Specimens and Reciprocity

I’m happy to say that my thesis show opening and installation were quite successful! The opening was very well attended and people were happy to participate in the project I have worked so tirelessly on for the past five months!

Here are a few pictures of the completed pile before the opening began, to give you an idea, in case you weren’t able to be there in person.

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I ended up with approximately 600 vegetables, and surprisingly only broke about five or six getting them over to the Dorsky Museum. Installing the pile required hauling them from the studio in bushel baskets. And it was raining that day, so you might have an idea of how nervous that made me, considering that they are unfired and the painted juice surface treatment is not permanent by any means.

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I began setting up my forms on a platform I made that was derived from a map of the Walkill River Watershed and Subwatershed, which covers the area where all of the materials used were sourced. Here’s the original map and an abstracted one, which I then projected onto a piece of paper 12 feet long, and transferred onto two lengths of 1/2″ sanded plywood, then cut out with a jigsaw.

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My intent with this backdrop was to reference the landscape and create a compelling organic shape that would be revealed once the vegetables were removed. I also considered how a long and narrow shape would be easy for people to access from all sides. Here is what it looks like as I started to place the vegetables.

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To accompany my pile, I also made a cubic foot of materials in a sealed plexi-glass vitrine, including all of the materials I used with the vegetables, as well as fragments of the fired clay, emphasizing that fired ceramics do not go away, but become part of the landscape. I enjoy how this picture captures a continuation of the pile behind it with its layers.

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And in keeping with my show’s title, Borrowed, I devised a library card system for participants to sign out their vegetables. Alongside the pile was a note explaining to the audience that they were encouraged to carefully select a vegetable of their choosing and fill out the requested information in my book. The small library card was intended to go with the participant, so he or she had record of the transaction and understood what he or she was agreeing to.

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As one might imagine, when you invite the audience to handle unfired work, there is the risk of breakage. I could tell that the people who broke them were horrified, but I knew it was virtually impossible to keep them all intact, and I wasn’t upset as much as I was entertained.  In some ways, seeing a broken form on the floor might have been a good instructional aid for the next person to be a little more gentle.

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Food security, afterall, is a delicate matter. If you pull from the bottom of the pile, you can probably guess what might happen.

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As the night went on, the beet juice colored veggies were the first to go. More of the platform became exposed underneath the pile.064 069 070

And borrowers diligently waited in line to sign them out.

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I really loved seeing people walking around with their veggies of choice in their hands, and talking to people about the project as they went about the gallery checking out the rest of the show.

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I would like to thank everyone who was able to come to the opening and all of you who chose to participate in my project! I am looking very much forward to seeing what sorts of results people have from planting or seed bombing their forms!

Stay tuned!

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Shiny Beets and Showcards

If you ever get a chance to paint slightly fermented beet juice on a slipcast beet form, I think you won’t be disappointed. It really brings the beet back to life. The fermentation was a happy accident. I had juiced the beets a couple of weeks ago and stuck the jar in the studio fridge to keep it from molding until I could get back to it. By the time I got back to my jar it had thickened up a bit, but I went ahead and tried brushing it on anyway. Something about the concentration of sugars in the juice over time made the surface appear almost burnished. Who knew?

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I liked it so much I used up the rest of the jar, taking note to let that happen again.003 004

As I get closer to my thesis install day (27 days to go!) I have been trying out some different pile formats and thinking about my showcard. Fortunately, I have a dear friend who is willing to help me out in the graphic design realm. We came up with a compilation of material images from my process for the front of the card:

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I See Vegetables in My Sleep

You are probably thinking.. what, you are 37 days away from installing your MFA thesis show and you still have time to sleep? Well, when I do, trust me, after slip casting like a madwoman everyday it’s hard not to see veggies with my eyes closed too. I set up a test pile today to get a feel for things and see what works and doesn’t work so great. Here’s a glimpse of a couple hundred or so (a partial amount of what I actually have cast and filled so far) set up on a sheet of black landscaping fabric.

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You might have noticed the lonely looking orange potato in the lower left hand corner. Since I got all excited about my new carrot juice orange, I went to Houston for NCECA. When I returned four days later I noticed that the veggies I had painted with the carrot juice had oxidized and faded away, back to the pale brown color of the Walkill clay. The color seems to stick around for about a week.. so my new plan is to wait until a day or so before my installation day and paint them fresh, so I can get my color palette back on track. The beet juice so far has stayed pretty strong, though I do notice slight variations from one batch of juice to another, which is just fine with me. I enjoy the range of purples and some appear to be more shiny than others, as well.

Since my last post I also made a few more molds: a carrot, beet and an eggplant. I’d like to think that those will be the final molds for this project. This makes 16 now. On an average I am casting 6 days a week and get as many veggies as possible, not forgetting daily time in front of the fan for my overworked and oversaturated molds. Even molds deserve a day off, right?

Here’s what my eggplant and beet molds in process look like:

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and you know I didn’t think twice about juicing that nice fat beet for surface color! The eggplant didn’t go to waste either..

