Mantras for Plants: Carson Fisk-Vittori’s Casual Object Gardens

July 5, 2011 · Print This Article

Carson Fisk-Vittori. Movies, 2011. Archival Inkjet Print.

I’ve always been fascinated by accidental gardens. Some of the most beautiful gardens in Chicago can be found in the abandoned lots in-between buildings, or in the alleys behind people’s homes and apartments next to the cars and trash cans. In Oak Park, where I live, you can find all sorts of lovely micro-gardens in the strips of dirt between property lines. Sometimes it seems like the best gardens arise in the spaces that people pay the least attention to.  Carson Fisk-Vittori‘s use of plants, and particularly her manner of arranging plants and other objects in two and three-dimensional space brings these types of gardens to mind, although nothing about Fisk-Vittori’s approach is accidental. I first encountered Carson’s work at Chicago’s MDW Fair a few months ago – her vacuum-packed plant sculpture was set against a wall with a purple, stipple-paint background at Roots & Culture’s booth. I’ve been curious to learn more about it ever since, and am very grateful to her for taking the time to answer my questions.

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Claudine Ise: There seems to be a connection between plant life and movie making in your work. The photograph titled “Movies,” for example, shows a bunch of dandilions wrapped up in newspaper printed with movie ads, including one for The Prince of Persia; the photograph titled Deleted Scenes shows a casual arrangement of rocks (some sort of rock garden?) placed on a white sheet. And in Sunset, 2008, a photographic print of a sunset is sort of stuck casually behind a cactus, like a painted backdrop in a movie, but it’s obviously not an illusion that’s comprehensive enough for anyone to believe. Looking at all of your other images it seems to me like plants function like actors playing roles in a scene. (As in the “advertisements” in your earlier bodies of work). Which is a pretty funny idea, in that in humans, being compared to a plant/vegetable is a way of saying someone is brain dead. Can you talk about the works I mention above a bit – what’s behind your references to film-making or advertising production?

Carson Fisk-Vittori: My photographs are more connected to advertising and mass media than movies specifically. Though I guess movies are often times elaborate commercials anyway. Advertising companies are experts at feeding images and messages straight into our brains. So using that format in my work allows me to incorporate the techniques that may have taken them years to develop to act against or in opposition to our consumer-based economy through the celebration of the everyday.

Some of my work directly references advertising by title: Toothpaste Ad, Venus Ad, and Perfume Ad, all from 2009, and many of the other photographs use techniques such as gradient backdrops, color, and arrangement to reference advertising culture. One of my intentions is for viewers to realize that you can make everything around you look intriguing with the right lighting and composition, and hopefully realizing that you already have everything you need.

An earlier work, Sunset, 2008, evolved from an experiment involving the use of gradient back-drops added to different domestic or ordinary scenes to examine if the technique would make an image more interesting to the eye. By revealing some of the “tricks” that are used in advertising, viewers will begin to question how images are manipulative. Deleted Scenes, 2010 is an image of a found arrangement of rocks by a creek bed that were re-placed onto a paper backdrop in the same found arrangement. The act of removing them from their natural context allows the viewer to examine the natural arrangement more closely. The graphic element of the backdrop removes the natural background element, making the image similar to a diagram, which is easier for us to understand.

Sunset, 2008. Archival Inkjet Print.

 

Deleted Scenes, 2010.

CI: Tell me about the shrink-wrapping of plants in some of your recent sculptures and photographs (like the photos I saw at Roots & Culture’s booth at Midway Fair). Shrink-wrapping is a preservative technique, but of course plants need air, sunlight and water to survive, like we do. Do you unwrap the plants after you’ve photographed them? Lamp Design #2 is 3-D sculptural object, correct? It looks like you’ve inserted plastic balls within the fronds of two fern plants, and shrink-wrapped them to create and freeze their forms. How quickly do the plants decay once shrink-wrapped? Is decay part of the piece? (I’ve never seen one of the 3-d pieces in an exhibition, so I don’t know if we are meant to observe the object over a period of time). Tell me how the lamp design part fits in.

Lamp design #2, 2011. Ferns, space bag, plastic balls, LEDs.

