From Seeds to Sprouts

Posted by Nicole J. Caruth on May 19, 2012



Rob Carter, “Faith in A Seed” (video still), 2012. Courtesy the artist.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been following artists who grow food as part of their practice. Trust me when I tell you there are plenty. I won’t go too deeply into the artist-as-cultivator trend here, though I will say that these types of projects are often steeped in greenwash and two-word phrases that people like to hear—environmentally conscious, locally grown, sustainable minded, and socially engaged. However well-intentioned they might be, artists sometimes fail to give us new ways of thinking about and seeing food production. But there are also artists like Rob Carter and Jenna Spevack, both of whom have solo exhibitions right now in Manhattan, who help us to reimagine foodways and make the practice of growing food something to behold.

Rob Carter: Faith in a Seed

Rob Carter’s multimedia installation Faith in a Seed is the latest in Art in General’s New Commission Program. On approach, it doesn’t look like much more than a big plywood box. Ocular lenses embedded along its perimeter afford a look inside. Allow me to wax sentimental: I understand how the character Mary Lennox must have felt when she unlocked the door toThe Secret Garden—Carter’s landscape is intimate and wonderful. Plants of dandelion, bush bean, and corn surround three miniature paper houses, replicas of 19th-century estates that belonged to Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, and Sir John Bennet Lawes. Each represents a different way of seeing the world and, as Carter told me over the phone, “the shifting role of architecture in the ongoing dialogue about feeding mankind.”

Faith in a Seed began for Carter some four years ago when he “came across a random article on the BBC” that discussed Lawes’ scientific institute, Rothamsted Experimental Station, one of the world’s oldest agricultural research centers. Carter’s installation has been “slowly germinating” ever since. In time, he came to Darwin and Thoreau. Darwin’s house speaks to “a life of research, looking, and investigation,” Carter explained. Whereas “Thoreau was a natural person to go toward because he straddled both worldly thinking and artistic point of view.”

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