Blue Potatoes and Burlap

I’ve added another mold to my repertoire of veggie forms.. as the heading suggests I got a hold of a lovely All Blue potato, grown at RSK farm in Prattsville, NY by Potato Bob/ AKA Bob Kiley. and if you’ve never encountered the beautiful said potato, here’s a glimpse, just prior to the mold making process, when I draw a parting line around the form to decide where my mold will be separated into parts.

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When sliced open, the interior is a lovely sparkling blueish purple

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It’s a real shame that this color oxidizes and doesn’t hold up over time, because if you’ve been following my project, you know that I wouldn’t think twice about juicing it and painting it on my seed bomb forms if I thought it would give me a new color. Oh well, it still makes a lovely new form for slipcasting with my local clays! Here’s what the two part mold looks like:

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and here are a few color variations of the completed forms:

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left to right: Walkill clay painted with carrot juice, Walkill clay straight up, still moist, and then Marakill clay after drying out.

Here’s it again with three layers of the beet juice:

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Somehow this beet variation looks even more real than the actual potato.. go figure! These are of course made of clay, hollow and filled with seeds. I particularly like how the split on the actual potato translated into the mold, but then again, this coming from someone who gets excited about potatoes…

As the title indicates, burlap has made an appearance in my studio.. it’s being considered for a backdrop of sorts to be used in my thesis exhibition. I like the texture, and also that it is comprised of roughly woven plant material

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“Multipurpose, biodegradable and perfect for composting and planting activities” Seems fitting, don’t you think?

Another consideration for my display backdrop, along these lines, is landscaping fabric, which is essentially a thin, black mesh-like fabric used for keeping weeds from sprouting up on your landscaped areas. I took a picture of the kind I bought, but it’s not very exciting. I think you won’t be disappointed that I’ve excluded a black rectangle here. Somehow this black fabric highlights and shows off my vegetable forms in a more formal manner, like a fancy tablecloth, that happens to keep weeds from sprouting through it. Any thoughts to share on this idea?

While I am partial to the burlap idea, it was brought to my attention that it does not convey a quality of preciousness. I already purchased a big roll of the stuff and wouldn’t want it to go to waste if I don’t end up using it in my display… How ridiculous would it be if I made myself a burlap dress for the opening of my thesis show? High fashion in burlap here. Scroll down the page to the section “Were you raised in a Barn?” Admittedly, I wasn’t raised in one, per se, but there was definitely a barn on the premises, and I’m a fan of the rustic, natural look if you hadn’t gathered that. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Carrot Juice!

It’s the new ‘room temperature glaze’ in my world, though I actually like to refrigerate my juice between use to keep it fresh. Here’s a glimpse of what I am even talking about

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I wait for my fully sealed and filled seed bombs to dry out before applying beet and carrot juice to the dry surface with a fan brush. Several coats seems to do the trick. Originally I had considered firing a few of my empty forms just so I could add the lovely orange color to my existing palette. What a pleasant surprise when I discovered that I could get almost the EXACT same color from applying straight carrot juice to my raw forms.

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If I didn’t tell you, would you be able to guess which one is bisque fired to ^06 and which one is raw, covered in three coats of carrot juice? If you weren’t sure, the one on the left has been bisqued, which might explain why it’s slightly smaller as well. Shockingly similar color, eh?! I test fired a few empty forms to see what they would be like and really didn’t enjoy them as much, so it’s perfect that I found a new solution for orange. If you have ever worked with earthenware, particularly iron rich bodies like mine, maybe you can relate to the infuriating nature of ‘scumming’ on the surface. Technically, this obnoxious flaw is caused from soluble salts in the clay which crystallize at the surface as the water evaporates, leaving an ugly white layer along the edges of bisqueware. It is unpredictable, but likely has something to do with the water that I have been using. One method of eliminating the scum is to add a small percentage of barium to my clay, which I absolutely refuse to do, mostly because it is toxic and I don’t want anything to do with it. Well forget barium, carrot juice is much healthier, and it comes from a beautiful vegetable, and I think you already know how much I like them.

Here is a sampling of my new and improved color palette

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Some New Developments

It’s been a productive week or so in the studio. I’ve been busy filling my veggie forms and sealing them up, casting, casting, and more casting. As you may recall, I am using two different local clays as casting slips, one brownish and the other grayish green. An idea was presented to me at my last group critique to consider using some plant based dyes to get some variety in my color palette. Since they will remain unfired, the concern of burning out the color is gone. I experimented with beet juice

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which is a lovely iron rich color that likes to stain just about everything it touches, why not clay too?! First, I experimented with pouring it into my casting slip, but it was too diluted and didn’t give the result I had hoped for. It did ferment and rot and smell really bad. Yuck, don’t bother trying that, at home or elsewhere. I will spare you the visual evidence of that one.

My next approach was to directly paint the straight beet juice onto dry seed bomb forms. This approach worked nicely.

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Since these forms were already filled with dry soil and seeds, then sealed, it was important that I did not hydrate them too fast or they would disintegrate prematurely. I was pleased with how the form was renewed with a vegetable-like surface and sheen. It also gave a sense of fragility and preciousness, which was one of my objectives.