CFV: “Lamp Design #2” is a vacuum packed floral arrangement (as opposed to shrink-wrapped). It was part of the installation at Roots & Culture’s booth at MDW, as well as New Capital’s exhibition “Life Style Appropriate.” It is three-dimensional in nature, but exists in the photographic form as well. This piece recalls the floral arrangements I have previously shown which are ephemeral in nature but exist as photographs for the purposes of documentation. My first iteration of a “lamp design”, Lamp Design, 2010 was part of “Casual Object Garden and Other Material Matters,” a collaborative exhibition with Michael Hunter at Roots and Culture in 2010. It consisted of a large light box with a plant resting on top of it. Lamp Design #2, 2011, which you described as two fern plants with plastic balls, also has a light component: the marbleized ball lights up with led lights. Titling them “lamp design” is in one way blurring the boundaries between art and design, and also playing with the idea of producing absurd furniture designs.

My first experimental floral arrangements appeared in the Real Normal Spring Collection (2009), at the now-defunct Scott Projects in Chicago, IL. I installed floral arrangements that were scattered around the space, some of which were very minimal, with crude or simple constructions using basic household supplies and containers in the arrangement. At the time I was becoming interested in Ikebana, the art of Japanese floral arrangement, and wabi-sabi, a Japanese philosophy on the beauty of all things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. The floral arrangements I create have a life span ranging from days to weeks, and often times change multiple times during an exhibition. I am interested in the gesture that impermanence implies. In the art world objects are generally made to be archival and last forever, however this is a false permanence since everything is evolving from and going towards nothingness. The floral arrangements are a moment in time and an appreciation for the ephemeral and unmonumental.

Flowers, 2009. Plants from the grocer, backyard, and florist; glass, plastic, tape, clay, stickers. Installation view at Scott Projects, Chicago IL.

CI: Works like your installation “Casual Object Garden,” 2010, and photographic images like “And Also More,” “Weekend Shapes” and “New Forest Table” from 2010 lead me to ask if you see a relationship between the making of a pictorial composition and the act of gardening? Both in terms of artistic intent and the impact of chance occurrences on the results?

CFV: I’m interested in playing with casual placement and intended placement. There is something interesting about examining a presentation of objects that have no intended organization. When I was installing Casual Object Garden with Michael Hunter, we would be unconsciously unpacking our work, and later come back to it and find something interesting in the way it was, in a way, automatically arranged. By accepting such cosmic arrangement you are sometimes left with more interesting possibilities than you might find by organizing in the grid-like way that our minds think. I like going back and forth between those two extremes.

Carson Fisk-Vittori and Michael Hunter. Casual Object Garden, 2010.

 

Carson Fisk-Vittori. And Also More, 2010. Archival Inkjet Print.

CI: I liked the collaborative group show you participated in with Derek Frech, Justin Kemp, Joe Lacina, Joshua Pavlacky, and Daniel Wallace at LVL3, which was titled “A Rod Stewart Little Prince Charles Manson Family” and, like the title of the show, looked like it was produced according to the principles of exquisite corpse. The individual works on view did not have an artist’s name attached to it, rather each appeared to be the product of the entire group. Can you tell me about how that show came about, and how you as individual artists worked together to create the objects in the exhibition – you communicated remotely, right? Via internet, etc.? Was having to communicate in spite of your geographic remoteness from one another part of the idea?

CFV: The show originated from three Philadelphia artists, Derek Frech, Joe Lacina, and Daniel Wallace, at their space Extra Extra. They previously collaborated on a similar exhibition, “Soft Focus,” 2010. The new iteration of the project, “A Rod Stewart Little Richard Prince Charles Manson Family,” 2011, added three additional artists: Massachusetts-based artist Justin Kemp, Philadephia artist Joshua Pavlacky, and myself. No work in the exhibition had a single artist attached to it; rather the entire project was a collaborative endeavor. This in part removed the artists’ ego from the work and allowed for a free flow of ideas.

Communicating remotely between 6 artists in 3 different locations became a large component of the process. To begin, we created Twitter and Tumblr accounts. Our collaborative Twitter was also anonymous, which further enabled a free flow of uncensored ideas. Our Tumblr acted as a work-shopping tool; everyone uploaded mock-ups of ideas that would then be commented on and further discussed in video chat meetings. This collaboration began about six months prior to the exhibition. Once the in-person installation began at the gallery, all of the artists were together in a real space, except for Justin Kemp who was Skyped in daily and acted as a consultant for the duration of the installation. During the installation, materials and objects were arranged and re-arranged until the group made a consensus.

