Maria Loboda, Smoking Room in a private Palais in Brussels, as seen from entrance, 1905 (2013) Commissioned and produced by Frieze Projects New York 2013 Frieze New York 2013 Photograph by John Berens Courtesy John Berens/ Frieze
We’ve long been fans of the brainy, beautiful work of Polish-born, Berlin and London-based artist Maria Loboda (b. 1979), and the way plants dominate her world with both unsettling wildness and teasing formality. For example, in her 2012 sculpture This Work Is Dedicated to an Emperor, Loboda installed 20 cypress trees in the Baroque-era Karlsaue Park in Kassel, Germany. The stands of trees, in bright orange pots, were marched weekly through the park grounds, assuming mysterious arrangements inspired by Roman military strategy and Macbeth’s moving forest.
As Loboda recently told Wilder, “Nature is a very graceful artistic material to work with, because the form is already beautiful and you can take it and transform it into something a bit more disturbing or awakening. You can’t change the form. You can only play with the content.” Loboda’s art is less cultivated than the long-haul contraptions found in the common museum “sculpture garden:” “I like it when outdoor artworks clearly belong outdoors.” We couldn’t wait to check out her newest work, coinciding with the fitful return of spring to northern, urban climes. It’s one of five commissioned Frieze Projects taking over New York’s Randall’s Island from May 10 to 13 during the Frieze Art Fair.
For her installation, Loboda created a garden replica of an early-twentieth-century Wiener Werkstätte color plate image, Smoking Room in a Private Palais in Brussels, within the island’s green geography. Working with local gardeners and florists (Otto Keil of Long Island’s N & O Horticultural Products, nearly a century in the business), Loboda meticulously chose plants based on their seasonal availability and suitability and, of course, their colors. In translating a flat interior image to a living arrangement, Loboda consulted landscape architect friends and historical sources; see below for more on the fascinating development of color-coded gardening. Her smoking garden mixes indoors and out, sight and scent (via a perfume abstraction of tobacco made with the Fragrance Foundation and Swiss company Firmenich), and is more intimate yet less domesticated than, say, Jeff Koons’s wonderful giant topiary Puppy.
“As it’s still early in the year, some of the plants didn’t reach the size I wanted or the color wasn’t exactly right, but it was very exciting to go through all the possible shades and hues,” Loboda says. Viewers will find specimens of Ajuga, Agapanthus, Azalea, Zantedeschia and Coleus Dark Star, in the white, dark blue and black palette of Loboda’s original image. Actual dirt labor on the site began a couple weeks ago: laying out the garden, preparing the turf, planting and so forth, with the help and guidance of the Randall’s Island crew, who will tend to the installation during the Fair’s long weekend. “The best part was working directly with the flowers,” Loboda says, and since her lovely, strange garden won’t remain after Frieze leaves town (go see it now!), she says, “I hope we can donate the flowers to a nice place.”
Maria Loboda’s Inspiration and Further Reading:
Loboda’s work makes you seek out meanings and roots. Here are some Wilder-friendly directions her project took us:
1. For Frieze, Loboda looked at groundbreaking texts of color codification, including American ornithologist Robert Ridgway’s 1912 Color Standards and Color Nomenclature (still in use by birders) and the French Chrysanthemum Society’s 1905 Répertoire de Couleurs.
2. Related to this development, color-coded gardening and the use of color in planting to achieve optical effects was popularized by influential English horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll, whose work Loboda also read. Home gardeners suddenly became keen to re-create precise landscapes by ordering exact hues of flowers from catalogs.
3. It’s fitting that Loboda’s living artwork, based on a Wiener Werkstätte smoking room–that obsolete interior form–will be dismantled after Frieze. Her floral glories are gathered for a brief, four-day season: “I have always been very impressed by the Werkstätte’s intransigence in material choices and the fact that they went bankrupt partly due to this very quality.”
4. In addition to her cypress tree chess game, botany has reared its troubling head in past Loboda works like Ah, Wilderness (2010) (sculpture that imagines what happens when branches of “monocultural” trees such as white pine, cedar, walnut, and birch meet) and A Guide to Insults and Misanthropy (2006), once volatile, now neutered bouquets bringing together the worst invectives of Victorian flower language.
See Maria Loboda’s Smoking Garden this weekend at Frieze Art Fair today through Monday. Friday, May 10: 11am–7pm; Saturday, May 11: 11am–7pm; Sunday, May 12 : 11am–7pm; Monday, May 13: 11am–6pm
Text by Phyllis Fong
Longwood Gardens was a partner in our Summer edition, so we had the chance to visit their current installation, Lights. The show is dazzling! We spoke with the garden’s director, Paul Redman, about the genesis of the program and the relationship that Longwood, as one of the leading voices in horticulture, has with the arts in general.
