2021 - ongoing
A series of living monumental busts of Christopher Columbus made with clay and industrially farmed potatoes. The busts are designed to live outdoors, sprout and alter over time.
The work interrupts a continuum from the Industrial Revolution - when the introduction of the exponentially-reproductive potato fueled an exploding population of workers, and subsequent appropriative colonial culture - with a slow cycle of growth, reproduction and decay.
Columbian X-change ii and iii are unlimited editions. Both can be reproduced and placed in public sites with a host organization or individual to document changes.
Columbian X-change i
Red clay and industrially farmed potatoes
Columbian X-change i is a reproduction of a reproduction of a reproduction. This clay and potato bust is molded after a Caproni plaster copy of an idealized bust of Columbus by Raimondo Trentanove from 1817, commissioned for the Pantheon in Rome. Plaster reproductions of Trentanove's Christopher Columbus are found in commemorative public collections across the United States.
This bust was destroyed in order to make a plaster press mold for Columbian X-change ii and subsequent versions.
Columbian X-change ii
Mold-pressed red clay and industrially farmed potatoes
Columbian X-change ii is a reproduction of Columbian X-change i, made in a plaster press mold. This allows for mass production of this sculpture, as long as the mold survives. Pressed clay marks and mold seams are apparent on its surface.
This bust travelled around campus, was shown at the Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz, and was then transferred to its outdoor site for an/aesthetics: Rosekill at Rosekill Art Farm, Kingston, NY. It housed spiders and maggots alongside its invisible, microbial occupants, and was deinstalled after 14 months.
Columbian X-change iii
Mold-pressed red clay, industrially farmed potatoes, composted human manure and local soil
Columbian X-change iii was installed at Swale House on Governor's Island, NYC, June-November 2023, as part of Re-Imagining Conservation: From The Ground Up, curated by Heather McMordie of Creature Conserve in partnership with the Urban Soils Institute. Columbian X-change iii is made from pressed red clay, industrially farmed potatoes and composted human manure. The nutritious compost feeds the potatoes and, as the monument disintegrates, also the soil at its base.
The public was invited to water the monument, to ask questions, share their thoughts and document its changing states. Spontaneous conversations with visitors on site covered a range of topics, including South vs. North American farming practices, legacies of plastic, the psychology of digestion, rejoining local ecosystems, and who we honor: where, how and why - with responses ranging from disgust to delight.
June 2023: residency at Swale House with Creature Conserve
October 2023, after seasonal storms
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More about this project:
The colonial history of the potato is intricately tied to modern industrial farming and today's pesticide industry. Potatoes are one of the US's top commercially farmed products, commonly used for processed and fast foods, as well as providing an affordable grocery store staple.
In what is known as the Columbian Exchange, plants, diseases and animals from Europe and Eurasia were brought to North America after the arrival of Columbus in 1492 - starting a giant ecological scramble that rapidly altered the landscape and devastated Indigenous populations in a number of ways, alongside colonizer warfare. This event marked the beginning of globalization and 'terraforming' - in this case, manipulation of Native land to suit European ways of life.
In the 19th century, potatoes - a post-Columbian import from the Andes - were widely introduced in Europe by royalty to nourish the workforce of the Industrial Revolution. European nobles wore potato blossoms to public events to encourage the working classes to embrace the new food, which was cheap and easy to grow. Population charts from this time closely correlate to the exponential reproductive capacities of the potato plant.
Susceptible to pests and blight, this tuber can be monoculturally farmed only with varied and frequent chemical interventions, at great cost to the land, waterways, and countless species. Industrial farming is tied to Environmental Justice issues such as poisoning of low-income communities, and potentially catastrophic pollinator and soil microbe extinctions - endangering the future of food production on American land and contributing to rapid planetary warming.
Wild potatoes are toxic to humans. In their native Andean habitat they are consumed with a 'sauce' of red clay, which adsorbs to the toxins and removes them harmlessly from the body.
A plaster edition of this work exists to meet the sterility and longevity requirements of historical collections and museums.