Snacks, 2011. Flat screen television, Glade Sense and Sprays, Chex Mix, plastic bowl. Carson Fisk-Vittori, Derek Frech, Justin Kemp, Joe Lacina, Joshua Pavlacky and Daniel Wallace. From the exhibition A Rod Stewart Little Richard Prince Charles Manson Family at LVL3, Chicago.

 

Floor Video, 2011. Carson Fisk-Vittori, Derek Frech, Justin Kemp, Joe Lacina, Joshua Pavlacky, and Daniel Wallace. Video, monitor, Dimensions variable, Edition of 5.

CI: What do plants mean to you? When did you start using them in your own work, and why?

CFV: My work with plants started as a reaction from moving from a rural setting in Austin, TX to the urban midwest city of Chicago six years ago. In the city the wilderness is very contained. Everything is either manicured or intentionally abandoned, to a point where the flowerbeds on Michigan avenue contrast with the abandoned empty lots, and both, in their differences, become these kinds of arrangements. They at once show our love of natural beauty, our need to control it, our ignorance and arrogance. I began to look at it in this way where a soda can thrown in a flower pot is a gesture, because it is intentionally placed whether or not the person was aware of it or not. It’s really a natural gesture, like eating a cherry and spitting out the core, but in our world we are dealing with these man-made objects that are specially designed and branded. The contrast of man-made object and plant life really shows how far away we are from living with nature. I basically started looking closer at these casual arrangements and creating my own with elements of plants and man-made objects. My first gesture was in my backyard, Portal, 2007, which is an image of a mirror leaning against a bush. In the image it looks as if the grass is climbing up the bush in the form of a prism, and almost looks like a digitally constructed image. From there I really started to get interested in exploring my own arrangements of natural and man-made rather than found situations. I view these arrangements as microcosms for our relationship with nature.

CI: What type of houseplants do you have in your own home/apartment? Do you have a garden, and if so, what’s in it?

CFV: In my apartment I have a lot of succulents and aroid plants, I am also growing some herbs and vegetables outside. I also have another garden: http://flowershop.tumblr.com.

Carson Fisk-Vittori. Untitled (Girls), 2011. Archival Inkjet Print.

CI:What you are working on right now?

I’m currently in the midst of a few different projects. I am working with Seattle-based artist Sol Hashemi, on a landscape design proposal, that we hope to begin materializing in the next year or two. Philadelphia artist Derek Frech, and I are collaborating on an installation relating to man-made displays of natural bounty. And the latest iteration of my ongoing collaborative practice with Chicago-based Michael Hunter, NewHands, it is a mainly text based practice.

Flowers in Space, 2011 by NewHands.

I will be included in a group exhibition at the Philadelphia ICA this fall entitled “Blowing on a Hairy Shoulder / Grief Hunters,” curated by Israeli artist Doron Rabina, and I will be having my first solo exhibition this August at Important Projects in Oakland, California.




Mantras for Plants: An Interview with The Plant Journal

June 20, 2011 · Print This Article

Next up in our Mantras for Plants series, artist Heidi Norton and I interview Cris Merino, Isa Merino and Carol Montpart, the directorial team behind The Plant Journal, a biannual magazine based in Barcelona, Spain (The journal’s editor is Cris Merino, and its art directors/graphic designers are Isa Merino and Carol Montpart).  The Plant Journal’s editorial statement describes the publication as follows:

Besides providing botanical contents in a simple, personal and cozy way, The Plant Journal offers to plant lovers a new look on greenery by featuring the works of creative people who also love plants. As a curious observer of ordinary plants and other greenery, the magazine presents a monographic on a specific plant and brings together photographers, illustrators, designers, musicians, writers and visual artists, both established and emerging, from all over the world, to share with The Plant Journal their perceptions and experiences around plants.

We love that their focus is simply on “plants,” yet that subject alone can take them in an infinite number of cultural directions. Also note that Plant Journal’s Spring/Summer 2011 issue features the mind-blowing photo-collages of Chicago artist Stephen Eichhorn! You can subscribe to this print-only journal by going here. We want to thank Cris, Isa, and Carol for answering our questions!

 

Heidi Norton: How was The Plant Journal conceived? Who are your readers? What types of people, places, things are featured?

