Edible Landscapes

Artist Commission: Amy Franceschini/Myriel Milicevic – Loughborough University Arts

Beneath the Pavement: A Garden is a project that considers biological forms in relation to political and social systems. It looks at the potential of a small plot of land on the Loughborough University campus to tell social and political stories, deconstructing systems, propagating them and watching them grow.

We often inform our economics, architecture, political structures and artwork with systems of nature. What happens if we re-impose these interpretations back onto nature or have them assume roles based on interpretations of these systems?

Launching the project, a three day workshop offered participants the opportunity to collectively debate, design and create edible landscapes based on political systems. With contributions from a diverse range of artists, academics and environmentalists, these discussions informed how the plot is re-invented; creating a site for exchange and production around issues relating to the local and global food economy.

Over subsequent months the garden will act as a meeting place, as participants help tend the land and see this newly created garden grow and thrive.

Across the 3 day workshop participants collectively debated, designed and created edible landscapes based on political systems. These conversations included contributions from political scientists and theorists, local policy makers, sociologists, ecologists and urban planners.

On the first day there was a tour of local food producers and distribution networks, and meetings with key politicians and environmentalists.  On the second day there was a number of workshops and presentations by academics and campaigners whose work is centred around creating or advocating for a more sustainable future.  The final day was taken up with deciding how the piece of land would be cultivated, and included elements of garden design, mapping the layout and content of the space.

Amy Franceschini (USA) and Myriel Milicevic (Germany) have been working together since 2004. They are drawn together under a common interest in how humans interact with the environment around them. They often use highly interactive workshop environments to play out scenarios of social and political significance.  www.futurefarmers.com

via Artist Commission: Amy Franceschini/Myriel Milicevic – Loughborough University Arts.

ecoartspace NYC fall events

This fall we have had a whirlwind of events since early September and time is flying by, the leaves are starting to come down in the Hudson Valley, the temperature is dropping and sadly the gardening season is finished.

The season began with the opening of Down to Earth: Artists Create Edible Landscapes at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia on September 12th. This exhibition highlights the growing focus and emergence of “green” principles and sustainability in relationship to food, art, design and agriculture. The exhibition includes six artists or artist teams who created socially engaging interventions in the landscape. Their works are related to growing indigenous food, the healing properties of plants, sustainable agriculture, water irrigation, permaculture planting, recycling of materials and deer grazing, all creating an aesthetic and cultural link between art and cultivation of the land.

Several current popular books and films about food’s relation to sustainability have helped to propel a new generation of public interest in issues related to organic growing, heirloom seeds, eating and purchasing local food, farmers markets and back yard vegetable gardens. Also being investigated in the media are the negative consequences of monoculture planting and factory farming practices, and the inhumane treatment of livestock in industrial agriculture. The economic downturn and rising fuel and grocery prices have also motivated a new focus on sustainability in relation to food.

Many artists have been engaging these important ecological and social issues in the past few years. The Schuylkill Center presented a unique opportunity for artists to interact with the landscape, with its preserved open space and agricultural history. Down to Earth at Brolo Farm, is presented at an abandoned farm site and each of the artists has created a large-scale outdoor work on this four-acre location.

Making artworks with living components such as plants and water takes a vastly different approach than creating or placing traditional objects in the landscape. These art projects are dependent on the unpredictability of weather and forces of nature including animals and insects. The implication of potential damage and risks involved in the works surviving have forced the artists to acknowledge that like gardeners, they are merely collaborators with nature. They took on this complex challenge with skill and with the help of many staff members, volunteers, students and friends.

