Tomato trade for poetry at the HPAC

Locals trade a bit of their soul, in the form of a poem, for a well-watered Solanum lycopersicum at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave., last week. -Spencer Bibbs

Locals trade a bit of their soul, in the form of a poem, for a well-watered Solanum lycopersicum at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave., last week.

-Spencer Bibbs

By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Staff Writer

The Hyde Park Art Center hosted an exchange of free tomato seedlings for poems last week.

The impromptu swap was organized by Cream Co., a Bridgeport-based artist collective that was in residence at the Hyde Park Art Center in 2011 and 2012. Since last year, the group has been swapping surplus tomato plants for poems and more out of a back yard at Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Projects, 6901 S. Dorchester Ave.

“We had a load of extra seedlings and we wanted to make sure they found homes,” said Cream Co. co-founder Marie Krane. “And we wanted to see if people wanted to trade for them.”

Last week’s unmonitored, honors system swap invited participants to take a tomato seedling for free, or offer a poem or a plant in return. Cream Co. received more than 500 poems in exchange for around 2,300 tomato seedlings by the time its weeklong swap ended last Wednesday.

But the exchange was neither its first — nor likely its last — in Hyde Park.

While Cream Co. was in residence at HPAC the group hosted a self-described “post retail museum gift shop,” General Economy, Exquisite Exchange (G.E.E.E.), inviting visitors to swap books, recipes and other goods for gardening materials including seeds and houseplants. The group was in one of the Op Shop pop-up shops created by Laura Shaeffer on 53rd Street.

Krane was inspired by her own experience as a gardener swapping seedlings with neighbors. The idea, she said, is “that somebody’s thought or that somebody’s poem or a note actually has economic value. Not like, capitalist economic value, necessarily, but like neighborly economic value.”

Cream Co. plans to swap seasonal seedlings for at the Museum of Contemporary Art later this summer. And if they have a surplus tomato seedlings next year, Krane said, they will return to HPAC.

“It’s so exciting to have people care about it,” Krane said.

j.bishku@hpherald.com