Arts & Culture / Mosaic / February 26, 2020

Artist discusses hunger in new art exhibit

A piece titled “Read Your Rutabaga” is currently on display in Borzello Gallery as part of “Underground: Compost, Seeds and Swedes” (Katy Costeglia/TKS)

Walking into Borzello Gallery, it’s a far cry from the typical art exhibit. The space, rather than framed paintings or displayed pottery, is currently filled with plants.

“I don’t see grow lights in a gallery very often,” said Lynette Lombard, Professor of Art.

Lombard met artist Katerie Gladdys, whose work is currently displayed in Borzello titled “Underground: Compost, Seeds and Swedes”, in 2015 at the Jentel Artist Residency in Wyoming and has kept in touch ever since. Many people from Knox had a hand in the exhibition: Director of Sustainability Debbie Steinberg, Professors Peter Schwartzman and Stuart Allison, Head of Grounds Brad Bergren, and Production Manager Tina Hope, the kitchen staff and the sustainability department. This particular aspect of interdisciplinary activity was something that Lombard loved most about the exhibit.

“I think it connects art to other disciplines (…) I like the idea that art steps out of its usual realm and moves into provoking people to think about, ‘Is this art? Is it art? What’s the role of art?’” Lombard said.

There are many moving parts to Gladdys’ exhibition. In one corner, there are the growing plants and grow lights. For Gladdys, these are to inspire people to think about where their food comes from. She was inspired to do this after visiting Knox’s high tunnel and learning that the Caf uses the local produce.

“I felt that physically showing a process related to seeds that happens here on campus was really important,” Gladdys said.

All of the plants currently being grown will be transported to Knox’s high tunnel after the exhibit is finished and eventually be eaten by students.

“I think it’s refreshing to go in there and see green grass,” Lombard said.

Right next to the plants is the Seed Cabinet: a repurposed card catalog with drawers filled with seeds that, when you open, displays video of the process of growing for that plant. These videos come from in and around Gainesville, Florida where Gladdys teaches at the University of Florida. The videos include film from farms, nonprofits and UF’s campus garden. The cabinet took around a year for Gladdys to make, having to build the electronics and program it.

On the other side of the room, three videos are projected onto the wall all under one title: “Mulch + Chicken Shit = Compost”. They are played on a loop throughout all the hours of the exhibition, volume and all. One video is of a steaming mulch pile, which was originally going to go in the Seed Cabinet but Gladdys then thought to make it it’s own part in the gallery. Another video is of chickens eating food waste from local restaurants, and the last is of Gladdys’ own compost pile she filmed over Winter Break. This section of the gallery is made to examine the symbiotic relationship between food waste, chicken and compost.

The most unusual medium of the whole exhibit, however, is the “Swedes”: dozens of rutabagas imprinted with statistics and quotes about the experience of hunger and food security on college campuses. The plants are sitting on plates with sand, and viewers are encouraged to not only pick the vegetable up, but to take it to a table to be able to thoroughly read and examine it. Even if people knock sand onto the floor, Gladdys wants them to leave it there.

“I like the idea that the gallery has been transformed. Often they’re discrete pieces on a wall, or sculptures on the floor, and this has brought dirt and mud and moisture and sand and water and all these elemental things that normally we don’t think of in a gallery but when they’re in a gallery, they make you really think about the environment,” Lombard said.

Due to the quick decomposition of the plant, the quotes are also up on a poster so that if only few words are decipherable, viewers can find the full quote and who said it. Then, viewers are encouraged to write their thoughts or feelings on the quotes on napkins provided at the table, and to then hang their napkin on the wall of the exhibit itself.

“I wanted there to be a component of the piece where the viewers could have personal conversations about hunger (…) I also wanted there to be a record of those conversations. I thought about how sometimes people doodle and ideate on napkins and decided to try that out for this exhibition,” Gladdys said.

The rutabagas were very intentionally picked as the medium for this part of the gallery. They are traditionally known as a famine food, especially in Illinois.

The exhibit itself represents a kind of cycle that is easy to see in the compost videos, but even shows itself in more subtle ways in the gallery. On one side of the exhibit, there’s seeds sprouting, the other is full of decomposing swedes.

“As the rutabagas get older, then there’s a new thing coming up. It’s a kind of cycle,” Lombard said.

Kaitlyn Cashdollar

Tags:  art gallery Borzello gallery environmental activism hunger

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