Art as Community

Conversations with Jessica & Heidi
Written by Heidi Woo

Kiyomi Fukui Nannery and her husband, Michael, run a holistic all-encompassing farm and press concept in Long Beach, California: Peace Lily Press & Microfarm (PLP). An urban farm, personal studio, and artist’s community, PLP’s mission is rooted in connection — to self, to others, and to the earth. Both Kiyomi and Michael are printmakers whose individual work evokes collaboration, activism and community. PLP is both their home and a communal space in which their personal relationship serves as a foundation for artistic growth and creativity. Kiyomi’s artwork is often inspired by the plants growing in her garden, many of which were donated or bartered among friends. PLP is a space where visitors come to examine their values; to question what holds value to them and why; and to ponder the meaning behind memories, relationships, and ideas.

Redefining Value in a Marriage Between Art & Life

Tell us about Peace Lily Press & Microfarm. Where do art and farming collide for you and Michael? KIYOMI: PLP is a merge between art and life. I want it to be as honest, and earnest as possible. Michael and I come from a pretty similar artistic background with similar interests. When we started, PLP was more of a social experiment more aligned with art than business. What we do here is similar to each of our individual practices. I like to explore connections between people and emotional connections. Identity was part of it too — how do we connect in this country if everyone is foreign, except Indigenous Americans? Michael and I have a desire to find connection.

We don’t make money off the press … maybe a tiny bit from selling soap made from the herbs we grow. For the most part, we don’t really ask for money. We want people to visit us, spend time with us. We also barter goods, so a lot of value is exchanged but not necessarily money. We’re very non-capitalist in that way. We wish to explore the non-monetary value that people don’t notice in daily life. There’s so much emphasis on, “How do we make money? How do we become successful? What is success? What is the value?” We invite people to produce in cooperation, to create an exchange of goods — and food. There’s an educational aspect to PLP too. We talk about what the plants mean to us, both factually and sentimentally. Our visitors receive various commodities but also positive energy — there’s exchange of emotion, goods, and experiences.

We do this as a side thing as we both have day jobs. I teach 2D Design classes at Cal State Long Beach — one of my loves. And Michael works there too, as staff. We both provide meaningful value in different ways, through sharing skills but also sharing experience and knowledge. A lot of times, Michael spends time providing academic assistance and reassurance to students. It is stressful to be going through anything right now but in college, the disconnect is amplified. We see PLP more as art, and art is for our souls, not so much for paying the bills. I think when I decided that I wanted to be an artist, making money off of it was never really a goal for me. I think my goal was to have some sort of day job to support my art.

Describe the garden and how it sustains you? KIYOMI: We started PLP at our previous home which didn’t have much land at all. That was in 2014. In 2018, we completed an artist-in-residency program at Casamor Farm together. It really inspired us.

We recently moved to this new location in the summer. PLP is really just a backyard, so we call it a microfarm. We grow a lot of things to munch on, but not all of the growth is edible. We’re interested in multi-faceted value: if it doesn’t feed us or make us money, it doesn’t mean a plant is worthless. It might just attract pollinators or provide shade and create a microclimate. We’re really interested in a more holistic approach to defining value.

Michael was doing a lot of aquaponics in his own art practice, so that became part of PLP. He had a lot of fish, and therefore a lot of fish poop. We thought, “Maybe we should start planting out the garden to use this poop.” PLP ended up being more of a documentation on how we want to live our lives. It’s still that way. It came down to the mundane; us trying to compost what we eat and using fish waste as fertilizer. When we began composting, it was gold to us, not trash. Most people wouldn’t see stuff like that as beautiful but, to us, it was.

The original PLP started on a triangular piece of land with nothing growing on it. It was littered with beer caps and batteries — just like dead land. We began to plant things here and there, watering it with fish waste, and it started turning into something that gave us a lot of pleasure. It was soul-nourishing and we began bringing guests into the fold, and since we were both printmakers, making prints in the space too. We do a lot of screen printing for ourselves and others as part of PLP.

Michael made a lithograph of earthworms where the earthworms wriggled on a surface to make marks. Later, I planted paper casts taken from a mold of my mom’s thumb before she passed away. To “propagate” her essence, her spirit, and the sentiment that comes with it; I embedded the thumbs with seeds. PLP is an extension of our art practice and of our existence. It is the way we want to live our lives, manifested into something tangible that we could visualize.
We are thinking of PLP as a platform for other people. Our goal is to set this place up in the coming months to host other artists and make art coming from the vegetation here. We even have a space in the garden that we call a “gallery” right now!

Workshops and the zine are organized by Slow + Sustain through the volunteer efforts of our contributors. Funding comes from both the contributors and the public.