After six months of hard work on the projects, constant worry about the weather and water resources being shared, we opened to a day long gathering of at least 200 people. The weather forecast was rain for the entire day – but miraculously the rain held off until just after 6pm when the opening was over. I led a tour group of each project beginning with Joan Bankemper’s Willa, A Medicinal Herb Garden. Joan spoke about the significance of herbs historically, how they were used as medicine by healers and midwives for hundreds of years but were discouraged in the past century due to modern medicine frowning on the practice. She made the timely connection to our present day health care crisis by encouraging visitors to take a preventative approach to wellness by learning about the healing properties of plants and distributed an informational color brochure she had produced for the occasion. Titled Willa after the Paleolithic fertility figure Venus of Willendorf, Joan’s fifty-ft. garden is modeled after this archaic form. Contained inside the figure are seven circles representing Hindu chakras or energy centers from root to crown. Each chakra is planted with herbs and flowers that can respectively lead to healing for that area of the body. (Joan’s printed handout makes the connection of each chakra in the human body – and a list of associated healing plants.) The overall design of this project also reflects on the 1970’s work of Feminist artist Ana Mendieta, well known for her Silueta series of figurative Earthworks which involved carving her imprint directly into mud or sand.

Next on the tour was Stacy Levy speaking about her sculptural fence installation Kept Out. This work provides an opportunity to investigate how the deer alter their own edible landscape. The deer’s meal choices affect the growth of the forest and the field: their grazing results in fewer seedlings of native tree, shrub and herbaceous species. Due to human influence, deer populations are out of balance and destroying the sustainability of their own food sources in the field and forests. Stacy created two versions of this piece, the first was a prototype on her own woodland site in mid-PA where she worked out the pattern of criss-crossing tall blue metal poles as a deer fence. Stacy spoke about the ways in which deer are ravaging the landscape, eating everything in sight – the end result of which means that far fewer trees ever make it to maturity beyond deer grazing height. This has serious implications and consequences for the future of unprotected woodlands and forests. Since we no longer have large predators for the deer (other than humans in cars and deer hunters in season), they are over-populating. Stacy brought up the fact that we all love to see deer in the landscape and equate seeing them with “nature”, but the irony being that the deer by consuming all their resources will leave nothing left to eat for future deer generations (sound familiar?). The larger unanswered question is what to do about the continuing growth in human population that leaves less and less room for deer and other wild species to roam and eat.

Following Stacy was a water leveling demonstration by artist Knox Cummin. His functioning rainwater collection sculpture, titled Not Drain Away provided the water for Ann Rosenthal and Steffi Domike’s American Roots Garden. The three artists decided to collaborate early on in the project, which worked out beneficially for all. Since it rained for a solid month in June, the garden thrived but later in dry, hot August we had to resort to hand watering. Not Drain Away takes the shape of a twenty-ft. square room and is built out of wood attached to the roof of the existing farmhouse. It is complete with rain barrels, piping and an irrigation system. The water collection system is gravity powered and uses no external energy to operate. By collecting rainwater, there is no additional load on the municipal water supply or well water. This elaborate sculpture combines craftsmanship, art and design, proving the case that art can be both functional and aesthetic.

Contained inside the structure of Not Drain Away, is a vegetable garden by Ann Rosenthal and Steffi Domike (Pittsburgh, PA). Titled An American Roots Garden, it includes foods common to early America, including Native American crops and those brought by settlers and immigrants. These include corn, squash, and beans (commonly known as the “three sisters”), a variety of potatoes and tomatoes, beets, carrots, sunflowers, marigolds, and herbs. The garden is laid out in a quilt-type pattern that provides a structure to consider the evolution and story of five staple crops and how food cultures are lost or preserved. Ann and Steffi harvested carrots, beets, corn and potatoes the day of the opening. Their garden reached its peak in August both in terms of abundance and beauty. The artists spoke about reconnecting to the past in the use of a “kitchen garden” and stressed the importance of holding on to our individual cultural histories in relationship to passed down food traditions and family recipes. The artists also created a kid’s placemat to hand out at the opening with a word puzzle and kitchen garden quilt for coloring.

