Art Papers

Green Light: Toward an Art of Evolution

A book to check out soon…

by George Gessert

Humans have bred plants and animals with an eye to aesthetics for centuries: flowers are selected for colorful blossoms or luxuriant foliage; racehorses are bred for the elegance of their frames. Hybridized plants were first exhibited as fine art in 1936, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York showed Edward Steichen's hybrid delphiniums. Since then, bio art has become a genre; artists work with a variety of living things, including plants, animals, bacteria, slime molds, and fungi. Many commentators have addressed the social and political concerns raised by making art out of living material. In Green Light, however, George Gessert examines the role that aesthetic perception has played in bio art and other interventions in evolution.

Gessert looks at a variety of life forms that humans have helped shape, focusing on plants—the most widely domesticated form of life and the one that has been crucial to his own work as an artist. We learn about Onagadori chickens, bred to have tail feathers twenty or more feet long; pleasure gardens of the Aztecs, cultivated for intoxicating fragrance; Darwin's relationship to the arts; the rise and fall of eugenics; the aesthetic standards promoted by national plant societies; a daffodil that looks like a rose; and praise for weeds and wildflowers. Gessert surveys recent bio art and its accompanying philosophical problems, the “slow art” of plant breeding, and how to create new life that takes into account what we know about ecology, aesthetics, and ourselves.

About the Author

George Gessert is an artist whose work focuses on the overlap between art and genetics. His exhibits often involve plants he has hybridized or documentation of breeding projects. His writings have appeared in Leonardo, Art Papers, Design Issues, Massachusetts Review, Hortus, Best American Essays 2007, Pushcart Prize XXX, and other publications.

April 2010

The MIT Press

A Leonardo Book

ISBN: 0-262-01414-9

192 pp., 30 illus.

__The Leonardo Book Series__.

Digging for victory

Fritz Haeg
, Edible Estates regional prototype garden #2: Lakewood, CA, 2006, owners: Foti Family, produced in collaboration with Millard Sheets Gallery for the exhibition Fair Exchange and Machine Project, Los Angeles

There’s a fascinating article by Berin Golonu on artist Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates and other similar initiatives online at Art Papers. Haeg famously believes in tearing up people’s front lawns to create something less dull and water-greedy and more productive from them. He created an intervention last year at the Tate’s Turbine Hall along these lines.

The greening of suburban American has become a major issue in the US, as Peter Head mentioned  in this recent Arts and Ecology interview. Art Papers also points to the work of John Bela‘s collabration with the US  Slow Food Nation on San Francisco’s wonderful Civic Center Victory Garden, which in turn drew inspiration from Amy Franceschini and the Futurefarmers organisation she founded. The article also namechecks NY architecture practice and their ideas of the Public Farm.


Golonu gnaws briefly over the but-is-it-still-art question:

Victor Margolin considers this question in his catalog essay for the exhibition
Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art.
“How do we think about art that moves from discourse to action, art whose intent is to produce a useful result,” he writes,
and by what criteria do we evaluate this work?… In the never-ending
debates on the difference between art and design, the distinction
usually comes down to the primacy of discourse in artistic practice….
But when artists want to achieve social results without identifying
themselves as designers, how should the critical community respond?
“Once artists enter a realm of action,” he continues, “it is difficult
to characterize their projects differently from those of other actors
such as landscape designers or even architects… the discursive has
spilled over into the practical, and the practical has become more


… but without getting anywhere much. The point isn’t whether it’s art or not, but the fact that it’s happening and as a movment appears to be reaching a kind of critical mass.


In addition to the above, Michaela Crimmin reminds me of Jeremy Deller’s work on allotments in Berlin, which fits into the same picture… and looking at David Barrie’s most recent blog post, there’s also the example of Dott07’s City Farming project in Middlesborough:

In the project, people grew food in vacant public places across the town, took cookery classes in neighbourhood centres and then, come the final harvest, cooked a ‘town meal’, in an event attended by over 8000 people and curated by artist Bob and Roberta Smith.