Editors: We suppose everything began when we realized that every time we had to make a gift, it was a plant. And our friends do the same with us. Plants arrive to your home, you care of them and you establish quite a special relationship with them. Furthermore, as we love publications, especially in paper,  we thought that it will be a beautiful idea to create a magazine completely dedicated to plants, since we didn’t find any that gave plants the relevance and the approach we had in mind.

The magazine is addressed to people more or less like us, who enjoy plants even if they seem incapable of keeping them alive, people who feel inspired by greenery and whose creativity is open to establishing connections with plants. That’s why in The Plant Journal you can find photographers, illustrators, designers, chefs, etc. Probably they are also our readers. On the other hand, since plants spread out whenever they want to without asking anyone’s permission, we look for them wherever they are, in their own natural habitat, but also in our cities, homes, offices, etc.

Claudine Ise: Yes, I really like how you use the subject of plants as a jumping off point to talk about a range of subjects — music, art, film, and other areas of culture. The essay that looked at how houseplants were arranged in some of Eric Rohmer’s films as a way to investigate his approach to formalism is a great example of this. Can you talk about how you solicit articles for the journal – what kinds of essays hold appeal?

Eds: We were thinking about the connections between cinema and plants, so we looked for Lope Serrano (from Canada productions www.lawebdecanada.com). He writes articles for a cultural magazine from Barcelona, and we knew about his vast visual and cinematographic knowledge. And it was Lope himself, during a chat, who suggested the connection between the ethical and aesthetic formalism of many of Rohmer’s films and the plants that appear in some scenes. As we admire Rohmer’s films, we loved this approach. The result is a very academic and didactic article that completely fits with the aim of the magazine. But in general, there’s a little bit of everything in the articles. There are some that are proposed by its authors and others cases when we explain a general idea to the writer and then, after exchanging ideas, we reach an agreement. In the case of sections such as “My plants by” or the interviews, our work is about finding the right person. That’s why it is very important for us to have a wide network of contributors who share our interests.

 

HN: The introduction that you use to promote the journal states, “providing botanical contents in a simple, personal and cozy way.”  Can you explain what you mean by “cozy”? I ask because, there is something “cozy” about plants,  an unpretentiousness that makes places, objects, spaces, and materials more accessible.

Eds: With ‘cozy’ we want to emphasize and vindicate the affection for plants. At least in Barcelona, people don’t use plants as much as we would like in the way that you explain. So we think it’s not always obvious that plants are cozy by nature. You sometimes have to stop and think about it, and that was one of the reasons to create The Plant Journal. We had an example of this a few days ago. We created an installation with plants and macramé for the magazine launch party in Otrascosas de Villarosàs gallery in Barcelona. The space also contains the meeting room for an important advertisement agency, with its typical big table and nothing else. Well, yesterday Marc (who is responsible for the space) told us that since plants were there, people want to have the meetings next to them, and they even asked him to leave them there. That’s nice, because plants have made that room a better place. And nobody there thought about it until now! That’s why we thought we must emphasize the coziness of plants.

 

Launch party at Otrascosas de Villarrosas. Photo by Adrià Cañameras

CI: Your journal’s content isn’t available online. Do you think it’s important, conceptually or otherwise, that the journal remain a paper publication that is circulated “on the streets,” as opposed to via cyberspace/the internet?

Eds: As we love publications, we like to go to a bookshop or a newsstand, choose a book or a magazine and then read and enjoy it calmly in your place. You can get it back whenever you want to, you can collect them, write on them, cut them out, etc. It might be fetishism or nostalgia, but we think that the experience of paper is more accessible, relaxed and intimate. It is obvious that the Internet offers a lot of opportunities for a publication (starting with the production costs, always more expensive in paper), but we never doubt it: the magazine is printed in paper, an object that in addition is beautiful. We will create some different contents for our site, but they will be more casual and fast consuming contents specifically created for the Internet. For us, it is priceless: the Sunday aperitif with the daily papers and that feeling is something a screen will never give you, no matter what the possibilities that an iPad can give to you.

HN: What things are inspiring you today, right now?