We then moved the tour out to a large former crop field on the site to speak with artist Susan Leibovitz Steiman. Her garden Urban Defense was a tour de force collaborative project. Susan lives in the S.F. Bay Area, so her project involved local participation from friends, volunteers and student assistants Susan hired from the Philadelphia University Sustainable Design Program, led by Fern Gookin. Susan spoke about creating the garden with techniques of permaculture, a planting method that mimics nature’s principle of combining diverse compatible plantings that conserve labor, water and soil, to produce abundant healthy food. The forty-ft. square installation has at its heart a five-sided permaculture urban forest orchard, contained within a raised bed structure built using locally culled household salvage. The title Urban Defense and the form of the installation refer to Philadelphia’s myriad columned public buildings, and to the political strength of the U.S. Defense Department’s Pentagon. Ecologically, Urban Defense honors another American symbol, the apple—its five seed chambers of diverse seeds can create an entire sustainable food forest. Urban Defense includes more than a dozen varieties of trees, perennial bushes and annuals whose fruits have been shared and donated to local food banks.

The last stop on the far side of the same field was to Simon Draper’s Habitat for Artists Collective. The work titled Drawn to / Drawn from the Garden consists of a mini art studio, potting shed, and seven vegetable/flower gardens. The collective of artists in this project included Todd Sargood, Odin Cathcart, Jeff Bailey and Cathy Lebowitz. Draper spoke about his childhood experience of gardening with his father and how that joint activity created a neutral space for otherwise difficult communication. He also related how his interest in shed-making stems from that same period of time, where he saw how the backyard shed could become a place for contemplation, tinkering and creative projects. The HFA Collective has to this date constructed 20 different habitats (sheds) in various sites around the Hudson Valley, NYC and Philadelphia. This project aims to encourage backyard food growing, recycling of materials and the re-purposing of abandoned sites for gardening. Local artists and school groups were invited to collaborate and to adopt two of the garden plots, which provided opportunities for engagement, the shed siding consists of art panels by school children.

Down to Earth: Artists Create Edible Landscapes is on view in Philadelphia through November 28th. Read a review of the exhibition in the Philadelphia Inquirer by art critic Edith Newhall here.

In order to bring the creativity and huge amount of labor involved in making Down to Earth available to a New York audience, a documentation form of the exhibition opened at ecoartspace in NYC on October 3rd. The same artists from the Philadelphia show are exhibiting photographs, prints and an herbal apothecary by Joan Bankemper. Also included are several additional artists’ projects, a video by Eva Bakkeslett, Alchemy: The Poetics of Bread; a video by Jacinto Astiazaran & Fritz Haeg, The Story of Manahatta and the Lenape Edible Estate Manhattan; a film by Lenore Malen & The New Society for Universal Harmony, I Am The Animal That I Am; Eve Mosher’s mini green roof modules, Seeding the City; Andrea Polli & Chuck Varga’s, Hello Weather! an outdoor data collecting weather station; Andrea Reynosa & Kevin Vertrees, Sky Dog Projects, time lapse videos of corn and hops on their farm with a hops pillow by Donna Sharrett, and Christy Rupp’s food packaging, New Labels for Genetically Engineered Food.

The exhibition will remain on view at the ecoartspace NYC office through November 21st at 53 Mercer Street in Soho, NY. Hours are Saturdays 12 – 6pm and by appointment.

On Sunday October 4th, performance artist Chere Krakovsky presented her work, Mothers and Daughters at Solar One in the Habitat for Artists shed that has been situated there since July 10th when it left ecoartspace on Mercer Street.

Chere’s performance explored how one generation offers its lessons to the next, both learned and unspoken. In the first part of the performance she honored her Eastern European grandmother by washing her laundry by hand the same way her grandmother did a century ago. She then hung it out to dry on a clothes line connected to the Habitat/shed with the East River as background. Following this Chere invited her 86 year old mother, Dorothy Krakovsky to join her in the shed to teach Chere to sew by hand, which she in turn was taught to do by Chere’s grandmother. In this piece the everyday and the creative co-exist. The shed served as the home location for the everyday tasks of doing laundry and sewing. Visitors were invited to participate in the sewing lesson or share in conversation about what has been offered/handed down to them from their mothers. The artwork of mother, daughter and grandmother filled the interior of the habitat during the performance. Chere’s performance work revolves around her ever-changing notions of home, it’s location and meaning.

