Monday, March 29, 2010

Art (Factory) Farm

I cant help but think about some of the similarities between the plight of the small farm and the plight of the studio artist. Both have been institutionalized, and isolated from the majority of the masses. I find it funny that museums are these giant building in a selected location, where only the elite attend and actually know what is going on. They carry on a discourse foreign to the masses, and progress, if you can call it that, moves in ways that are non sensical to the rest of us. A vacuum cleaner in a glass case counts as one of the most valuable items a millionaire could have in their home!
Like wise the factory farm is also tucked away in large building where only a few of the elite, if you can call them that, are allowed to enter. There they carry on discourse that also seems like a foreign language, and progress, if you can call it that, is the next way to sell some ridiculous dairy-esque product to the masses. One of the most valuable items could have is a smoothie-dairy-cubie snack!
In both fields the typical consumer has no idea who the person is that is producing the food media, or the art media that is being offered to them. There is little differentiation between products. The franken food looks all the same with blaring lables, and most of the art on the wall looks about the same maybe there is an all purple canvas next to an all blue canvas. Thanks Yves!
The majority of people have never met their artist and never met their farmer. The masses carry a romantic conception of artist working away at their paintings in their Greenwich Village apartment, just like their conception of a farmer is a blond haired milk maid plunking away at a few cows with chickens and pigs running around the farm yard, and a frikin rooster crowing in the morning. yeah right.
Both institutions dictate down to the masses what beautiful is, and also what food will make us beautiful. Our link to the idea of a beautiful human and the foods that are produced to have that beautiful body are dictate by the same conglomerate. Wendell Barry said " our bodies were physically beautiful when they were physically useful." I don't see the use in running on a treadmill like a frikin gerbil all that useful.
The artist use to decide what was beautiful and the farmer use to decide on their own, what made good food. None of this was dictated to either of them. And we as humans had the ability on our own to decided what was beautiful and was good for us.  There is nothing more beautiful than watching your woman decide she is going out before the sun comes up, in a snow storm, with a busted foot, a hammer in one hand, to rip apart a frozen round bale because that is what needed to be done.  Or halter training a calf in the middle of a pasture with summer sun. Beauty has a purpose, and it is for artist and farmers to connect the dots to make a picture any of us would like to look at.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Art that lives on the land

My good friend Joan O'Hanrahan over in Lisdoovarna Ireland teaches at the Burren College of Art. She recently took her students out to draw in the forest. That lit a fire under my ass to say the least. I became inspired thinking about art, land, and everyday life on the farm, and what the function of art has on our rural landscapes. I am pretty sure Picasso said that "art brushes away the dust from everyday life."
The art that is generated on the farm is always sourced from the bi products of any given farm project, or daily activity. The bi products become your medium( bailing twine, cut up fence wire, plastic tubes, scrap wood, old house paint.) Your subject task is really simple, incorporate design into a space that you occupy everyday. Brush away some of the dust. Secondly,  get your art to accomplish something for your farm: A hay manger has a design that enhances it, or a feeding area has its structure enhance by a wire line, the stock tank that has copper tubing emulating a whirlpool. Its function can represent a set of beliefs that govern your farm, your underlying stewardship philosophies.
Symbols are consistently present in this world of work, rest, eat, sleep, work. They are simple.  The time and energy that it takes to conceive of a symbol, and apply it in a given space is minimal. They represent the most fundamental elements of your life that you worship. (flowers, sun, grass, leaves) All images become symbols representing the parts of life and farming that keeps you getting out of bed in the morning, and doing it all again. They are the images that carry through spring, summer cropping, harvest, storage, winter survival, and spring rebirth.

