Posts tagged ‘art’

The Heath Hen

The Enid A. Haupt Garden is a symmetrical, manicured Victorian parterre gracing the Smithsonian Quad. While the design of the garden changes with the seasons, it usually has topiaries or tall urns in each of its four corners. This year, however, the plants have been replaced by four large bronze birds, each one representing an extinct species native to North America.

The birds, the work of artist Todd McGrain, are part of the Lost Bird Project. The project seeks to create awareness of the vulnerability of living things when they are hunted or their habitats are destroyed. The sculpture closest to the southeast corner of the garden  is the heath hen, whose history is closely entwined with that of the areas where it once thrived, from Maine to Virginia.

Heath Hen by Todd McGrain

Heath Hen by Todd McGrain

A subspecies of the prairie chicken, the heath hen was considered a culinary treat. Indeed, some have suggested that it was the heath hen rather than the turkey that the Pilgrims consumed during the first Thanksgiving. Because they were a cheap food source, heath hens were hunted and eaten, and their numbers dropped sharply. By 1870, there were none in the US mainland; their dwindling population was confined to the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. By the turn of the 20th century, only 100 heath hens were left and the island placed a ban on hunting. This measure, together with the creation of a sanctuary, increased their population to 800 by 1916. But a fire destroyed much of their breeding ground that year, and that, together with a harsh winter, disease, and the rise of predatory birds, once again imperiled the heath hen. By 1927, there were only 13 birds left. The last heath hen, known as Booming Ben for his distinctive and haunting hoot, died in 1932.

Heath Hens

This illustration shows a male and a female heath hen. From Illustrations of the American ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucien Bonaparte Prince of Musignano With the addition of numerous recently discovered species and representations of the whole sylvae of North America (1835) by Thomas Brown and illustration by James Turvey. Wikicommons.

McGrain has depicted the hen with an open beak, as if Ben were trying to tell us something. The sculpture was made using the lost-wax method. The bird was first carved in wax, then covered with a ceramic material and baked in an oven. This burned away the wax, leaving a mold in the shape of the bird. The molten bronze was then poured into the mold, after which it hardened and assumed the desired form. The artist has therefore created a memorial to the extinct bird, both honoring the heath hen and reminding us of its extinction, an event that could have been averted with greater environmental knowledge and awareness.

-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian Gardens volunteer

June 4, 2014 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Nam June Paik: Global Visionary

TV Garden by Nam June Paik

Installing TV Garden by Nam June Paik, 1974/2000, single channel video installation with color television monitors and live plants; color, sound, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Smithsonian Gardens recently had the opportunity to make a unique contribution to an exhibit currently on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Our staff often provide plants and flower arrangements to beautify the space of a gallery to complement the art on display, but rarely are we asked to provide plants to become an actual work of art. Art in the garden is a familiar trope, but in this case, the garden is the art.

This was exactly the case when we were approached to provide living plants for the exhibit Nam June Paik: Global Visionary. Nam June Paik was a Korean American artist born July 20, 1932 in Seoul, Korea and died January 29, 2006. He worked in a variety of media, but is often called the “father of video art” as he was one of the first artists to explore the medium of video and television in art.

TV Garden Nam June Paik

TV Garden by Nam June Paik, 1974/2000, single channel video installation with color television monitors and live plants; color, sound, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. (Photo by Amy Vaughters, Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

In the center of the exhibition is Paik’s 1974/2000 installation TV Garden, comprised of televisions screening his 1973 video masterpiece “Global Groove” peeking out from a jumble of live tropical plants. Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouses’ Interior Plant Section helped install the plants and has maintained them throughout the duration of the exhibit. There are over three hundred tropical plants in the installation, and all are varieties specified by the exhibit’s curators to remain true to Paik’s original vision. Aglaonema commutatum ‘Maria’, Dracaena warneckii, Scindapsus aureus (Jade pothos), and Ravenea rivularis (Majesty palm) were acquired in a variety of sizes for TV Garden.

From a horticulturist’s perspective, it is a challenge to maintain these plants due to the sheer quantity and the close proximity of the televisions, wires, and cables spread throughout the installation. Every week it takes approximately three hours of watering and grooming to keep the plants looking fresh and healthy.

Nam June Paik: Global Visionary is open through August 11, 2013. Hurry over to see it; it closes on Sunday!

For more information, check out these reviews of the exhibit by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

-Joel Lemp, Horticulturist

August 5, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Art For a Day

On May 10th We celebrated National Public Gardens Day with Earth Matters to Smithsonian Gardens – Garden Fest 2013! It was a busy (and hot) day energized by music, dancing, crafts, tomato potting, and lots of information for the home gardener, from composting to attracting pollinators.