On October 24th at ecoartspace NYC in conjunction with 350.org’s International Day of Climate Action, we will screen three films – by Eva Bakkeslett, Jacinto Astiazaran & Fritz Haeg, and Lenore Malen & The New Society for Universal Harmony.

Eva Bakkeslett’s “Alchemy: The Poetry of Bread” – A poetic evocation on the alchemy of bread brings the act of baking the most basic of staples, into a high art form.

Jacinto Astiazaran & Fritz Haeg, “The Story of Mannahatta and the Lenape Edible Estate: Manhattan” as told by Eric Sanderson of the Mannahatta Project. – Ever wondered what New York looked like before it was a city? Welcome to Mannahatta, 1609. Now, after nearly a decade of research, the Mannahatta Project at the Wildlife Conservation Society has un-covered the original ecology of Manhattan.

Lenore Malen & The New Society for Universal Harmony‘s “I Am The Animal That I Am” – Narrates the grave threat to the bee population including “colony collapse disorder” from the perspective of 6 Hudson Valley Beekeepers.

Go to EcoArtSpace

Artists Create Edible Gardens/Curated by Amy Lipton

Update on Down to Earth: Artists Create Edible Landscapes. Artists: Joan Bankemper, Knox Cummin, Ann Rosenthal/Steffi Domike, Stacy Levy, Habitat for Artists (with Simon Draper, Jeff Baily, E Odin Cathcart, Cathy Lebovitz, Todd Sargood) and Susan Leibovitz Steinman. For background information on this exhibition please scroll down the blog to see the last post on May 28th for descriptions of the projects.

It had been 3 weeks since my last visit to see the development of the artists’ gardens in Philadelphia at the Schuylkill Center and the new growth was lush and overflowing. Philly has a warmer (and more humid) climate than the Hudson Valley where I live, and I was shocked to see how much was growing in comparison to my home garden which produced very little in the way of veggies with the exception of cucumbers and lettuce, plants that don’t mind wet and cold conditions. My tomato plants got early blight, but the red and yellow heirlooms planted in the American Roots Garden by Ann Rosenthal and Steffi Domike were healthy and delicious if not a bit overgrown! The rain barrel water collection system by Knox Cummin has done a great job til now, but on this visit the barrels seemed to be clogged and we had to resort to the hose off of the farmhouse. Ann did a kids’ camp workshop in July at SCEE to create a series of art banners depicting the various plants, they came out beautifully and are now hung on the tubing for the irrigation system above the garden.

Water issues have been the biggest area of troubleshooting during the course of these projects and the artists have all had to be ingenious at working out ways for the gardens to be watered in their absence. Urban Defense by Susan Leibovitz Steinman is being watered from the house spigot, five hundred feet away with a soaker hose and timer system installed by Susan’s assistants Fern Gookin and Scott Torr from Philadelphia University’s Sustainable Design Grad program. Since Susan lives in Berkeley, CA, maintaining her garden from such a long distance has had its logistical challenges, but Susan has a great team in place and with added gardening expertise and help by her close friend Fredda London, a Philly resident – things are looking great. Many of the plants in both of these gardens are ready to harvest and will go to local organizations that distribute fresh produce to the needy.

Simon Draper and Todd Sargood of HFA were working when I arrived mid afternoon in the hot, sticky August weather, they looked wilted but happy. Todd was adding some recent art tiles as siding to the shed. These tiles have been painted by kids, campers at SCEE and from local schools. They will continue to make more art tiles to be added before the opening day. The 7 garden beds around the shed were tended, weeded and in some cases re-planted, as the earlier part of this summer was rainy and somewhat cooler than normal. Not great conditions for seeds to thrive.

Joan Bankemper’s medicinal herb garden, Willa, was thriving and the soaker hose system she buried throughout her 7 chakra beds seemed to be in good working order. The tobacco plants in particular were enormous and had beautiful flowers, something I had never seen on these plants in fields that are not allowed to flower. In the photo to the right Joan is harvesting some flowering hyssop. There will be a complete list of all the herbs planted in each chakra and their medicinal benefits to those areas of the body available for the public at the opening.

