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Futile attempts at control in an area of curated wildness, mini industrial farms in the forest, or retirement homes for abused tubers; these earthworks are also monuments to communal labor, and conversations about food and land.
Currently installed as part of Owning Earth, curated by Tal Beery, at Unison Arts Center, New Paltz, NY.
Open June 26 2021 - June 22 2022.
Entering the woods, something seems amiss. The forest floor appears to have become corrupted by an anthropocene virus with geometric symptoms. Billions of living, subterranean organisms confront us at body level in a series of square-topped protrusions rising from the ground. Potatoes are visible inside them, some of which are sprouting.
This small recreational forest sits between farmland and the Shawangunk Mountains, a destination for Hudson Valley vistas. As days, weeks and months pass, the living forms collapse into new shapes. Losing their unsustainable geometry, they reform in unique, complex shapes, with interdependent internal systems invisible to the eye and beyond human comprehension. Remnants of rectilinear walls are visible as they continue their journey in the woods without active human intervention.
Each geometric form was built by hand with a different group of collaborators. We made potting mix from the forest floor, adding sand, local town compost and fermented horse manure, and embedding potatoes throughout. We ate together, worked together and explored our relationships with food and land in dialogue. The potatoes were purchased in 5lb plastic sacks from a variety of local supermarkets and grocery stores. All were industrially farmed in the USA. Potatoes sprayed with more potent sprout-retardant chemicals were unable to root, and their geometric homes fell apart quickly. Rooting potatoes stabilized their environments for much longer and were able to take advantage of fertile conditions to sprout, flower and reproduce, now contending with forest wildlife for survival.
The title of this installation is taken from an absurdist play, The Future Is In Eggs, by Eugène Ionesco. A frenetic indoor scene finds two families coercing their reluctant adult children into marriage and immediate, public reproduction, in order to secure the future of the white race. As a new batch of eggs is laid, they squawk "Co-co-codac!" as the scene devolves into chaos.
The potato - a postcolumbian import from the Andes - played an intimate role in the Industrial Revolution in Europe. The exponentially-reproductive tuber powered an exploding population of workers, leading to the colonialist ravaging of other countries for labor and materials. The potato is farmed monoculturally on a colossal scale today in the US to satisfy commercial demands for uniformity, and can only be done so with the repeated use of an array of toxic chemicals. This comes at great cost to the land, whose fertility is being stripped; as well as to countless species, including our own. As usual, the greatest impact to humans is on low-income communities of color.
This is a story of displacement and abuse, of survival and resilience; of control and release; and of reproduction at all costs.
This year-long project will culminate in a publication documenting a year of growth, decay and dialogue.
(Audio guide text)
Among the trees, square-topped earth forms seems to rise from the ground. Billions of forest floor microorganisms meet us at body level like the fruits of an anthropocene fungus.
Profit-based human activity on the planet is signalled by geometry - the most direct routes from A to B, at the expense of the quiet in-betweens. These forms might recall gallery pedestals - but also our rectilinear homes, our farmlands and our borders.
Each protrusion contains potatoes bought from local supermarkets. These tiny industrial farms seem out of place in our sanctuary from a fast-paced life; or perhaps they are luxury hotels, a tuber's retreat from fluorescent lights and pesticide sprays. These potatoes may sprout, but they are not required to.
The title of this work is taken from an absurdist play, The Future Is In Eggs, by Eugene Ionesco. Characters who have become obsessed with producing more and more of their own kind cluck ‘co-co-codac!’ as an arranged marriage produces new batches of eggs, ensuring the future of the white race.
The potato is a postcolumbian import from Bolivia and Peru. Introduced in Europe, the astounding reproductive prowess of this humble root vegetable fed an exploding population of workers of the Industrial Revolution, the engine of early colonialism. These days in the US, potatoes are farmed on an immense scale for huge corporations, rendering land and waterways infertile and poisoning low-income communities.
The forms also act as records of conversation. My guests and I made potting mix from the forest floor with sand, local town compost and horse manure while we talked about food and land. The constructions and dialogues will continue throughout the year to form a publication.