by Eddie Arroyo

So I was standing at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden sucking on a fruit for about five minutes waiting to experience its properties. Synsepalum Dulcificum, also known as the miracle fruit apparently has the ability to and a sweet flavor to anything sour. So with some ripe limes at hand I took a bite of it and was amazed by the sweet flavor it provided. It was wonderful. The Miami Performance International Festival was host to Pip & Duane Brant’s Heimgarten Apotheke situation where everyone was invited to choose any of the natural objects presented. Along with a poem/announcement blaring through speakers the intent of the piece and stood with plants, honey, and an elaborate tent. It was wonderfully engaging, educational, and surreal.

Brant has degrees from the University of Montana (BFA) and the University of Wyoming. (MFA). Brant grew up on the western Plains Indian reservations (Sioux, Cheyenne, Assiniboine) where the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Public Health employed her family. She has taught, herded goats and produced art in Montana, Wyoming, London, England, and Missouri and in 1999 moved to Florida to take a studio teaching position at Florida International University. She has exhibited in Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, and London as well as nationally, including venues in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, as well as the western states. Recently she has been exhibiting in the Basel Art Fair affiliated Ping Pong exhibitions that feature artists from Switzerland /LA/Miami. Her work is executed in fibers, painting and performance and includes urban farming activism.

In 1992 she was awarded the Wyoming Visual Arts Fellowship. In 1993 her work in the collaborative art group, Kunstwaffen was awarded a New Forms Consortium Grant for Cattle/Text Interaction. Brant currently is a an associate professor at FIU, teaching painting and fibers.

In 2003 she won the South Florida Cultural Consortium for Visual and Media arts. Brant’s work embraces the use of the absurd and humor and cites the plays and philosophy of Bertold Brecht as a major influence.

I caught up with her to ask a question which occurred to me while sucking on the sweet lime.

Eddie Arroyo
I noticed that the presentation what was originally based as a pharmacy but since then had evolved with the added history of a snake oil sales man. Would you elaborate about the approach? Are you attempting to reestablish what a Apotheke is as opposed to what it as been perceived to be?

Pip Brant
I try to figure out what I can grow in my yard. The reasons I grow stuff are complex. I like to see them grow, I like to feed them, water them. There is a two fold payoff for me: Food and meditation. This activity feels like art to me and with the performance, I wanted to put that in an art context.

The snake oil deal is the part of me that may doubt the effectiveness of eating fresh produce. It is logical that it is closer to how our ancestors lived. I try to mimic that. However, I want to share with people the wonderful plants and animals that are part of the food chain. The real thing. Dr Oz was just in front of congress, back tracking on his snake oil claims. I thought that was hilarious. Noni is supposed to prevent cancer. From observation, iguanas love it. Thus this may be true. I will try and answer you last question about the Apotheke. Would one trust CVS? Or would one trust a herbal remedy book?

This is complex, as the chemicals that come to be shaped into pills have origins in plants or animal bits. The other aspect is to protest the misguided zoning laws that block the use of one’s yard as a food source. No Victory garden for us?

Eddie Arroyo
Yes its the utilitarian factor that serves as an educational component in the practice which harkens to our heritage. The miracle fruit was a perfect introduction. I was delighted about its affects and curious to know what other plants would be effective given any physical conditions I may experience in the future. But then there is the problem of regulation and oversight and corporate interests dictating what is truly medicine based on their own financial motivations. The more time paces the more clearly this dynamic exists with the advent of lobbies within the government.

What approaches have you noticed have been effective as to challenge the structures that currently exits within our society in regards to Apotheke practice?

Pip Brant
Since marketing something like miracle fruit on a large scale has already been blocked by Big Sugar, the only thing a person can do is raise it themselves. I guess in a way, I become like those Montana Militia, only I’m not interested in guns and forts and pulling my own teeth. I can have food I raised. Food that did not go to a scary slaughter house or sit in a tiny cage with feathers all plucked out. Just an aside, my coastguard neighbor boys call our house, the survival house. We collect rain water, make our own fertilizer, never use a dryer. Each act is an act of making.The aloe Vera is a big one. Also Mulberries. I also grow collard greens and juice them or add them to stews. Rosemary is a big deal and anyone can grow it. I sniff it before practicing my accordion. The bees are a big deal too. I’ve never seen Duane so happy as when he got his first hive. Bee keeping is not easy. Stinging, beetles, absconding hives, swarm captures!!!

In this performance, I wanted to mainly share the love I have in caring and making these living things. The bonsai has no medicinal function, except to calm the mind. But that may be the most powerful remedy of all. Other fruit I have that many people have access to is, Suriname cherry. They make great syrup and jam! Vit C loaded. Also just planted a Barbados cherry and they are wonderful and very close to a sour cherry. When I started to gather stuff for the performance, I could not believe how many edible plants I have! Just an ordinary lot can support all of this. I also have neighbors who collaborate in growing things. When I need some basil, I can pop over and get some if my crop has wilted.