This project has been a real learning process for all with many successes and some frustration, but the results are already worth the effort. The artists have met with challenges during this “garden growing art project” that they probably have not encountered before, but took them on with dedication. They have had to depend on many volunteers and deal with the unpredictability of weather, animals, insects and soil conditions. Like gardeners they have been willing to experiment and to cope with these inherent risks and lack of control, all for a temporal public art viewing experience.

Everyone will be back to finish up the first week of September in time for the opening day on the 12th. August 30th will be a volunteer day organized by Zoe Cohen and Rachel Dobkin, managers of the SCEE environmental art program. The gardens will be harvested, re-mulched, pruned and mowed around the edges to be ready for public viewing. A gallery exhibition related to all of the projects will be installed indoors at the Center. Stay tuned for a report then.

Go to EcoArtSpace

Down to Earth at the Schuylkill Center

My current curatorial project Down to Earth: Artists Create Edible Landscapes is underway at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (SCEE) in Philadelphia, a show with 6 artists or artist teams, each creating a work about sustainable agriculture. The show takes place at a section of SCEE’s 3oo-plus acre site called Brolo Farm, complete with an abandoned farm house, barn, and farm fields that have not been actively used for decades. The overall site of the Schuylkill Center is the largest privately-owned open space area within the city limits of Philadelphia – featuring a variety of habitats including woodlands, meadows, five teaching ponds and wetlands. In addition, there are four miles of hiking trails and 7 sculpture/shelters from a current exhibition titled Gimme Shelter, commissioned by SCEE’s environmental art program.

The artists in Down to Earth are Joan Bankemper (NYC) who is creating a new version of her Medicinal Herb Garden, a large-scale garden planted in the form of an archaic feminine figure; Knox Cummin (Phila., PA) is building a rain water collection sculpture which contains a “room” garden by Ann Rosenthal and Steffi Domike (Pittsburgh, PA) titled An American Roots Garden, planted with herbs and vegetable indigenous to Native Americans such as squash, corn and beans; Simon Draper and the Habitat For Artists Collective including Todd Sargood and E Odin Cathcart (Hudson Valley, NY) have begun work on Drawn from the Garden, an art studio, potting shed, and 7 raised bed gardens, 2 of which local artists and school groups have been invited to adopt. Stacy Levy (Spring Mills, PA) will create a work titled Kept Out, a deer exclosure built partially in woodlands and partially in fields as an experiment of sorts to see what will grow when the deer are absent. Last but not least is Susan Steinman’s (S.F., CA) Urban Defense, a permaculture apple orchard housed within a built structure based on the pentagon form that the seeds make when you look inside a sliced apple.

I spent 5 days at the site last week, helping the artists get started, it was warm and sunny but low humidity, unusual for Philly but great working conditions. I’m pleased to see these projects start to take shape after several months of research on the part of the artists and discussion and planning with myself and the SCEE staff. The maintenance requirements of these living artworks after the planting (watering, weeding and eventual harvesting) are not to be underestimated. Ann and Steffi’s American Roots, will benefit from the rainwater being collected above and a hose system running through the beds, but the watering for the other gardens has not been completely resolved other than running a long hose from the farm house to the fields.

Creating “gardens as art” requires lots of advance planning, time in the field with the appropriate tools, ammending the existing soil, tons of compost – and plain old hard labor. Isn’t that always the case working outdoors? Real farmers deserve our utmost respect and this show aims to draw connections between art (culture) and working the land (cultivation). In conjunction with this exhibition The Schuylkill Center will soon be selling fresh produce from it’s own “Market Garden”. They have partnered with Urban Girls Produce (UGP) to begin growing a variety of organic fruits and vegetables, dedicating 1 ½ acres of their site for food production. UGB will plant, tend, and harvest all season to bring fresh produce to the Philadelphia market as well as having a weekly produce stand at Brolo Farm near the artists’ sites.

The rewards of presenting Down to Earth will be great as the artist’s gardens start growing (opening September 12th) and especially when we enjoy a harvest meal with the public on October 25th.

Go to EcoArtSpace