Chickens, pigs, cows. As a fast-paced society that relies on pre-cooked frozen dinners and eating out, animals like these have become invisible to us. In many ways, we have gradually lost sight of our connections to food, whether it be the appreciation for its source or the experience of sharing it among friends and family. Every day, the health of our bodies and minds and the state of the environment is greatly affected by the food we choose to eat. When one sits down for a meal, however, it is hard to see the bigger picture. Because human beings are participating in an industrial food system that values quantity over quality, we are linking together a chain of suffering that is destroying our spiritual connection to nature. Through shopping locally, consumers gain a human experience that strengthens their connections to food and the world around them.
The most insightful research I have done thus far includes visiting one of the largest egg factory farms in the country, Ohio Fresh Eggs. Here, I collected water samples here from nearby runoff streams to test for E. coli. I had originally planned to test the water for pH and use pH paper strips to collage with receipts to make more factory farm paintings, but I realized that E. coli in water runoff was a more serious problem in factory farming than pH levels. In factory farming, manure and waste is untreated. It is stored in manure pits or lagoons and then ultimately applied to surrounding farm fields as fertilizer. Because factory farms produce so much waste in one place, it is applied to the land in quantities that exceed the soil’s ability to incorporate it. As a result, the manure seeps into local streams and groundwater and can end up contaminating drinking water. Eating or drinking E. coli that comes from outside can cause severe food poisoning or even death.
After ordering an E. coli testing kit, I learned that the water I had sampled from indeed had E. coli in it. As terrible of news as that is, it has allowed me to focus on only one part of the agricultural chain. My most recent project involves two terrariums, one with a plant that is continuously sprayed with E. coli water and the other that is continuously sprayed with treated tap water. In this experiment, I am referencing the 2012 recall of romaine lettuce that was reportedly contaminated with E. coli, as this is not uncommon with plants that grow next to factory farms. I imagine these terrariums displayed on pedestals in a gallery space with lights underneath. They are intended to be beautiful and inviting. My goal is to ultimately scare someone into changing his or her consumer habits without directly telling them to. So far, the two plants look identical, which is terrifying in itself.
I have also incorporated the results of my trip to Ohio Fresh Eggs into my tomato paintings by pouring the test water samples over the tomatoes at the beginning stage of laying them down. This provides a space for the tomatoes to sit in, as well as a different result from the rotting. I made this painting larger, using more tomatoes in a mandala-like pattern and method of laying them down. Unlike my previous tomato paintings, I am photographing these every week at the same time to document the changes. I am considering using this painting to display in the Dry Run show.
Another painting I am working on is an 8’ X 8’ circle panel in which I am collaging an image of a factory farm onto. I had originally planned to reference Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings of hell by painting extreme scenes of people in grocery stores, but I do not want to push my audience in the wrong direction by offending them. Another thought I had was using the outside of the circle to represent all of the animals that were inside of the factory farm. In this case, I would literally draw 1,000 pigs. Similar to the Bosch reference, this may also result in a negative response from my audience. I plan to reevaluate this painting and hopefully use it for DAAP Works.
The work I am creating aims to reflect the negatives of consuming mass-produced food, specifically focusing on the health and environmental risks. My goal is to make every piece aesthetically beautiful in order to draw my viewers in but project a non-preachy message about the truths of contemporary agriculture. I am also subtly touching on the connection between spirituality and nature by bringing the mandala element into every piece. The circle is a sacred symbol in many cultures, especially the Native Americans who valued the land and kept a balanced relationship with it. Overall, I am currently standing on a fine line between science and art, but strongly feel that they need to go hand in hand in order to make a real change for my particular topic.