Artist obtains permit, grows pot for San Francisco exhibit

October 29, 2006

Kristin Bender, ANG Newspapers

SAN FRANCISCO — The first reaction to the thriving marijuana plant encased in Plexiglas in a San Francisco art gallery is to its pungent odor.

Then come the questions.

"They say, 'Is it real and is it for sale?' The plant is not for sale, but the photos are," replies Wendi Norris, an owner of Frey Norris Gallery on Geary Street where the "Marijuana Project" is on display through Nov. 16.

The pot plant, accompanying photos of another plant, and buds encased in resin and mounted in petri dishes, as well as Pred's grower's permit and medical marijuana identification card, are part of the "Who's Afraid of San Francisco" exhibit, which includes installations on gay marriage, immigrants, anti-war movements and racial justice by artists from Oakland and elsewhere.

The pot plant was grown by Michele Pred, a 41-year West Berkeley artist,who last year displayed her patriotic artwork made of scissors, razor blades, cigarette lighters and knives that had been confiscated from airline passengers at San Francisco International Airport following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

This time around, Pred chose to create art around marijuana because it's a "San Francisco-centric topic" likely to get people talking about medical marijuana, legalization, addiction and other issues. Marijuana is illegal under federal law but allowed in 11 states, including California, for medical use.

"It's really to ignite a dialogue on all levels, to make it more of an acceptable everyday topic where we can talk about it. It's just a weed," she said.

But not everyone agrees that a pot plant should be sitting out in the open for everyone to see. The gallery, said Norris, has received a few complaints about the exhibit.

"(One man with an anti-drug organization) does not like this at all, but I thanked him for all his input because this is exactly what (the artist) wanted," Norris said.

Norris believes Pred wants to demystify marijuana by putting it in the public eye. "Maybe if parents see that it is just a plant, they'll be able to find common ground (and) talk to their children about it."

Lawrence Rinder, dean of the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, called the exhibit "intriguing," saying art in this society is extremely broadly defined.

To grow the plant, Pred first paid $150 for a visit to a shabby and jam-packed Oakland clinic where she saw a doctor and complained of stress, headaches and trouble sleeping, which are all ailments Pred said she suffers from.

"I wanted to make it clear that I was coming in with honest and true medical issues," she said.

During the four-hour process, she was interviewed, but never examined physically. She was later issued an identification card and grower's permit that allows her to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use.

To grow her first plant, she did research on the Internet and at a hydroponics supply store, and then bought a clone, or starter plant, from a Berkeley medical marijuana club.

Pred bought grow lights and fertilizer and started growing a plant, which she photographed for the gallery show. The plant on display at Frey Norris is the second plant she has grown.

"There's actually a lot you need to do, you have to know what you are doing ..." she said.

As she was working on her art, the project took a turn she never expected.

Several weeks before the show opened in early October, Pred's father, Allan Pred, a 70-year-old retired University of California, Berkeley professor who never smoked cigarettes and rode his bike to work nearly every day during his

44-year career, was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

"When I conceptualized the piece, I never thought it would hit home with me," she said.

Her father has undergone chemotherapy and — to deal with the nausea and loss of appetite — ate a marijuana cookie bar that Pred, as a caregiver, legally purchased for him.

"It calmed him down," she said. He may try it again, but Pred isn't certain.

What she does know is the debate she set out to ignite became decidedly personal when her father got sick.

"It's affected me on a level I never expected."

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