UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 17 Fall 23 Library
School of Architecture

Recap: Arrival on Grounds—an Embodied Journey + Celebration

As people scurried across Grounds last Friday heading to the Cavaliers' football game, there was a quieter collective experience happening on the South Lawn. Students from the School of Architecture, namely graduate students in the master of landscape architecture program, were gathered on fruit-laden blankets awaiting prompts from Larissa Belcic and Michelle Shofet of the artist-duo Nocturnal Medicine. The artists previously visited the School of Architecture last spring as invited guests for the indelible 2023 Howland Memorial Panel. They were welcomed back to the university by Sam Rosner (MLA '24) and Michelle Kahl (MLA '24) on behalf of the Student Association of Landscape Architects, to create a ritualized gathering that supported the integration of students into place, and the formation of community from that act. The event was called Arrival on Grounds: An Embodied Journey and Celebration

(clockwise from top left) Michelle Shofet introduces the event; students center their attention; a set of questions framed the Arrival on Grounds program.
(Photo: Tom Daly)

This serene enclave was the starting point of an experiential tour across campus to welcome students into the fall semester and help build intention for the year ahead. In their welcome and introduction, Shofet and Belcic steered attendees' minds and bodies to peaceful attention through a meditation and an invitation to slowly eat fresh fruit. They, along with Rosner and Kahl reminded everyone of the desired outcomes for the event—to build new, place-based rituals outside of the traditional bounds of the academy, and to nurture a culture of mutuality and care. The event was structured around three questions:

  • What do we bring here? 
  • Where do we come to? 
  • How do we want to be here?

Each participant was given a map, a small river rock to carry—a reminder of the long arc of time, and a brown paper bag for collecting materials that could later be added to a tapestry during the event's culminating party. Subdivided into three smaller groups, everyone set out to explore the ecological, climatic, historical, and cultural contexts of the university's complicated landscape—one built by enslaved laborers on the ancestral homeland of the Monacan Indian Nation. 

On the journey was a stop under the nearly 100-year-old Yulan magnolia tree near the Rotunda.
(Photo: Tom Daly)

Using brightly colored flags for wayfinding and to demarcate each of the six sites, Nocturnal Medicine added a spirit of play to the quest. Students were stationed at each site to help facilitate place-based rituals for their peers. At the sprawling Yulan magnolia tree northeast of the Rotunda, for example, the group was instructed to find a moment where the tree meets the soil. Using the river rock, they were asked to trace the path of the tree's roots through the soil, whisper their name to the tree, and then tie a ribbon around it.

Several landscape architecture graduate students performed gestures of healing at the sub-grade kitchen wall outside of Hotel A where enslaved laborers once worked.
(Photo: Tom Daly)

Further west on Grounds, at the sub-grade kitchen wall where enslaved laborers once cooked for students and faculty, participants were prompted to press their rock into a groove in the wall and then press their bodies to the wall long enough to take three long breaths. Before leaving the space, everyone anointed the spot on the wall where heart and stone touched using three droplets of a mysterious elixir.  

The remaining stops on the journey included the Dell, the Kitty Foster House, Pavilion Garden X, and the Lawn. Each site was accompanied by a contemplative activity that gave space for reflecting about how we can engage more deeply in our relationships to self, time, place, and each other. As the last blast of light subsided that evening in a warm pink glow, all the participants reconvened on the South Lawn for a celebration over food and drink. Together, they took out the clippings and detritus they collected in their brown bags, and stitched these tangible remnants from Arrival on Grounds onto a canvas tapestry.

Arrival on Grounds concluded on the Lawn with a celebration—an opportunity to stitch together materials and memories from a well-spent evening with friends and peers at the A-School.
(Photo: Tom Daly | Photo of tapestry, courtesy Sam Rosner.)

Special thanks to the Jefferson Trust for generously funding Arrival on Grounds. 

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