Eds: We are now very interested in rediscovering traditions that seem to be ignored because of the high-speed way of life and the anxiousness for new stuff. That means we get inspired by and enjoy cooking for friends, going on a trip looking for mushrooms in the countryside, caring for our little gardens, knitting macrame, etc. All kinds of domestic, simple and everyday activities that make your life better. As music, cinema, arts and books also do.

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Mantras for Plants: Heidi Norton talks with John Opera

May 27, 2011 · Print This Article

Heidi Norton. My Dieffenbachia Plant with Tarp (protection), 2011. 30 x 36 inches. Archival pigment print.

John Opera, Untitled (B-5), 2010. Anthotype (blueberry) 9.25 x 7.5 inches. Unique.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist Heidi Norton and I share an abiding interest in all things plants. During several conversations we had while I was profiling her for Art Ltd., we often talked about the relationship between art and gardening. Heidi incorporates living plant matter directly into her sculptures and has used various types of house plants in her New Age Still Life photographs, along with the more recent series of images shown in her show Not To See the Sun at ebersmoore last month. Heidi and I have continued to talk about the relationship of art, plants, and gardening, and as the next iteration of what has become an ongoing exchange, we’ve decided to conduct a series of interviews with other artists to further explore those connections. Voila: Mantras for Plants, a new, irregularly appearing series of posts.

First up, Heidi talks with Chicago photographer John Opera about his practice and his use of the Anthotype printing process. Opera recently exhibited his photographs at Andrew Rafacz in Chicago and at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis, MO. He’ll be exhibiting his work in a group show titled “To Tell The Truth” at Monya Rowe Gallery in New York from June 17th-July 29, as well as in another group show at Statler Waldorf Gallery in Los Angeles that opens June 17th.

Heidi Norton: What is an Anthotype? Can you explain the process? How did you come to find it and how do you feel it fits into your practice?

John Opera: The Anthotype is a printing process that was invented by Sir John Herschel around 1832, five years after the first known photograph. It represents a moment right at the beginning of photography as a medium.  The discovery of the process was very much a part of the initial experiments that led up to photography, as it was eventually known in the 19th century, both in technical terms and in metaphoric terms as well.

In addition to his photographic research, Herschel was also an accomplished botanist and researched the chemical properties of light.  His experiments often crossed disciplines.  That’s how the Anthotype came about—it was an attempt to connect fixing a photographic image to photosynthesis.  Herschel discovered that he could make a rudimentary print emulsion using pigments extracted from plant material.  He made his prints by treating paper with the plant-based emulsion and pressing a negative tightly against the paper under a sheet of glass.  The prints are then exposed during the height of summer when the sun is very intense.  The printing process can require anywhere from a week to three weeks in direct sunlight.

For my Anthotypes, I used beets, blueberries, pokeberries, chokeberries and several varieties of lilies.  It’s pre-photography. I was really interested in that notion. There is a strange connectivity that the process has to the natural world.  It feels alchemical to me.  I collected some of the plants at sites where I made landscape photos in the past, specifically the pokeberries, so I guess you could say that some of the images have a connection to my past work, or at least they are part of a continuum.

John Opera. Meadow, 2006-2008. Archival inkjet print. 42 x 32 inches. Edition of 5.

 

The images in the prints are of drawings that I made in a glass bottom tray device that I designed which allows me to expose directly onto large format film without a camera.  There was no lens used in making the images.  They are essentially contact prints of ink in water.  For me, the prints point toward the fundamental principles of image formation in photography.  They are also still-images about liquid and its connection to the medium.

John Opera. Untitled (C-3), 2010. Anthotype (pokeberry). 9.25 x 7.5 inches. Unique.

 

HN: One of things that fascinate me is the relevance of light in this work. All photography is reliant on light, but the way light is utilized in these pieces is extreme. The “ink drawings” must be created in complete darkness. I imagine you sitting in a dark closet, dropping ink into a tray of liquid, flashing light to expose the latent image. The second process is actually making the contact print. Like you mentioned, at times the exposures can be up to three weeks in direct sun. Can you comment on this duality?

JO: Honestly, I’ve never consciously thought about that connection, but it is a really interesting one for sure.  A duality in the process like that is probably a good thing.  The pictures are about a balance in a lot of respects I guess—formally, conceptually.  The negatives are made in a traditional darkroom setting, while the printing process takes place under very different circumstances.  It can take up to 120 hours in direct sunlight to break the emulsion down enough to make a photograph. The image of the drawing is captured on film in less than a second.  I see what you mean by “extremes.”

