From September 10 to November 1 of 2016, Grinnell College’s Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA) in rural Kellogg, Iowa, was the setting for Prairie Meanders, a hybrid art installation which combined nature trail, gallery display, land art, and immersive performance. The installation—cosponsored by Grinnell’s Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement, the Center for the Humanities, the Public Events Concert Series, the concentration in environmental studies, the theatre and dance department, the Center for Prairie Studies, and CERA—allowed visitors to wander through maze-like pathways, viscerally experiencing global ecology on a local, human-sized scale.
The Meander was created through the efforts of Professors Baz Kershawand Susan Haedicke of (UK), with a big assist from students of , associate professor in Grinnell’s department of theatre and dance. Baz Kershaw, an emeritus professor of theater and performance studies at Warwick, is creator of Earthrise Repair Shop, and has been the keynote speaker at many international conferences, as well as being a visiting researcher at leading universities on five continents.
While the Prairie Meanders were a collaboration by theater professionals, they were anything but a traditional theatrical experience. Kershaw and Haedicke laid out pair of pathways through CERA’s prairie setting, using a grouping of varied stations to stop visitors, literally in their tracks, and encourage them to reflect on both their immediate surroundings—a 365-acre section of native prairie, oak savanna, and wetland which the College has been restoring since acquiring the land in 1968—and on the prairie’s place in the larger world environment.
The installation began on the cusp of the harvest season, when the lush grasses and forbs formed gold, yellow and green walls of vegetation that recalled the garden mazes built on some English estates. It concluded as the winter was beginning to close in, and the installation’s stations began to rise, bare artificial towers, as the flowers sensesced and the grasses fainted to the earth.
Visitors were encouraged to leave comments on their experience, and a selection of these appears with the photographs.