This is another idea I have been working with to obtain a quality of preciousness: placing raw materials in mason canning jars for display with my massive pile of veggies. The jars are most often associated with storage and preserving food, which is a concern of mine as well. Here’s a quick snapshot of what that looks like

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I have various stages of my local clays, seeds, soil.

Another idea I have been working on, along these lines of didactically showing my audience what the heck is going on with my materials, but also on the inside of my forms as well. I cut open some of my empty forms the other day to experiment with interior space

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This gave me the idea to utilize a clear vitrine on top of a pedestel with an exposed interior of soil and seeds to accompany my display. I will get back to you on that one.

Here is how I have been filling my forms, just in case you were curious:

First, I go through my selection of seeds (see earlier posts) and select an assortment to include in each form. Each form usually has between 4 and 8 hearty seeds included completely at random, though larger forms tend to have more.

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I have dried out my soil blend so that the seeds do not prematurely germinate. Next,using a funnel and scoop, I pour the soil and seed mixture into each form.

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After that, I need to close up the pouring spout with a soft piece of clay that matches the slipcast body. I make these little disks and smooth them over the top before letting them equalize under plastic for a day or so

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When they are dry enough that cracking is not a concern, then I add them to the growing piles of completed, dried, filled forms, currently separated by color.

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Stay tuned!

Soil and Seeds instead of glaze

If you’ve been following my process, you know that my vegetable forms will not be fired, yet instead be filled with soil and seeds. In order to do this, I have been gathering different soils from the area and making a perfect blend. Until my soil is fully dried out, so the introduced seeds will not prematurely germinate before they get sealed up, I have been storing them in several large bins and holding them at a leatherhard stage.

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The fact that it is February in New York has presented some slight delays in the collection of local soil, to say the least. Here is an image of the farm in Gardiner where Farmer Jerry was generous to let me dig some of his soil

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It was a nice clear and crisp day, but about a frozen as it looks. I managed to scrape some mud off the top and fill a 5 gallon bucket and haul it back to the studio to dry out. The mud caked to my boots was par for the course. My theory: you never know when you might need your shovel and galoshes (not just because I was raised on a farm, but this has certainly shaped my theories, as you might imagine)

My trip to the garden supply store for local potting soil was not much different.

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As you might imagine, bags of this stuff are stored outside, and quite frozen under several inches of snow. It took a crowbar and some muscle work to pry them loose from the pile, like loaves of ice. The guy who helped me tried twice to get me to take some mystery toxic stuff instead from another nearby pile that suspiciously had not frozen. McEnroe Organic soils come from just across the Hudson River and are certified organic. I will take my chances with the thaw, thanks.

Meanwhile, back in the studio I have spent a good deal of time drying these different soils out, breaking them up and then mixing them together for a nice blend.

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Next, I am preparing to fill my forms with a variety of  seeds I acquired from the Hudson Valley Seed Library.

Hudson Valley Seed Library

Here is a list of the ones I have so far:

  • Ashworth Sweet Corn
  • Chioggia Guardsmark  Improved Beets
  • Detroit Dark Red Beet
  • Early Fortune Cucumber
  • Early Summer Crookneck Squash
  • Long Island Improved Brussel Sprouts
  • Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
  • Provider Bush Green Beans
  • Purple Top white Globe turnip
  • Rainbow Chard
  • Red Russian Kale
  • Royalty Purple Pod Bean
  • Table Queen Acorn Squash
  • Waltham Butternut Squash
  • Watermelon Radish
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My choice in the varieties of heirloom seeds has to do with a number of factors. I considered the length of time they take to grow and how hearty the seed itself is ( I am not using tomato or carrot seeds for example, which are tiny and wouldn’t likely stand much of a chance underneath a layer of clay during its germination stage, etc). While the forms themselves in some case reflect an actual representation of seeds that they may contain, I am adding an element of risk and surprise to each form.  If you have ever signed up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share, you understand that like with the advance agreement, you have accepted to partake in the farm’s loss, risk as well as bounty thoughout the season, good times and bad. In return, with a CSA, you will be rewarded weekly with a set amount of food from that week’s harvest, not knowing exactly what you will recieve. I participated in a CSA with

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this past year. You can sign up or learn more about the programs at Phillies Bridge here

These are some examples of what it looked like when I would go pick up my harvest each week.

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You would weigh out a set amount based on the size of your share. Sometimes you would go home with things like escarole or rutabaga, or something else you might have never heard of. Sometimes you could even pick your own, depending on the crop of the week..

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ANYHOW, back to the project (whew I got a little daydreamy of summer just then.. did you notice?)

Would you believe that there is a great deal of clay underneath all this lovely farmland? Yup. Clay has a nice way of holding a nice layer of nutrients underneath all that topsoil, even if it is not ideal to farm directly in, a small amount mixed in actually helps. (plus, I’m biased, as you can see why)

Thanks for reading my ramblings and stay tuned!