Monday, March 30, 2009

Phoebe Washburn

In reading "The Comprehensivist: Buckminster Fuller and Contemporary Artists" by Elizabeth Smith from Buckminster Fuller: Starting With the Universe, I was reminded of the work of Phoebe Washburn, whose piece Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow, was featured at the Deutsche Guggenheim in 2007.  The piece is a room size installation, really a self-contained factory made from found materials, which produces grass for its own sod roof.  A conveyor belt shuttles small trays of grass seed through stations that provide water and light.  After the grass is fully grown, a "gardener" transfers it to the roof of the factory where, deprived of light and water, it eventually whithers and dies, completing a full life cycle.  See the images and the unfortunately uninformative video below to get an idea of the installation.  

Like Fuller, Washburn is particularly interested in comprehensive, sustainable life systems. Influenced by modernist ideas, Fuller envisioned these systems as elegant and efficient, practical despite their seemingly extravagant forms.  His designs were meant to be used (many of his domes still are in use); he believed that we could better our lives and world through good, thoughtful design.  Washburn's work on the other hand is remarkably, notably impractical.  Its construction is ramshackle and seemingly random - inelegant but functional, though its function is not necessary.  

In discussing the piece, the artist often notes that she is interested in "making do" with the materials she can find, clearly removing herself from the realm of modernism.  A modernist never "makes do."  A modernist uses the material best suited to the job, the material that works most efficiently, gracefully, and tastefully.  Perhaps this impulse can be blamed, at least in part, for our current crisis of sustainability.  What's the use of making do with an old building when a new building can be built better?  Why patch the old jacket when a new one can be easily bought?  The modernist rejects the homemade, the recycled, and the repurposed, which Washburn clearly embraces.  The design of Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow, references more the shantytowns of third world slums, where modernism isn't even an option, where any material, no matter how ill suited, can be made to provide shelter.  

No comments:

Post a Comment