There’s a place where fiber-optic flowers and 200-year-old elms are living in harmony, at last. Nestled in Pennsylvania’s southeastern corner, the world-renowned Longwood Gardens is hosting Lights (through September 29th), a one-of-a-kind, site-specific installation by UK artist and light designer, Bruce Munro. Twenty-three of the conservatory’s 1,077 masterfully cultivated acres are devoted to Munro’s fields of twinkling orbs, acrylic stems, pastures of color-changing towers, iridescent raindrops fashioned from tiny bulbs, and greenhouse chandeliers of bundled glass balls.
The outdoor pieces are, for the most part, integrated into the natural landscape, peeking or sparkling through drifts of black walnut trees, English gardens, and grassy banks, provoking a sense of alien familiarity. For instance “Water lilies” is a series of large resplendent disks constructed from recycled CDs that share one of the garden’s lakes with the real variety, floating together in harmony. However, in other cases, a very different approach is take. For example, “Water Towers,” is made up of sixty-nine cylindrical towers placed throughout one of the central meadows each built from plastic water-filled bottles, fiber optics and a sound system that stimulates synchronized color change. It is in a piece like this where the suspension between nature and Munro’s artifice come together to create something entirely new.
Longwood sits upon land purchased by a Quaker family from William Penn has had several lives. In the past 250 years, it has been cultivated for farming, arboretums, nature preserves, and finally, to include a full-blown research institution and horticultural wonderland that draw thousands of visitors each year. Like many botanic centers, Longwood’s mission is to maintain the likes of rare clematis and fruit orchards, and engage in research toward preserving rare and endangered plants.
Unlike other garden’s, Longwood’s other big mission is to make the natural world comprehensible to the public. Redman, who became Longwood’s director after a long tenure at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio, says, “I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to connect the people with the plants in the most meaningful way possible. You don’t want to dumb it down. And it’s not like a museum or a science center — you’re trying to interpret the story of a living, ever-changing ecosystem.” It was this principal that led him to working with Bruce Munro, after one of Redman’s colleagues came across an exhibit of his in the UK in 2008.
“At the time,” says Redman, “we were embarking on a quest to find something that could help our guests to see Longwood differently — hopefully to a create an entirely new view of the garden altogether.” Throughout the installation process, a nearly two-year collaborative effort between Munro, Redman and the rest of the gardens’ curatorial team, Redman recalls, “The site and spirit of the place informed every part of the installation. We just had to keep asking, ‘How can we get people to see Longwood in a way they’ve never seen it before?’” The team had the unique task of blending two forms, a historically architected garden with sculpture, into a comprehensible dynamic, that both revealed things about Longwood’s flora and the artist’s work in its own right.
Redman enjoys bringing fine arts into conversation at Longwood, though he doesn’t believe that his love for a particular landscape artist necessarily warrants seeking someone out. “My goal is to find artistic partners — it’s about finding artistic partners who understand the gardens specifically. I never, ever want to impose something upon them. When [landscape art] is not imposed, it becomes part of the landscape, it has a life.”
The 1920s experiment to reverse-engineer wild cows.
In 1920, the brothers Lutz and Heinz Heck, directors of the Berlin and Munich zoos, respectively, began a two-decade breeding experiment. Working with domestic cattle sought out for their “primitive” characteristics, they attempted to recreate “in appearance and behavior” the living likeness of the animals’ extinct wild ancestor: the aurochs. “Once found everywhere in Germany,” according to Lutz Heck, by the end of the Middle Ages the aurochs had largely succumbed to climate change, overhunting, and competition from domestic breeds…
Read the entire story here.
In the winter issue, Wilder visited two farms – one in upstate New York and the other, Cala Farms, in the heart of Wisconsin. The photographer, Cameron Wittig, captured these farmers in a series of outstanding images. Since we couldn’t print them all, Adrian Shirk, Wilder Quarterly’s assistant editor, spoke to Cameron about his work, Wisconsin and his impressions of Cala Farms.
Cameron Wittig was born and raised in Milwaukee, and when Wilder Quarterly assigned him to shoot Cala Farms in Northwestern Wisconsin, Wittig had been itching to take an excursion anyway. That region in particular has dominated the geography of this photographer’s imagination for as long as he can remember. “I regularly drive across the state,” Wittig says. “From St. Paul, I take 35W, and try to get out of the city as fast as I can… Entering into Wisconsin is like coming upon a very quiet, old stranger, who, when she finally speaks, uses very few words but is able to say a lot.”