During the printing process, I have to pay attention to the weather and monitor the prints daily. They can only be made during the summer months when the sun is a its highest point in the sky.  I suppose there is an interesting parallel between how the prints come into the world and witnessing plants in a garden do the same.  I’m reminded of Jeff Wall’s image Poppies in a Garden, which is in the Art Institute’s collection.  For me, that image is about the potential universe contained within the poppy.  It’s also an image that draws connection to the latency you are talking about in photography.  There is a delay between the time a photograph is made and when you see the negative or print. This is what happens to the gardener in the garden as well.  I suppose my Anthotypes are somewhere around there in that they are about something provisional.  I like to think that their point is also that they break from the observed world, like a hallucination.

John Opera. Untitled, (G-4), 2010. Anthotype (beet). 9.25 x 7.5 inches. Unique.

HN: Speaking of “hallucination.”  This break from the “observed” world, we can call a “secondary” experience or even a transcendence from the lived experience. Maholy Nagy uses of abstraction of light coupled with technology, exemplifies the idealistic and utopian thinking of a specific era. He coined the term “the New Vision” for his belief that photography could create a whole new way of seeing the outside world that the human eye could not. Is this a relevant conversation today?

JO: I think that every image is a secondary experience to an extent.  I feel like photography has reached such a point of self-consciousness that we can agree that any kind of photograph, whether it’s a documentary image or a photogram, occupies a secondary, or abstract position.

At the same time though, I think what you’re getting at is a transcendence of observed experience.  There is only so much that a lens-based image can describe, right?  I guess that it’s the reason I have periodically revisited abstraction over the past 5 years or so.  Despite their straightforward manner, I have always thought of my landscape pictures as being about a topography of interiority.  I couldn’t quite get there though.  I think I have always used abstraction to express what I couldn’t do with a straight photograph.

John Opera. Baraboo, 2007. Archival inkjet print. 42 x 53 inches. Edition of 5.

HN: The colors and images of the anthotypes have a “West Coast”/LA appeal to me. Perhaps it’s because I know they were made in the summer and we hung out a lot during the time of their creation so in some ways they resonant a certain level of nostalgia. But there is a history of west coast makers that use “west coast” light to influence their practices and works. I definitely make different types of work in the summer–perhaps due to the changes in color palette, a different energy, geographic location, longer days… Besides the fact that the sun is the strongest in the summer, I want to know: Does the sun and warmth solicit certain types of making practices or “types” of art for you? Is there such thing as summer art? If these were made in the winter, would they look aesthetically different?

JO: I’m not sure if there is such a thing as “summer art.” I thought about the Anthotypes all winter long!  Although, making the work has definitely made me more aware of the changing of the seasons and of the Sun’s position and path across the sky.  I feel like the process of producing the Anthotypes has really been a process of aligning myself with the seasonal cycle, probably a lot like a gardener or farmer would have to do.

John Opera. Untitled (D-2), 2010. Anthotype (beet). 9.25 x 7.5 inches. Unique.

HN: So I will ask you the same question I asked Barbara Kasten because it is relevant with your work (and I’d like to compare your answers). I feel we are experiencing a similar scientific/technological revolution in relation to how we capture and perceive light and color. How do you feel digital manipulation has changed the production, consumption and criticism of abstract photography? Do you feel that the abstractions inherent in the medium, particularly evident in your work, are enhanced or obscured by the further abstraction embodied in the act of digital capture/rendering and/or manipulation? Do you feel it’s important to explain this to people or ensure they know the works are not “manipulated”?

JO: Things are definitely changing, but I won’t say if it’s good or bad.  For me it’s just happening.  Digital is definitely erasing certain glitches and characteristics of analog photography, but it’s also creating its own set of peculiarities too.  Digital is actually very close to surpassing film in most respects.  What will eventually remain is the nostalgia for certain arbitrary properties—film grain, solarization, fogging, etc.

Actually, it’s not really important to me that people know how the images were fixed to the prints, although that is usually the first question people ask me.  So how are these made? I could have captured the images on a digital device—actually that would have been a lot easier.  There would have been fewer steps.  The important thing is that they recorded fleeting compositions—whether that was achieved digitally or traditionally is not important. The fact is that I had to scan the film in order to produce larger printing negatives, so there actually was a digital step to this process.  See, now we’re getting too hung up on process.

