Sunday, July 29, 2012

Grow Your Own With Jeff Schmuki

Robert Boyd

I wasn't expecting much from Jeff Schmuki's GenAIRator (on view at the Art League through August 31) when I first read about it. When I read the description, my reaction was to wonder why this was a work of art? Don't get me wrong--I recognize that since Duchamp, anything can be a work of art depending on context, intent, etc. But what I was wondering was, why bother calling this indoor growing system an artwork? There is a whole gardening subculture that appreciates this kind of homemade technology for what it is--a way to grow plants indoors. Instead of bringing these PVC pipe gardens into an art environment, why not take to people who would really understand it. What is added by putting it in an art gallery?

In short, I was skeptical. And I mention this because if an artist can win over someone who shows up prepared to dislike the art, well, that's a real achievement. Schmuki's GenAIRator snuck up on me. When you walk into the gallery, the first thing that hits you is the amplified, gurgling sound of water. You see two complex PVC pipe planters, one horizontal and one with the pipes arranged in a stair-step arrangement. Each pipe holds several round pot-like things, each of which have something growing out of it.

Jeff Schmuki, Edible Sound Producing Hydro Unit #1, 2012, mixed media (including Greek oregano, Italian parsley, silver lemon thyme, lemon verbena, sweet basil, English mint, garlic chives, variegated basil, lemon balm, curry plant, purple sage, squash)

Maybe it was just the air-conditioning, but it really felt like the air was fresher in that room. Of course, the front gallery was the perfect location for the installation. The room really let the sun in, and it makes it feel as if you are in a green house.

Edible Sound Producing Hydro Unit #1 was the horizontal planter, and it was filled with various herbs and spices. Not being a gardener, I won't comment on the quality of the set-up as a a planter. It looked complex and well-thought out, but I don't really know if this is an efficacious way to grow herbs indoors. It seemed to be working well on the days I visited. (If there are any gardeners out there who can comment on it from a horticultural standpoint, I'd appreciate your comments.)

Jeff Schmuki, Air-Filtering Hydro Unit #1, 2012, mixed media

The stairstep planter Air-Filtering Hydro Unit #1 was filled with house plants. There was a bit of a contradiction here--house plants are in your house or on your porch to beautify things. But as clever as Schmuki's set-up is, it wasn't beautiful in any conventional, decorate-your-house way. Air-Filtering Hydro Unit #1 isn't designed for artful display--it is designed to grow a lot of plants in a small space.

So that begs the question: are these grow units really for house-plants and herbs? Or are they for the urban marijuana grower? I'm sure many who saw these two structures wondered about this. And if this is the case, is filling them up with herbs and house plants a wink to the audience, the way a "smoke shop" sells one a bong "for tobacco use only"? (Or so I've heard.) I don't think this is the case--Schmuki's website states bluntly that he sees these kinds of projects as promoting ecological awareness.

It may be that Schmuki had no illicit use in mind when he designed his Units.  But if I considered this possibility, I suspect others will too. He might get some commissions that way!

Jeff Schmuki, Hydro-Drawing, 2012, inkjet on paper

In addition to the actual Units, Schmuki displayed artistically-rendered plans in oversized inkjet prints. The plan drawings, Hydro-Drawings #1-#6, feature black-and-white drawings of parts of each Unit with green areas of color added. The combination of plans and formal color elements works quite well. For me, in fact, it is the sound of the water and the wall-drawings that elevate this piece above agricultural engineering. Those two elements are lovely, and combined with the plants themselve, the installation strikes me as aesthetically pleasing in several dimensions. In short, I found myself having an unexpectedly positive aesthetic response to it. GenAIRator surprised me by being beautiful.

Jeff Schmuki, Hydro-Drawing, 2012, inkjet on paper

Jeff Schmuki, Hydro-Drawing, 2012, inkjet on paper


1 comment:

  1. The "hydro units" were very well put together, I know I could grow more than the herbs that were in there, do it myself and have also grown tomatoes too.