I guess I can list:
Aloe Vera, Suriname cherry, Barbados Cherry, mulberry, calaloo, sugar cane, dragon fruit, bananas, noni, star fruit, limes, blueberries, black berries, peaches, black raspberries, oregano, mint, tarragon, tumeric, ginger, mangoes, longan, pineapple, egg fruit, miraclefruit, rosemary, sage, pineapple sage, mustard greens, okra, tomatoes (wild native), grapes, passion fruit, emons, compfrey and hibiscus blooms. One more, Avocado.

This is out of order and goes back to your original question: I went to the Dominican Republic with Charo Oquet’s performance festival there. The open market is fabulous. Their pharmacies are a bit like my performance. A blue tarp on the sidewalk with a pile of plant matter, all mixed together in a heap. Dried goat legs were hanging from posts. I saw an oyster plant in the heap and asked, what is that for. I know it causes rashes to even touch it. “Women’s problems” was the answer. Charo suggested this meant, abortions. No idea about the dried goat legs. Traveling somewhere else helps you evaluate your own habits and society. Germany is amazing the other way. They share things that would cause the code enforcers to have a stroke. Shoes, mini libraries, “give boxes” and compost or left over food for composting. We prefer manicured, and chemical laden lawns or cement.

EA
Do you feel that this approach could expand to a community model? You mentioned your neighbor and I noticed this recent phenomenon in parts of the city with community gardens. Noam Chomsky spoke about the idea of convergence in his observations concerning all these things we have been discussing. As a way of presenting a more active role outside the current structure and possibly changing it for the better based on the results. Could you site any recent examples of that?

PB
I agree with this. Perhaps I could run for mayor of Hollywood to bring about change in restrictions, but just doing it and sharing would work better. This is much like the gay rights movement. First show up and people can grow to not fear the change. I am asking to take on the massive energy wasted on getting strawberries from New Zealand!!! There is a fun thing happening in the neighborhood right now. Of course there are fruit rats. However a new outdoor, stray (?) cat is killing them. She brings the headless things as presents to my neighbor. Their yard is a thing of beauty and order, but the rats love their figs and bird of paradise blooms. “Goocho” has banished the rats. Even she has a function. Doing is more effective. Grass roots works.

EA
Which is why I asked the question. In more of a grass roots approach.

PB
Ha, a pun. I hope the plants that the performance shared, go to places that will care for them. Ignite the oxytocin, a pleasure hormone, and after three years, enjoy and novelty of changing the taste from sour to sweet. This is also been a great aid to diabetics and people who suffer from chemotherapy. I think this performance worked a lot better than going on channel 10 news. That brought about armed policemen! Truly though, several of my neighbors are doing similar things. The coast guard boys have a papaya farm, and two other yards on the block are devoted native plant yards.

EA
Agreed. Well lets talk about the rat variable that had been presented. Did you face an friction when this started happening and other issues neighbors may have had? How did you manage it?

PB
Nobody has complained about the rat thing. But the Small Domestic Animals do bug one neighbor and he calls code enforcement. My “projects” are quieter than barking dogs. I use the manure to fertilize other’s special plants. (Peach trees are heavy feeders) I know that a landscape architect in Miami Shores had her veggies pulled up by the city. I see no vermin because of herbs and greens, its the fruit that attract, squirrels and rats. However, I eat the fruit and just don’t let it drop to the ground and make a slimy mess. Just remove the rat food and wella. What I experience is total connection to the environment. The wildlife is allowed to live here. Possums eat rats, black snakes eat rats and we have a lovely one living under our sistern box. I also notice the iguanas, skinks, cuban lizards and tree frogs. Hawks even check out my yard for treats.

EA
Who are the Coast Guard Boys?

Residence of the Coast Guard Boys

PB
These are guys who have a two year stint with the coast guard. They rent a house on the block. They are very social with the neighborhood and are a uniting force. They have great 4th of July parties. Does that explain it? I guess they go out and rescue and do coast guard things. They like fireworks, that’s for sure. I traded honey for papayas with them.

They sit on their porch in a variety of rocking chairs. Kind of reminds me of the social life of Missourians in the summertime.

EA
Lol yeah I just find what they are doing with gardening fascinating.

PB
I don’t know why they settled on several rows of papayas in their backyard. An old racist Romanian gave them the plants. ???? I haven’t gotten any papayas from them. I assume, like mine, they got these nasty worms. Papaya drama!! I need to go out and put sacks over the blooms, to avoid this. I haven’t gotten Papayas lately since there is a worm plague.

EA
I’ll leave you to it then.

www.pipbrant.com