I’m not sure how abstraction is affected by the digital shift.  Abstraction in photography is like abstraction in painting—its meaning shifts according to context—always.  The way I use abstraction is different than how it functions in Barbara’s work and vice versa.

Installation view of John Opera's Anthotypes at Andrew Rafacz Gallery.

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Heidi Norton received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2002. Her work has been exhibited all over Chicago in venues such as Monique Meloche Gallery, Dominican University, Northern Illinois University Gallery, and Andrew Rafacz Gallery. Nationally and internationally, Norton’s has been exhibited at the Contemporary Art Museum in Baltimore, the Knitting Factory in New York, as well as in Los Angeles, London, and Valenica, Spain. Norton was published in My Green City by Gestalten in 2011. This past year she had solo shows in San Francisco at Hungry Man Gallery and ebersmoore in Chicago. Her work will be included in the group show The World as Text at Columbia College Chicago, opening June 16th.

 

 




Add A Little G.E.E.E. To Your Garden

May 16, 2011 · Print This Article

 

If you’re a avid (albeit amateur) gardener like me, this might be up your alley: G.E.E.E. (aka General Economy Exquisite Exchange 2011) is currently in operation at the Hyde Park Art Center (thru October 1st, 2011). Billed as “a post-retail museum shop and rooftop tomato garden where neighborly value has become the operative currency and creative bartering has become the dominant mode of exchange,” G.E.E.E. is in essence a trading post, where you can bring your own plants, seedlings, or gardening materials to exchange for the ones that are available there.  What you exchange doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of physical goods — also welcome are what the folks behind G.E.E.E. (the Cream-Co. Collective) describe as “immaterial support (dialogue, advice, recipes)” — this could take the form of information exchange or even just a good story.

I stopped by G.E.E.E. several weeks ago, and was completely charmed by every aspect of its homespun display — the handmade, hand-lettered signs, the multi-colored array of seedlings, the little ceramic pig where you can leave money for things you want to purchase at cost. I traded a number of gardening books for a chocolate mint plant, which now sits in a pot in my back yard and which I compulsively sniff every time I go outside. All of the offerings are seasonal, so expect the plants, seedlings, and other good stuff to be changed up on a roughly weekly basis.

G.E.E.E. 2011 at Hyde Park Art Center (photo by me)

Seed exchange at G.E.E.E. (photo by me).

The thing about G.E.E.E. is that, if you garden, and if you’re even remotely friendly, you already get what G.E.E.E. is all about. I have plants growing in my garden that were given to me by at least three different neighbors on my block, and it’s common for us to swap stories and advice and the occasional embittered gripes about our gardens having too much shade. But what I find most valuable about G.E.E.E. is the way in which it highlights extant social relations, particularly those that occur neighbor-to-neighbor, whether you live next door or call across to each other from your balconies.

 

Despite the shitty, depressing, grey, cold, seemingly neverending, and did I say shitty? winters in Chicago, I think there is something so truly lovely, and deeply hopeful, about the act of gardening here. I’ve written about my love for the different kinds of gardens you see in this city before. For some reason it’s always the tiniest efforts that seem to make the biggest impact  – you know damn well that if Spring and Fall are short-seasoned, you’re not going to get to enjoy the fruits of your labor for all that long, but still you pull the weeds and breathe in the dirt and try and make a happy home for the worms, and you do it because most of all it’s fun, but also because you’re bringing color and scent and texture and order and chaos to life, after so many months of grey, frozen dormancy.

Can you tell that winter hit me kind of hard this year?

At any rate, give G.E.E.E. a visit. I promise it will lift your spirits if you’re feeling low – it made me think of how grateful I am to have nice neighbors, and most of all a garden that’s more than willing to work with me.

This Friday, May 20th, from 3pm – 7pm at HPAC G.E.E.E. will host the grand planting of the Center’s rooftop garden – and you can pick up a trowel and pitch in. The planting also double’s as the exhibition’s official opening. On Friday, your efforts will be rewarded via barbecue, and on the next day, from 10 am – 2pm, there’ll be a garden party to celebrate. Bring stuff to swap or donate – if you have questions or plants to swap,  contact geee@creamco.net.  For more info, check out the GEEE blog.