Cala Farms is situated in the small agrarian community of Turtle Lake, which hugs the Eastern border of Lake Superior. “The Minnesota side of the lake has a lot of development,” Wittig says. “It’s kind of the Cancun of the Midwest. But the Wisconsin side has very little development, and I think they like it that way… There isn’t the same presence of money, and I think residents appreciate that it‘s stayed that way.” Corn, sugar beets, and soy control much of the area’s farming economy, though more and more Minneapolis restaurants and vendors are patronizing smaller farms like the Calas’, as the interest increases for locally sourced food.
The town of Turtle Lake is just under two square miles, populated by approximately 2,000 citizens, and is fiscally bound by its cash crops and a single casino. When Wittig set out that afternoon, it was bright and cold, and the ground was covered in a crust of snow. The Green Bay Packers were still undefeated. “It was more silent than usual. There were no cars out. You got the sense that something important was going on. I just kept driving. I had the roads to myself because everyone was at home watching the football game.”
Rodrigo and Juan Carlos of Cala Farms were very welcoming to Wittig. The two cousins immigrated from Mexico City to the US just four years before, and with the help of Minnesota’s Big River Farms’ training program were able to get organic certification in 2009. “I liked them a lot. I think they’re very smart, and ambitious,” Wittig said, referring to the Calas. “They came to Minnesota to work on farms, and ended up buying a piece of land that’s surrounded by much bigger, established farms. They’re growing organic because they understand there’s a demand for that. While I was visiting with them, Rodrigo told me a story about a neighbor he’d spoken to recently. The man was approached by developers, and he stressed to Rodrigo that he did not want to sell it for that purpose, but he didn’t expand much after that. I don’t know what Rodrigo was thinking, but this is the sort of territory he has to navigate, pitting himself against casino or condo developers, befriending his neighbors as a Latino immigrant.”
During his tour around the farm — which was largely dormant for the deep freeze of the Midwest winter — Wittig walked the perimeter of the property, around their greenhouses and tilled land. “Some of the old structures on the property were in disuse, not in good condition. The silo, and the farm house. Those were there when the Calas got the land, and they haven’t decided what to do with them yet.” One striking photo features a pile of summer melon husks, half submerged in the snow. Another shows rows and rows of dark, leafy greens pushing through the frost. “I believe that was a cover crop,” Wittig says. “Maybe spinach. They’ll let it decompose, and it’ll make the soil nutritive for the next season without having to use chemicals.”
When Wittig was packing up to leave, he felt somewhat empty-handed, like there was still so much he couldn’t grasp about the life of the farm, the lives of these farmers. “I was reminded of a time when I went to the delta of Mississippi on assignment, shortly after Katrina. I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out what was going on, really, or how to really get in on the action, anything important. And I met a film maker who’d been working in the area for ten years. He said, ‘Stop trying to understand what it’s all about — the only way you’d get it is if you’d lived here you’re whole life.”
He eventually decided he wasn’t empty handed after all. “I now knew these two guys — and I really liked them. And they’re possibly going to struggle more than the average farmer in the area. They both stressed that they were very, very cold in Wisconsin, and they told me a little about their family in Mexico… As I drove through Turtle Lake that evening, taking Highway 8, I’d see people on the street or idling in their cars at a stop sign and I’d wonder, do they know them? Are they friends of theirs?” Wittig ended up hightailing it to Deluth, the freshwater port on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, where he checked into an old motel. He went through the day’s photos. “I kept thinking of the last thing Rodrigo said to me. He said something funny about Mexico. He wanted me to know that Mexico had a bad reputation for being dangerous, but that it’s not actually a dangerous place — and that I should know that if I ever wanted to go.”
In the debut issue of Wilder Quarterly, we were lucky enough to have photographer and writer, Rory Gunderson, interview the amazing Paul Stamets – a forward thinking American mycologist, and advocate of practitioner of bioremediation and medicinal mushrooms. The piece, titled The Weird and Wonderful Mushroom Future is a favorite of so many that we decided to make the entire text available here on the Wilder blog. Enjoy!
Images are courtesy of Paul Stamets.
Visionary mycologist, author and TED speaker, Paul Stamets, sat down with me after his recent talk at the New York Open Center, filling me in on some of the more unusual developments in the field of mycology (the branch of biology dealing with fungi) and astonishing examples of ‘plant intelligence.’ He spoke zealously of mushrooms bred to digest petroleum and nuclear waste, experiments in Japan that used slime mold to solve engineering design problems, and a future featuring mushroom-powered computer networks. On the surface, much of Stamets’ work seems like fodder for science fiction, but that’s exactly what makes it so interesting.