What happens when you mesh the creativity of graffiti with the bold actions of guerrilla gardening? Well, those visiting the Floralies can see for themselves, as sprouting grass dolls are dotted around the four festival sites. We spoke with the visionary behind the project, Ben Hagenaars, to find out more.

words by Ruth Garner

Ben Hagenaars, is on a mission to transform urban spaces. Through his participatory design project Animation Vegetation he is seeking to engage people on the importance of green places in urban spaces. Generally, as cities grow and become more populated they simultaneously see a decrease in green areas. Such a decrease then negatively impacts the quality of life for those living in the city.

CASESTUDY_ANIMATIONVEGETATION Ben Hagenaars

To fight back against this trend, Hagenaars devised a ‘green-up’ project to both engage the public and to make a statement about how vital green spaces are. Inspired by ground-level movements such as graffiti artists and guerrilla gardeners, the project has created an emotional tool that captures people’s imagination.

CASESTUDY_ANIMATIONVEGETATION Ben Hagenaars

The premise is simple: ‘A doll is made out of a biodegradable fabric. It is then filled with seeds and soil,’ Hagenaars explains. ‘The vital ingredients of sunshine and water allow the seeds to sprout, before they find their way out of through the layer of fabric. What results is a grass sprouting doll, which is then placed in an otherwise ‘green-less’ urban space.’

CASESTUDY_ANIMATIONVEGETATION Ben Hagenaars

The beauty of the chosen material is that it reacts to wherever it is placed, so in some spaces it might degrade differently according to the weather, becoming uniquely woven into the surrounding city. The doll itself is much like a graffiti tag: making a critical statement about its public surrounding. But being a doll the statement is somehow gentler, tugging at the public’s emotions.

CASESTUDY_ANIMATIONVEGETATION Ben Hagenaars

The project isn’t just about making a statement; participation is also a key component. When this project first ran in 2009, ten people were invited to each make and adopt a doll, caring for it as it grew green, before they placed it in a spot of their choosing.

CASESTUDY_ANIMATIONVEGETATION Ben Hagenaars

‘By allowing others to take part in this experiment, an emotional connection was created between the person, the doll and this environmental issue,’ he adds. The project has now grown considerably, gradually involving more and more local participants. The largest installation to date was in Hasselt, where over 500 dolls were made and spread around the city.

CASESTUDY_ANIMATIONVEGETATION Ben Hagenaars

Now Hagenaars is bringing this exciting urban project to Ghent. Thanks to the assistance of the students at VISO-Gent, for the duration of this year’s Floralies 50 green dolls will be dotted around the city. They will each react uniquely depending on where they are placed, and the hope is that these green dolls will win the hearts of those living in and also those visiting Ghent. It feels right that such an vital discussion about the importance of green places in urban spaces is part of the Floralies, where such dialogues are not only welcome, but encouraged.