September 19, 2013

GREEN ACRES Spotlight: Getting Dirty with J.J. McCracken

One of the most extraordinary things about art is that it can be anything and can be found anywhere. To some, art is only a painting or a sculpture which is aesthetically pleasing to the viewer. However to others, art is something that can be found in the natural world.

Vermiculture - A Creative Commons Licensed Image
Vermiculture – A Creative Commons Licensed Image

This summer at AAC, with our GREEN ACRES exhibition, we have continued with our goal of challenging and opening up people’s views of contemporary art with issues related to food, agriculture, and urban farming.

This month’s spotlight focuses on J.J. McCracken, a local artist who attended both William & Mary and George Washington University, and her Vermiculture Boxes on display in AAC’s Truland Gallery. These boxes are one of the more unique installations in the exhibition. For many individuals, it is challenging to think of these installations as art, considering that they are Plexiglas boxes filled with dirt, food scraps, and Red Wiggler earthworms. But, when examined more closely and when one thinks about what these boxes are really saying, there is no doubt that they are works of art in themselves.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term vermiculture, it means “worm farming” and is the practice of using worms to convert organic matter into compost. Compost is an essential part of organic farming methods, because it’s natural fertilizer. As an artist, McCracken likes to focus on the experience of life-the movement of time or creating and consuming. McCracken is a well-known performance artist, however in this work she lets the worms become the real show.

Redwiggler Earthworms inside their vermiculture boxes - AAC Truland Gallery
Redwiggler Earthworms inside their vermiculture boxes – AAC Truland Gallery

Almost all of her projects are a reflection of the cycle of life, which is an inherently beautiful idea. One of her most recent projects Hunger, Philadelphia was an examination of hunger from a global perspective, but also brought up conversations about geophagy along with constructing a farm within an exhibition space open to the public eye.

McCracken’s vermiculture boxes demonstrate the life cycle in one of its simplest forms. The Plexiglas boxes are nailed to a stark white wall and are filled with worm bedding and food waste materials. The worms eat these materials and subsequently create fertilizer, in a natural process that recycles the old into something new and valuable for more organic matter to grow. The biological process behind this definitely qualifies as art. If you have your doubts about whether or not this is art, stop by the galleries and see for yourself!

Written by AAC Marketing & Development Intern Katherine Roper

The GREEN ACRES exhibition is made possible by an Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award. The Exhibition Award program was founded in 1998 to honor Emily Hall Tremaine. It rewards innovation and experimentation among curators by supporting thematic exhibitions that challenge audiences and expand the boundaries of contemporary art.

Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award

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