Earlier this year, Duolingo requested proposals for a work of public art to be displayed on its facade on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh. The following is my contribution to the search.
May 7, 2019
Future Former Owners of Duolingo
5900 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15206
Why don’t you
plant trees where your building once stood, so passing children can climb high in their branches and imagine themselves owls – green, red, blue – sparkling as they peer down at
planning ahead, your company will one day be no more. And we cannot afford to wonder about your grey facade right now. We must plan for your failure, your bankruptcy, your relocation, your ‘corporate reorganization’, your scandals-to-come and imagine what your building – which has only ever been the former site of Duolingo – will one day be. I would like it to be plants.
You might consider planting the American chestnut (Castanea dentata), which is endangered due to a blight. Despite bad relations with its fungal neighbor (Cryphonectria parasitica), the American chestnut has stayed on this land and shared its sweetness, its spiky fruits, its tentacular catkins with the inhabitants of this region. Once your foundation has been pulled from the ground, there will be ample room for an American chestnut to take root. Wild turkeys will visit to eat the chestnuts, spurring people to ask, “Why is ‘turkey’ the name of a country and a bird?” This will be an opportunity for us to talk together about language (“metalinguistic discourse,” as linguists call it). Turkeys are the natural outgrowth of your company, and should feature prominently in your corporate forecasts.
Of course, the American chestnut is just one option. Perhaps it is best to let the neighborhood decide what grows where your app once was. Leave the building as-is and let plants work their way through the cracks of the sidewalk, the gaps between street and structure. Pokeberry! Smartweed! Pigweed! Sumac! Violets! I’ve seen cacti growing in the fronds of palm trees: I’m sure the plants can take care of all the details.
(Recently, I heard that apartments might be built on the former Duolingo site, and that long-displaced residents will be invited back to live for free. If this is true, I would love to hear their ideas for houseplants, rooftop gardens, terraria, hydroponics, rain gardens, landscaping. Do they have a newsletter?)
If you remain unconvinced, I would be happy to help you visualize this future. I’m hopeless at drawing, but if you will bulldoze your building I can bring some plants by. The plants will make it all much clearer to you than I ever could.
I know things did not work out the way you hoped, but now we have plants and it’s much better this way.
Best wishes for your future employment,
P.S. If you are looking for artists who are more qualified to produce this plant-based installation, I can recommend some birds.
- American_Chestnut.jpg: Image of leaves, fruits, and seeds of the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata). Used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license, created by Peatcher.
- Google-Maps_Jul-2007.jpg: Evidence of potential changes in your neighborhood. New apartments and open spaces will improve access to, and sun exposure for, the proposed plants. Image by Google Maps.
- Wild_turkey_and_juveniles.jpg: This flock of turkeys would benefit directly from the proposed American chestnut trees. The turkeys are prepared to steward your legacy in the neighborhood. Used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license, created by D. Gordon E. Robertson.
- Erodium-sp_1.jpg, Erodium-sp_2.jpg, Schizophyllum-sp.jpg, Viola-sp_1.jpg, Viola-sp_2.jpg: Images of cultivated and wild plants I encountered in Pittsburgh this spring. These plants are potential inhabitants of your former property.
Puncture vine (Tribulus terrestris). ————————-2015-Present
Many times now, I have stepped on the multi-pronged nut of the puncture vine plant. On numerous occasions, a portion of a spike has lodged itself temporarily in my skin. From puncture vine, I have learned that plants are always active in shaping our desires and interrupting our behaviors. Our bodies are full of plants.
Throughout my lifespan, I have directly contributed to the death of plant organs, individual and aggregate. Plant bodies are complex and sometimes highly decentralized. Plant death is difficult to understand. Every day, I try and fail to understand plant death.
Please see my yard for examples ? of plants ? living ? and ? dead ?
[redacted in online version]; Pittsburgh, PA 15206.
I lived here.
Former Waffle Shop & Conflict Kitchen.
124 South Highland Avenue; Pittsburgh, PA 15206.
I worked here.
5900 Penn Avenue; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15206.
I proposed a highly-successful plan for inviting plants to this location.
Well, as an artist I’m afraid I haven’t been the most successful. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with what I’ve done. But I’m not showing at the Guggenheim, I’m not screening films at Cannes, I’m not getting people all stirred up with righteous fury. I’m mostly plodding along.
I started out in performance and I did shows at Pegasus (a business which closed like yours) and P-Town (still open) and Morrow Park back when the Goodwill building was there (closed up / closed). Listen, I’m no Yoko Ono but I can make the requisite weird sounds, flail around a bit, pose for a camera. What I’m trying to say is that I move my body to different places and that’s where I am!
A few years ago, I made a video that didn’t have any sounds in it which I now realize is very plant-like. They say plants make sounds, but they obviously aren’t making them for us so maybe we could mind our own business once in a while. Anyway, I wore a “Thank You, Come Again” bag on my head or something and they showed the video in Toronto. You know, I don’t remember what kinds of plants I saw in Toronto the last time I was there. I like video because you absorb it with your eyes and make something new. I watch videos and then make videos, so it’s a cycle of inputs and outputs and none of them are very original, but nothing in life is particularly original.
Lately, I’m making cyanotypes because I am interested in Anna Atkins. Do you know Anna Atkins? She’s dead. Dead! (That’s a joke for people who saw me perform at P-Town.) En tout cas, I make cyanotypes to figure out what Anna Atkins – a British botanist of the 19th century – was up to when she made her own cyanotypes. Basically, you put plants on special paper and use the sun to create a photographic image of the plant. The whole thing is a bit much because you need all this paper and all these chemicals and you make print after print after print with not much to do with them and you wonder where to keep them all or if some of them should be thrown away and eventually a bunch of them get lost and probably thrown away but you can’t quite remember but it doesn’t matter because it matters that they get made more than that they last. Economy isn’t everything.
And that’s me. I do these performances here (literally) and there (literally) and I make videos and cyanotypes. Like I said in my cover letter, I know some birds who are perfect for helping you arrange plants where your business once operated. If the birds need someone to make a video, I’m happy to help. Do we have bird video technology yet? Could you ask Google? I think they live just down the way. Don’t tell them I said this, but I think they could use some plants, too.