July 9, 2013

How is this Art?

Sue Spaid, the conceptual curator of GREEN ACRES: Artists Farming Fields, Greenhouses, and Abandoned Lots, created an exhibition that showcases artists who present farming practices as art. The pieces are direct reactions to environmental change and the noticeable decrease in agricultural space and production within the urban landscape. In both the exhibition and its accompanying catalog, Spaid researches the evolution of “art-farming” in the last forty years, a movement that she claims is an “alternative [to the] purely ‘ideational’ conceptual art…” that was popular during the 1960s and 1970s. (Spaid, Sue. Green Acres: Artists Farming Fields, Greenhouses and Abandoned Lots. Cincinnati, OH: Contemporary Arts Center, 2012.) GREEN ACRES examines the evolution of artists into food-activists and art-farmers, and traces the rise of farming, ecology and global issues in art.

Sue Spaid conceptual curator of Green Acres

A piece that exemplifies the marriage of art and agriculture is Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison’s Survival Series (1970-1973).  The Harrisons, otherwise known as The Harrison Studio, crafted the Survival Series with the aim of sharing “self-sufficient farming techniques to feed an overpopulated world.”  They used their art to raise awareness and pose solutions about a global overpopulation and the shortage of natural resources and food supplies.  To accomplish their vision of addressing sustainability, the Harrisons pulled from the fields of environmental science, biology, ecology, architecture and urban planning. A refabrication of this functioning indoor farm will be included in the GREEN ACRES exhibition at AAC.

The Survival Series will include the pieces “Portable Orchard,” “Potato Farm,” and “Strawberry Patch.” Crops will be planted indoors in geometrically shaped, wooden basins and lights will be hung over the planters to create a sustaining environment.  The installation was originally modeled after Harrison’s Full Farm (1974) which was commissioned by the Houston Museum of Contemporary Art as a teaching tool about sustainable gardening and agriculture.

Green Acres Harrison Studio Flat Pastures at Arlington Arts Center Summer 2013
“Flat Pastures” (1974) by the Harrison Studio
Green Acres Harrison Studio Upright Pastures at Arlington Arts Center Summer 2013
“Upright Pastures” (1974) by the Harrison Studio

So, how is the Survival Series art? On the outset, it is just an everyday indoor garden. But examine further, conduct a formal analysis of the artwork: look at its forms, colors, smells, and the interactive and performance qualities.  For example, the juxtaposition between the geometric wood planters with the organic lines of the plants is one aspect in which the farm embodies sustainability in an urban environment. The structured, rigid lines of the wood perhaps resembles the cityscape whereas the plants bring an element of natural resilience. Next, observe the interactions and different engagements people are having with the work of art.  The actions of growing and harvesting the crops, as well as simply noting the growth of the plants, is a visual and interactive component that is worth considering.  Ask how the ritualistic and repeated actions of the gardener/farmer have performative qualities.  The Survival Series, like all of the artworks that are a part of GREEN ACRES: Artists Farming Fields, Greenhouses, and Abandoned Lots exhibition, are open to one’s own interpretation.  Visit AAC to examine for yourself how growth functions as art.

For more information about the art of farming, read the exhibition catalogue GREEN ACRES: Artists Farming Fields, Greenhouses, and Abandoned Lots!  Sue Spaid’s catalogue is available for purchase at the Arlington Arts Center for $40. Visit us to pick up your copy today!

– Written by Carolyn Bauer, AAC Exhibitions & Curatorial Intern, and Jenni Myung, AAC Marketing Intern

This 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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