. 

Brought together, the exhibition asks: what can be learned from the logic of a garden? The art of noticing carries through each artwork — from nursing bulbs to blossom, collaborating with fallen trees, or shifting our cognitive relationship to plant life, there is an emphasis on listening and learning from plant ecologies, rather than imposing knowledge upon them. These are important lessons, as the epistemologies of the garden are also epistemologies for survival. Working at the pace of plants, Gregory, Aikawa and Greenwood honour the garden as a site of refuge, cultivation, and deep relationality, where cooperation and mutual aid are facts of life. This is how the world rebuilds: from the ground up.


Marilyn Adlington is a scholar, curator and arts writer currently based in southern Ontario. Earlier this year, she completed an MFA in Criticism and Curatorial Practice and was the recipient of the OCAD University Medal and President’s Award for her thesis research exploring the refusal and counter-narratives through collage methodologies. She is deeply invested in the intersections between contemporary art and social practice, with a specific focus on phenomenological narratives provided by objects of material culture. Her writing has been featured in several Canadian publications including in The Journal of Curatorial Studies, PUBLIC, The Senses & Society, and RENDER.

Kathryn Greenwood is a multidisciplinary artist based in Lekwungen Territory/Victoria, BC. Her work reflects her connection to the natural environment, and often references places and species she encounters around coastal BC. Kathryn’s recent body of work
explores the human experience of nature through a cognitive lens, integrating her painting practice with her previous studies in neuroscience. She strives to balance the aesthetic with an underlying sense of environmental advocacy and awareness of
nature. Kathryn recently completed her BFA in Drawing and Painting at OCAD University (2021), and her work has been exhibited in Toronto and Victoria. She has also been featured in publications by CBC Arts and The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. In addition to painting, her creative practice includes ceramic, digital, and installation- based art.

Leeay Aikawa is a Japanese artist based in Toronto, a recent graduate of the Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media, and Design program at OCAD University (MFA 2021). She obtained her BDes in Illustration major from OCAD University in 2009 and has worked as both an illustrator and as a graphic designer. Coupled with this, she is a yoga teacher, trained both in India and Canada.

Alex Gregory is an artist-researcher whose work combines the materiality of analog techniques with digital manipulation. Born and raised in Amiskwaciy-Wâskahikan (Edmonton, AB), Alex recently completed an MFA in Criticism and Curatorial Practices at OCAD University. Her thesis project Fragmented Flora consists of the curation of a digital environment that utilizes the affective qualities of physical space; the written research deconstructs the ways in which permanence and materialism are discussed and valued, as these issues intersect with the digital. Alex has exhibited work in Portland, OR and Tkaronto. In 2017, she graduated from The Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) in Portland, OR, with a BFA in Communication Design. Her design work has been featured in She Shreds Magazine, Bitch Media and SAD Mag.

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