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Artist introduces wearable nature to Bernheim

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By Kacie Goode

Large creatures comparable to grass-covered Sasquatch will be roaming around Bernheim Forest in a few weeks thanks to the work of a visiting British artist.

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Ashley Peevor, who is enjoying a month-long residency at Bernheim as part of a grant, is introducing his living costumes known as “Grass Men” at this year’s Bernheim CONNECT festival. The costumes are a combination of fabric, grass and soil substrate, with seeds growing through fabric layers to compress them into a living material.

“Most people think it’s not real when they see it,” Peevor said. “But when people smell it and touch it and they shout over to their friend, ‘It’s real! It’s real’ and they all come and hug it, that’s what it’s all about.”

Peevor, a qualified fashion designer who studied fine art at Arts University Bournemouth, created the costumes as he began to look at art and fashion differently.

“I was interested in trying to make something that could live and also be worn, so it has this sort of dual relationship,” Peevor said.

In recent years, his costumes have been showcased at festivals and venues across the UK, including the artist-led Bristol Biennial in 2014. The part-sculpture, part-performance aspect of his artwork allows the public to interact with his creations and extends beyond viewing art in a gallery. Using the organic materials that blend in with the green spaces Peevor chooses as his canvas, his art also sets out to connect people with the natural world around them.

“The whole idea is about seeing nature in a new light and engaging with it in a different way,” Peevor said, and during his time with Bernheim, he is doing just that.

Last week, Peevor hosted a workshop with youth from the Smoketown neighborhood in Louisville, where Bernheim is advising on a green space component to a revitalization project. On Sunday, Peevor hosted another workshop for the general public, inviting them to cultivate and create their own wearable nature art on a smaller scale, such as bracelets and vests, applying the same basic steps used to create the more complex Grass Men suits.

“I want to see how everything comes together. It’s definitely got my interest piqued,” said Eric Biegert, of Jeffersonville, who was making a pair of grass shoes for his daughter during Sunday’s workshop. Biegert attended the event with his fiancee and her mother, and said Bernheim is a place they would like to visit more often.

Peevor is offering a third workshop on Sunday, Aug. 5, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Bernheim’s Research Building. Those interested in taking part can reserve a spot by calling 502-955-8512. Spots should be reserved by Aug. 4. Participants of the workshops have been invited to wear their new creations to the 10th year of CONNECT, the Forest’s annual celebration of art, science and nature, which is set for Aug. 18.

“Art is a way that Bernheim fulfills its mission of connecting people with nature,” said Jenny Zeller, visual arts coordinator for Bernheim, of the workshops, CONNECT and other art-related efforts that set the Forest apart from other arboretums. “If they can connect to a work of art about nature, then maybe they will act in ways to nurture and protect nature in the future.”

Zeller said she is excited to include Peevor in this year’s line up of artists and performances for CONNECT, and that his Grass Men costumes bring in unique fun with a “hint of absurd.”

And absurd is what Peevor is shooting for.

“It’s kind of a bit mad,” he said of his work. “I like things that are a bit surreal and a bit weird.”

Peevor’s residency, the workshops and community outreach were made possible by the 2018 Imagine Greater Louisville 2020 grant, which was awarded to Bernheim by the Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund at the Fund for the Arts in partnership with the Fund for the Arts.

The residency is Peevor’s first time to Kentucky, and second to the States.

“I live in the city, so being around this beautiful natural landscape and having a studio that’s on the lakeside has been phenomenal,” Peevor said of the residency.

And while in his studio, Peevor has been experimenting with another costume series that he described as “more sculptural.”

Additional information on Bernheim and upcoming events can be found at www.bernheim.org.