Art meets Ag at Antioch College

AgriCULTURE exhibit at Herndon Gallery

By Lisa Bennett

Photo: Jeff Schmuki, Homestead III; photo: Dennie Eagleson

What do agriculture and art have in common? Antioch College! Nestled in the quaint town of Yellow Springs, Antioch College is home to one of the most unique art displays in the region. This is the AgriCULTURE exhibit. From a stunningly elegant wall hanging done by Allison Rae Smith that incorporates Sycamore seeds carefully pressed one by one into recycled dryer sheets, to the jaw-dropping, heart-wrenching story of the decline of the honeybee by Anne Noble and the fun, playful living exhibit by Jeff Schmuki, each incredible work of art tells a story about our relationship to agriculture and to the Earth.

The AgriCULTURE project first sprouted as an idea for a food production exhibit by instructor of cooperative education, Beth Bridgeman. She was excited about the idea of presenting agriculture to students in a way that was creative and interactive. She brought her idea to the Herndon Gallery creative director, Jennifer Wenker, who embraced the idea wholeheartedly. Wenker has a rich background not only as a public health nurse, but she was also engaged in work as both an eco-artist and organic farmer, which helped to bring the artistic aspect to the project. After many exciting conversations, and with the help of other faculty members, students and creative director Dennie Eagleson, the AgriCULTURE exhibit was born.

The largest and most whimsical display is an artistic combination of recycled and reclaimed items, including an antique public address system and a living, thriving hydroponic garden. If you’re a fan of acoustics, this display includes a hydrophone, which actually plays the sounds of the plants being fed. Set on a timer, the soothing water sounds are an added bonus.

The artist, Jeff Schmuki, explains his art: “Realizing my work is directly linked to the community, rigorous yet poetic projects are designed to include the local citizenry,” he says. “Although the consequences of inefficient and excessive consumption are now being realized worldwide, the regenerative combination of art, agriculture, community and sustainable power technologies can foster discussions that promote a more accountable use of our limited natural resources.”

Schmuki was raised in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. His unique experiences with a harsh natural environment lent a great deal of inspiration to his works, which have been displayed and/or completed at institutes including the Goeth Institute of Cairo, Egypt and the BachModern in Salzburg, Austria. He is now a co-founder of internationally recognized PlantBot Genetics.

Not all of the works of art are whimsical, however. “Spectregraph III, 2014” by Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts (photography), Anne Noble, tells the sad story of the decline of the honeybee and what a world would be like if the honeybee no longer existed. The display is a series of photogram panels.

“They were made just by light passing through the wings laid out on a strip of film,” Noble says. “The color and combined feeling of light, surface and materiality defy photographic logic a bit.”

“When the Landscape is Quiet Again: North Dakota’s Oil Boom (2012-present)” by Sarah Christianson, is a poignant photographic display that chronicles the transformation of a living, thriving agricultural community to a region dotted with contaminated soil and natural gas flares.

“I investigate what remains on the land from previous booms, how the region is changing today, and my family’s involvement,” Christianson says. “Although my maternal great-grandparents’ homestead near Watford City was sold in the 1960s, my family retained the mineral rights on this land. I use color to reveal the insidious waste and damages to the landscape.”

A uniquely delicate and striking piece is “Rising and Falling Away, 2014” by Allison Rae Smith. Created using Sycamore seeds, recycled dryer sheets and golden thread, this larger-than-life wall hanging is as ethereal as it is vocal.

“By impregnating a fabricated surface with seeds, I question how artificial materials are changing the natural internal structures of our environment and our bodies,” Smith says. “These organic materials are not fixed to the surfaces they are set into. This gives way to the possibility for the seeds to be scattered, transported and sown.”

At Herndon Gallery, not all artwork is relegated to display. Project SHARE is an installation designed to foster our connection not only to agriculture, but to each other as well. A set of ceramic dishes created by potter Jeni Hansen Gard is set in a leather carrier and placed there for folks visiting the center to check out.

The only catch is that the dishes have to be used to share a meal with someone you don’t know to help build community, and later blogged on the Project SHARE blog page.

All of the works, including those not mentioned, take a rhizomatic approach. They each, in their own special way, remind us of our connectedness to the earth we live on and the fragile nature of our environment. Perhaps the last lines of a poem included in one of Allison Rae Smiths’ works of art sums it up best:

“… And in truth the only ship there is

Is the ship we are all born on

Burning the world as we go.”

– Mary Oliver

The AgriCULTURE exhibit is on display now through May 15, 2015 at the Herndon Gallery, South Hall Antioch College, One Morgan Place in Yellow Springs. For more information about the Herndon Gallery, please visit antiochcollege.org/campus-life/herndon-gallery or call 937.319.0114. For more information about Project SHARE, visit: projectshare.wordpress.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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