When we asked artist  Emily C-D to design a collaborative, ephemeral art activity for Garden Fest we were excited to see what she would dream up. For weeks we collected leaves, flowers, and  more from our gardens and greenhouses, eager to see how she would incorporate the materials into an artwork dependent on visitor participation that would only last for one day.

In her own words, here is Emily’s take on her process and vision:

Garden Fest collaborative and ephemeral art activity

Emily drew out a design on a piece of 15’ x 15’ canvas beforehand and brought it with her on the big day. Photo by Brett McNish.

What was your inspiration for the project?

Emily: I was asked to come up with a temporary, participatory art piece appropriate for a festival about gardening that would also reference the Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor exhibit at the National Museum of African Art. Drawing on my experience as a muralist who has often painted on horizontal surfaces, and also as an explorer that has experienced the beauty of Mexican tapetes (ephemeral carpets), I proposed the creation of a ground mural out of natural materials. I have always enjoyed transforming the floor—crosswalks, sidewalks, streets, and bridges—because the process of creation and the finished piece are intrinsically participatory. I can invite people of all ages and abilities to join in the fun since the surface to be transformed does not necessitate the use of ladders or scaffolding. The public that walks across the finished work of art enters the world created by the designs and colors, literally becoming a part of the piece. For Garden Fest, it seemed appropriate that we would use organic materials from the garden itself—seeds, leaves, petals, sticks, wood chips, rocks, and dirt—to “paint” the mural.

Adding natural materials to the ephemeral art piece.

Throughout the day visitors participated by jumping in and adding natural materials to the larger design. Some stayed for only a few minutes but others stayed for more than an hour. Photo by Francisco X. Guerra.

Can you tell us a little bit more about “garden carpets” in Mexico?

Emily: Tapetes (literally, carpet in Spanish) are temporary works of art that are created on the ground out of brightly colored sawdust and other organic materials like flower petals, beans, seeds, and rice. In Mexico, their creation is a public event that draws the community together and is often associated with the celebration of a religious holiday. Tapetes can be monumental, perhaps covering the entire block that surrounds a church. It takes an incredible amount of patience, time, and energy to create a work of art of such magnitude (and often quite impressive detail and design), and yet tapetes are meant to be walked on. They are pathways for spiritual processions and as such they are ephemeral, lasting only a day or two. The value of tapetes lies within a process that builds community and brings people into the present through the creation of a moment of beauty.

Did everything go as planned? Did anything surprise you?

Emily: The nature of my community practice is such that the element of surprise is built into the projects. My role as the artist is to create an open framework that establishes cohesiveness within a work of art that involves the contributions of many hands and minds.  Although I might be working with specific themes, materials, and/or designs, many details are left up to the participants so that they might have a sense of ownership of the piece, and not just feel like “helpers.” In the case of Garden Carpet, I drew a very basic design onto a large piece of canvas which people were encouraged to “color in” using the various materials at hand—sort of like a page from a monumental coloring book. The symmetrical nature of my drawing influenced the placement of the materials (sand, pinecones, or pink sawdust), so that without directing people as to where to place what, the final work exhibited an incredible sense of balance. It was a constant surprise to me as to which colors and textures were chosen to fill in the different areas of the design, and yet at the end of the day, my original drawing still shone through.

Visitors add natural materials to the ephemeral art piece at Garden Fest.

We were amazed by the intricate designs created by the Garden Fest visitors. Photo by Brett McNish.

 What was your favorite moment of the day?

Emily: The moment when two girls began to fill in the blank design with color was especially exciting, and viewing the finished work at the end of the day was definitely very satisfying. Although, I have to stress that I thoroughly enjoyed myself throughout the day. Every moment was filled with color, collaboration, and creation!

Emily C-D with the finished work of art.

Emily C-D with the finished garden carpet at the end of the day. Photo by Francisco X. Guerra.

How did you get into community art, and what do you enjoy about collaborating with the public?

Art is a form of communication that can transgress boundaries of language and culture. As such, I have always been interested in increasing the accessibility of art so that we might all realize our creative potential and cooperate in the creation of a more vivid, expressive world. I first got into community art back in 2004 when I facilitated the painting of new outdoor seating for a public library in Baltimore. Since then, I have been creating fun, interactive projects that blur the line between spectator and participant, working with people to discover color, rhythm, and beauty within the chaos of our reality.

At the end of the day the installation was rolled up and composted at our greenhouse facility, but it lives on in photographs and the memories of those who contributed to its creation.

Emily C-D is based out of Mexico City and Baltimore. You can view more of her community art on her website: http://www.emilycd.com/

 

-Kate Fox, museum educator

July 17, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment


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