Dave MacKenzie's avatar Dave MacKenzie

Breathe is my second ArtPrize entry. Last year I entered Back to Eden, an abstract composition of 2500 living plants arranged in a 130 foot long LiveWall planting system (it too, was at the B.O.B.). Breathe utilizes the same footprint, but reaches higher, is curvilinear, graphic and interactive. It tests the flexibility of living walls as an artistic medium, and represents my first attempt to develop a planted wall that is not rectangular or square. In developing Breathe, my hope has been to convey the message that living plants have a place in our constructed world; they infuse beauty, connect us to nature, and provide the very oxygen that we breathe. In this particular setting, where the plants surround the mechanical and waste disposal features of The B.O.B., they transform the space, and help restore some of the natural elements once lost to steel and concrete--not just plants, but birds, bees, butterflies and other insects as well. The largest graphic in Breathe faces east and includes a windblown pattern in which the white flowers spell Breathe O2 (oxygen), and symbolize air. The green patterns, above and below, represent fields and forests. And, the yellow in the upper right hand corner symbolizes the sun, which fuels photosynthesis, which yields O2 (oxygen). This vital process, photosynthesis, occurs within leaves, and for this reason I feature leaf shaped graphics of Michigan native trees (oak, beech, maple, catalpa), on the north and west facing surfaces. My hope in developing Breathe has been to challenge and inspire each viewer to think differently about the constructed world; and about how that world might look and feel if integrated with nature. There is an intellectual challenge here too, to go beyond feeling and emotion, to ponder how we choose to live--whether connected to nature or separated from it. Oxygen, obviously we can't do without, but natural surroundings bring more than that--better health and more tranquility for sure, Also, I think, an easier path to having a sense of our Creator, and an awareness of our true selves. Some facts and figures about Breathe: Breathe measures 22 feet tall at its peak, and nearly 150 feet long. The "structure" is freestanding, and engineering and installing it was a significant undertaking (Tom Arndst and Bill Holmes are to thank for this). Its east facing surface receives sun from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM, the north facing surfaces are in constant shade, and the west facing surface receives late afternoon sun. Each surface requires different plant selections, as each plant has unique preferences for light and shade. Choosing and pairing the plants was a challenge, but also part of the fun. Breathe is planted with nearly 3,500 annual, perennial and tropical plants, which were planted last May at my nursery Hortech, Inc., in Nunica, MI, and it was at Hortech that we developed the LiveWall planting system. Watering is controlled by a timer and occurs every other morning for only 1 to 2 minutes per watering zone. The water is conveyed through the aluminum mounting rails to small brass misters that spray on the soil behind the plants. The entire system is supplied with a single garden hose! In developing Breathe I received plenty of help. Meaghan Rich converted my hand-drawn sketches (by computer) into cross stitch like patterns that I used as a guide in placing the plants. Amber Ponce developed the signage, Bert Roma helped with growing, pruning and installing, and numerous other friends helped in all sorts of ways. Their participation is greatly appreciated.

Entry Details
  • Art form: Installation
  • Depth: 1 foot
  • Medium: Plants in LiveWall
  • Width: 150 feet
  • Year created: 2014
  • Height: 22 feet