In Frieze, a 45-foot herb garden is an unlikely and highly effective visualization of the threat to women’s reproductive rights

A bank of leafy green grasses hangs on a wall in Frieze New York. The book, titled Trigger plantingis from artist collective How to Perform an Abortion, and is meant to be a stark reminder of the Supreme Court’s likely plan to overturn Roe vs. Wade and rolling back women’s reproductive rights.

All plants in the site-specific exposure have traditionally been used for contraception and abortion. The collective planted them on a map of the United States, on each of the 26 states where so-called trigger laws will immediately ban abortion once Roe vs. Wadewhich legalized the procedure, is annulled.

Realizing how the facility is covered in greenery is a terrifying and effective visual of the restriction of women’s access to abortion.

“It’s really overwhelming and scary,” artist and collective member Maureen Connor told Artnet News during the fair’s VIP preview. “At this point, I think we have to say when Roe is knocked down, not if.”

Trigger Planting (2022). Courtesy of the artists and AIR gallery.” width=”1024″ height=”414″ srcset=”×414 .jpeg 1024w,×121.jpeg 300w, /Final_test2_F_100dip-50×20.jpeg 50w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”/>

how to perform an abortion, Trigger planting (2022). Courtesy of the artists and AIR gallery.

“I was there before Roe v. Wade, and I had a number of friends who had illegal abortions,” she said. “I feel like what we’re going to see now is going to be a lot worse than what it was then.”

Connor co-founded the band in 2017 with Eugenia Manwelyan, who is no longer involved. Other current members are architect Kadambari Baxi and visual artist and gardener Landon Newton.

Since its inception, How to Perform an Abortion has investigated the little-known history of herbal abortifacients, which have been used for thousands of years (and some records date back to 2000 BCE, in ancient Egypt ). Her projects have included planting reproductive justice gardens at the Richard and Dolly Maass Gallery at SUNY Purchase’s School of Art and Design, at Antenna Works in New Orleans, and in Liberty, New York, with the School of Apocalypse.

The Frieze project, which measures 45 feet by 19 feet, is presented by AIR Gallery, one of four New York art nonprofits honored at this year’s fair. Founded in 1972, AIR was the first all-female artist cooperative gallery in the United States, and it has been outspoken in its support of abortion rights.

How to Perform an Abortion appeared in the gallery’s 2018 group show “Currents: Abortion,” but was surprised to get the call to show at Frieze just three weeks ago.

The map of the United States is overlaid on a blue-tinted photograph from another project by the collective, Monument found: representation of abortiona garden at the Unison Art Center in New Paltz, New York, filled with abortive perennials, many of which were already growing wild at the site.

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Among the plants included in trigger plant are many common herbs, such as parsley, sage, and rosemary, as well as chamomile, juniper, Queen Anne’s lace, mugwort, and yarrow. Each represents lost stories of reproductive practices, as well as a potential dark future for women who are legally denied control of their bodies.

“When we started this collective, it was about the historic availability, legality and privacy of abortion,” Connor said. “Since last year, it has started to become very real.”

As abortion laws have become increasingly restrictive, the collective has reached out to people who help women have safe herbal abortions.

“They are very clandestine. To access it, you have to be controlled,” Connor said. “But we’re in no way trying to say that herbs are the solution. It’s not something people can experience.

“How to Perform an Abortion: Trigger Planting” is presented at Frieze New York, the Shed, 545 West 30th Street, New York, May 18-22, 2022.

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Terri S. Tomasini