Weeds Stories #3 - Fréderique Soulard
“Giving a name to things makes them exist", says Fréderique Soulard. She is the woman behind Belles de Bitume: a beautiful & poetic street-art project that puts weeds (and their several different stories) as one of the major characters of our urban environments.
Can you tell me a little bit of your history?
After living in Ardèche for a long time, I came back to my home city - Nantes. I felt I felt intrigued and inspired by the power of nature sneaking in between the concrete.
The idea of labeling street plants came to me 10 years ago. It is now a cultural project, that has been refined over meetings and re-writings, becoming a participative, guided wandering.
In 2014 in Nantes, I’ve started these botanical graffitis under the name of “Belles de Bitume”, to soften and brighten our urban life, and to open our gazes of pressed pedestrians.
In the crossing of plants, people and the connection between all, this approach articulates around certain strong points: when wandering around the city, between science, stories, imagination, lessons of botany and even herbal teas, the public is invited to write the name of the plants on the ground.
The history of the name “Belles de Bitume” (Beautiful of Bitumen”) is in itself a journey: a couple of years ago I was wandering in the streets with a cart named "BELLE" (Boite Écriture Lectures Légendes en Excursion) to exchange words with the people passing by.
The “BELLE” has then specialized itself in “wild” plants, the ones who dress up the streets and conducting the public into a poetic, improbable wander.
In 2014, the pictures published on the FB page of Luc Douillard (history teacher and activist) created a buzz. Both national and international press loved the idea, and I was happy to answer the reporters.
Sometimes this idea was taken by others and attempted in the form of a simple inventory.
What i’m interested about, besides a botanical inventory (and pedagogical, some say), is that between street art and poetry we open our eyes and baptize the plants of their popular, common names, funny and graphical.
“Belles de Bitume” is like the plants, they don’t have borders.
“Belles de Bitume” weaves social connections, by including each and every being in the city.
Every name written on the ground, gives to each one, day after day, the conscience of belonging to the world around him/her, and allows the meeting with the others and their culture via the name of the plants. It’s what we all need in this moment: the opening to the living world and to others. To all others!
Belles de Bitume it’s a white trace on the ground that remains the time of the plant's life. It touches and intrigues hundreds, if not thousands of people. It’s urban art and its beautiful!
How do you define the relationship that you weave with plants? How did it all started?
Grand daughter of a herbalist with whom I’ve worked for ten years, I got familiarized with “the simple ones” (a French expression used to name spontaneous plants). Daughter of a French teacher, I’ve become a storyteller and creator of writing workshops.
My meeting with plants is between these two lineages. I love plants for their beauty (I do macro shooting, I have the sensation of changing universes by going into the details - art). I love to identify plants. Either in the countryside or in an urban setting, it brightens my path to give them a name, to know them and recognize them. I love plants because they are life itself, providing nourishment and care.
What is a weed for you?
I also say “mauvaises herbes” (“weeds” in French, which means “bad herbs”) because we repeat what we’ve learned. We are conditioned to use such words without understanding their associated meanings. When we do, we change vocabulary, expressions, and opinions, but we need time to find our freedom of choice, of sight and words.
I stopped saying “bad”, I don’t judge anymore. Instead i say “the little savages”, I call them “weeds” or “the simple ones ” when they are medicinal, sometimes I say “herbes folles” with tenderness, I say things that I CHOSE to say.
Which one is your favorite, and why?
They are all my preferred! On one hand they are all beautiful, on the other; because their popular names are the source of an honest wonder in me. The one that answers by the name of “floating pondweed” has given me the will to mimic plants; I can’t stop wonderng about the innumerous French names (and also in other languages) of the “dandelion”; when I hear of the “wandering sailor” I’m curious about the hidden sense of these popular names; thanks to the sour thistle and it's changeable forms and colors, I can better observe the secret beauty of these “bad herbs”, ugly in appearance. I’m amazed by the fact that the wild lettuce was before used as “morphine”!