At some point in Art history, artistic objects transformed from an object that you interacted with in your life to an object that was representational of cerebral processing. Art objects became thinking rather than objects.  A subtler point than just utility, and allows farm art to circumnavigates the Art vs. Craft debate. 
Creating art on the landscape has aided in alleviating some of the feelings of contempt that seep into life as a farmer. The feelings that,"some one else should do this" or " I am too high and mighty to be doing lowly task of shoveling shit" Contempt has been a driving force separating people from the act of growing food, and keeping animals. Art is a healer, working at the root of the feelings of contempt that have divorced us from the land.  It helps make us feel that we are absolutely unique in our decision to be connected to the land. There are images and designs all over our door yard and landscape that help to state our uniqueness in the loudest voice possible.

            Lucky for the artisan farmer that people/consumers are deciding to reconnect with land and food. The people and place are taking a front seat ahead of brand, label and ingredient. A farm offers a place and a person. A super market offers brands and competition in a mostly chaotic overstressed environment that has a tendency to beat humans into a dulled down state of consumer compliance.  "Place" and experience are becoming important to consumers because they want to know that the "place" where their food comes from is being cared for. And in a small sense that then, they the consumer, are also contributing to the care of that place. The sense of place is reinforced by the experience that the consumer has at the farm.  The experience is a visual, audio, and best of all the wonderful smells of mowed grass, fresh compost, aerated soils, and running bubbling brooks and sweet cows. Art functions as the most effective catalyst for creating a sensory experience when it is generated by the person/farmer who lives in the most intimate relationship with the land. The consumer gets to share in that intimacy when he/she eats. It is said that eating is one of the most intimate things we do.

      I have dusted off the oil paints, laid my tools in a line, and accessed the materials that are around. Ten acres are going to be the paper, canvas, and piece of clay, metal, ect.... let the games begin.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Apple Trees

Pruning the apple trees has been my chore for the last three days. One because it needs to be done, two because we like apples, and three a groovy bio-dynamic calendar told me that, according to the stars, these last three days have been advantageous to plants of the fruit realm. The moon seems to be traveling in front of a constellation that correlates to fire element, which enhances fruit growth.
After tackling four trees with my trusty $2.99 bargin bin hand saw, some surfing on line and chatting with people of apple tree knowledge, I think I have learned a thing or two about pruning super over grown, wild apple trees.
1st lesson- open the center of the tree. Easy enough. I charged in there and stared hacking away the dead and broken branches, as well as the "suckers". Suckers are these oprotunistic shoots that usually align themselves vertically. They are no good for fruit because the will bend over and break. Opening the center allows for air and light to get in to the trunk of the tree. I have noticed on some of the trees quite a bit of lichen. Lichen loves shade and water. I remember from my field trips in elementary school that lichen will eventually wear away at rocks. I can't imagine that stuff is really good for trees. So I decided that cutting away horizontal branches that entangle and compete with each other is a really good thing. It allows for more sunlight to get in and fry-a-late the lichen.
2nd lesson.- Keep the horizontal branches, and the branches that are angled 15 degrees outward. Apparently these will hold the fruit the best. I cut away the branches headed down. More than likely these branches will have fruit that will weigh down and hit the ground. It is the trees way of dropping its fruit and spreading itself. Interesting creatures these apple trees.

3nd lesson- Only cut 1/3 of  your tree away. I devised a rule of thumb; make three big cuts, and if there is another large cut that can be made, it can always be done next year. How to decide the "big cuts" is another matter. I used some of the knowledge from 1st lesson. "Open the center, cut away suckers." By looking at the tree it is pretty easy to tell which large branches were at one time in their life a "sucker" that just matured.  They make prime candidates for a "big cut".  Even better if you can find a "big sucker" that is "shooting vertical" or is "horizontally entangled" - let er frikin have it!
     After spending five years in art school drawing nude women, I couldn't help but notice that apple trees have their own figure gesture. So I made up another little mantra to follow: Decide where the gesture and life force is going, and decide where you want the life force gesture to go,  and anything that is headed in the other direction can be lopped off. 
There are plenty of wild apple trees out there, I am sure anyone can find one, prune it up, and have themselves a little one tree orchard. That is the news from Symphony Farm where the basil is germinated, the hands are scratched up from pruning trees, and the chores are usually finished.