Digging Deeper


Franklin Street Works, Stamford, Connecticut, March/April 2013

Photo: Elaine Tin Nyo, LEAF TEAT CURD RIND, 2011

Digging Deeper took place in conjunction with Strange Invitation, at Franklin Street Works, an exhibition exploring the blurring of boundaries between participation and creation. Delving more deeply into the idea of bringing creative thinkers and doers together in engaging, site-specific scenarios, Strange Invitation was structured via a string of invitations from Creative Director, Terri C Smith.

Digging Deeper presented six artists who are exploring the real world implications of small-scale farming and raising community awareness about our food systems. Their varied practices include growing food, cooking food, raising animals for food and engaging communities about local food production as well as instigating new artist-based economies. The act of cultivation, growing, and by implication educating have evolved to a deeper level of activism where the boundaries of real world and art completely disappear. Life, art and agriculture converge and new paradigms evolve regarding the growing, production, distribution and consumption of food. The artists in this exhibition present us with the possibility for transforming cultural and political attitudes surrounding our capitalized and industrial-based food systems. In its place they advocate for an organic, regional and local approach which each of the artists in this exhibition are manifesting in their own lives.

The role that art can play in these investigations is no longer a question. A global art movement related to the relationship of art and the natural world has evolved over the past 40 years. Artists in the late 1960’s and 1970’s such as Agnes Denes, Patricia Johanson, Hans Haacke, Dennis Oppenheim, Bonnie Ora Sherk and Newton and Helen Harrison are the pioneers of this movement that has been growing steadily ever since. The explosion of artists working today in the realm of food and farming coincides with a larger cultural awakening regarding the ills of our present system such as the distances food travels to supermarket shelves and the effects of that on climate change. A host of problems include: the lack of biodiversity in mono-cultural farms, the loss of top soil and nutrient-poor soil, the abuse and poor conditions of feedlot and factory raised animals, the conversion of farmland into housing and the waste of un-harvested crops. Artists are now farming, not only to raise their own food in order to become self-reliant and to eat more healthily but also to offer alternative and sustainable approaches within their local communities.

Joan Bankemper’s Seed Money illustrates a bouquet project that was first realized in 2004 at the Bellevue Hospital, New York City. From 2000 to 2005 Bankemper, working with the title of horticultural therapist collaborated with recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. Starting in the spring the patients and Bankemper grew flowers from seed and created a massive cutting garden. This action merged horticultural therapy, art therapy, design and economics to create a successful healing platform. When the flowers were peaking they designed beautiful bouquets and made a festive flower cart. The cart was installed in the hospital entrance foyer and the clinic patients sold these flowers to visitors who were visiting the infirmed. This project created capital for the patients as well as propagated emotional well-being for all parties involved. In 2009 Joan Bankemper established The Black Meadow Barn, “a place where culture and horticulture meet” in Warwick, Hudson Valley, NY.

Habitat For Artists (HFA) installed one of its signature 6 x 6 art studios outdoors at Franklin Street Works. HFA builds small, temporary, reusable art studios in a variety of locations. The studio at FSW will be transformed into a potting shed/ greenhouse which will be used to propagate seeds and plants for a small garden in collaboration with Hudson Valley Seed Library and Fairgate Farm. As in all HFA studios – the interior and exterior space will be provided for interaction by artists, individuals and families during the course of the exhibition. Presented in the gallery is a variety of artwork from the Hudson Valley Seed Library Art Pack series and actual seed packs as well as photographs of HFA projects that reflect previous collaborations with local CSAs, gardens, urban agricultural and environmental organizations.

Andrea Reynosa is an artist-farmer who actively aims to rally citizens to spark an interest in food production and to offer ways to get people involved. Reynosa’s project Franklin Street Heritage Garden and Farmstand, takes inspiration and instruction from her Big Eddy Farmstand project in Narrowsburg, New York, 2012. The Franklin Street Heritage Garden and Farmstand project will focus on mapping the food-shed of the Stamford region as a curatorial tool for garden and farm stand development with an overlay of youth workforce development, heritage food investigation and production, creation of a marketing identity and sales strategy.

Jenna Spevack’s “domestic microfarms” such as Kitchen Table, explore the value placed on food and artistic social practice through interactions with gallery visitors. Spevack started experimenting with apartment-sized farming by converting her bookshelf into a mini greenhouse. She designed an efficient, sub-irrigated system for growing energy-packed edible plants (microgreens) in small, urban spaces. To suggest a feeling of domesticity household objects were modified to house the microfarms. For example: a dresser, a suitcase, a chair, a kitchen cabinet, a desk, etc. were adapted with a planter and lights. As an urban agricultural design project, she envisioned a way to grow food in an anthropogenic landscape for all strata of citizens, but as an art project, she hopes to facilitate conversations about what we value: convenience vs creative effort, regenerables vs disposables, neighbors vs strangers. Seeding the City, a collaborative map drawing, encourages Franklin Street Works visitors to participate and support local, urban agriculture at Fairgate Farm in Stamford.

LEAF TEAT CURD RIND, 2011 by Elaine Tin Nyo is a visual poem that presents the transfiguration of grass to a soft-ripened goat cheese. Originally exhibited in 2011 as a time-based installation, the process was chronicled in a slideshow (of the photos exhibited here) atop a repurposed wine cellar where, during the course of the exhibition, fresh goat cheese made by the artist will ripen and develop a bloomy rind. The alchemy of digestion is considered at several stages: grass by goat, goat milk by rennet, curd by bacillus, cheese by human.

Let Us Eat the Colors of Nature’s Spectrum by Linda Weintraub consists of twenty-six foods harvested from her gardens, preserved through canning, and arrayed according to the color continuum they suggest. She comments, “Gardens expand the definition of fertility far beyond the production of edibles. Their fertility nourishes the full complement of categories that account for humanity’s interactions with the material world. By heightening awareness of life’s vulnerabilities and its resiliences, gardening enters the realm of the sacred where life is continually experienced as mysterious and wondrous.” Weintraub’s work in this exhibition, introduces a fourth category of material interaction – one that offers bountiful opportunities for sensual, aesthetic delights.