I have decided to focus my senior thesis on the disappearance of honey bees.
My current plans for DAAP Works include mounting a series of hexagon-shaped lenticular prints onto an 84″ X 84″ circle panel in the shape of a honeycomb.The lenticulars will work as a flip image, with one image being a mandala of all the fruits/vegetables we will lose without bees, and the other image being a collage of bees (When you look at the panel from the left side, you will see the mandala, when you look at it from the right, you will see a collage of bees).
I have started to design the mandala using Photoshop. I am using the internet to find images of fruits and vegetables, using this site as a reference to which fruits and vegetables we will lose without honeybees to pollinate them.
This is somewhat of a continuation of my piece, “E. coli Runoff” that I displayed in the Dry Run show, which utilized both the circle and the lenticular. This time, however, I am focusing on a different aspect of mega farming.
At the half way point of senior thesis, fine arts senior presented their work in the annual “Dry Run” art exhibition. Displayed in the Reed Gallery of DAAP, my piece, “E. coli Runoff,” consisted of a lenticular print on the wall and a water system hanging above that delivered one drop of water at a time to the center of the pedestal. This piece was chosen to be displayed in the Reed’s next show, NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design).
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.
On Sunday, October 13th, I ventured out to Johnstown’s Ohio Fresh Eggs, one of the largest egg factory farms in the country. (PETA did an undercover investigation here last year and discovered some pretty gruesome stuff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADOupA6uRvE). My initial goal in visiting Ohio Fresh Eggs was to collect water samples from the runoff streams and test its pH (which I did). I would then use the different colored pH strips to collage with meat receipts to make more factory farm paintings. However, after taking my samples home and doing more research on pH, my priorities changed.
I planned out my trip before I went using Google Maps. I tried to find streams that were as close to the factory farms as possible (example: Site A, B, and C above). I also decided to sample from a source that was a little further away (Site D) in order to explore the changes in water depending on distance.
With my boyfriend by my side for emotional support and an obnoxious “I love Farm Sanctuary” bumper sticker stamped to the back of my car, we drove out to the boonies to see what was up.
Site A (below) was the first set of buildings we arrived at.
For each site, I collected two samples: one that strictly had water and another that included water and soil from the bottom of the stream.
The second set of buildings we went to (Site B) were actually not in use. Regardless, I still wanted to collect samples just to see different results. From this location, I collected samples from a puddle that was connected to a drain and a running stream about ten feet away. I ended up labeling the jars “Site B” and “Site B2.”
Because this site was not in use, I decided to take advantage of the amount of exploring I could do. The first thing I did was walk through a corn field that was right next to the stream I sampled from.
I also drove behind the farm to get closer to the “manure lagoon,” which holds manure (in this case, chicken manure) until it is spread onto surrounding fields as fertilizer.
Site C (below) was the largest set of factory farm buildings we went to.
I didn’t get any photos from Site D, but we did go through the gates of Site E to get some photos.
Once I had my samples at home, I made my own pH paper strips using red cabbage juice and coffee filters. All tests turned blue (pH of 7.0-8.0), meaning that the water did NOT fall within the Tri-State’s pH standard (6.0). After researching more on pH, however, I realized that testing the water just once doesn’t really provide enough information to prove anything. In order to truly understand the pH of this area, I would have to take samples every month or so for a year and get an average pH. Rather than focusing on this aspect of the chain, I decided to look into other problems of water runoff from factory farms, specifically one of the worst problems, E. coli.
E. coli is a species of bacteria that lives in the intestines of people and other vertebrates (animals with spines). Although the bacteria that naturally exist in your intestines are harmless and helpful in digestion, eating or drinking E. coli that comes from outside, such as in polluted water or meat that has not been processed safely, can cause severe food poisoning or even death.
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.
On a whim, I decided to order an E. coli testing kit.
After starting my tests, I had to wait 48 hours. The results, I must say, are terrifying:
What these tests say is that there IS a presence of E. coli in the majority of these runoff streams, especially in Site C. It is also evident that the E. coli contamination has spread to a location far away from the actual factory farm buildings (Site D). The samples that contain soil are harder to distinguish but still read as dark blue (presence of E. coli).
At this point, I am taking these results in and figuring out exactly what they mean for local neighborhoods and distant consumers.
Another interesting aspect of my rotten food paintings is the effect on the other side of the surface in which the food is rotting on. Although much more disgusting than the front side, there is something to be said about the mold that grows through the back:
After the one-month rotting period came to an end, I peeled off my store-bought non-organic tomatoes to find a rather interesting print. During the first few minutes of peeling off the tomatoes, the remaining print was yellow. When I came back about 2 hours later, the yellow had turned to blue. A few hours later, the print started to turn transparent. From what I can remember, this transition did not happen to the organic tomatoes, although I would have to re-test the experiment to be sure. I am wondering what caused such a significant color change in the non-organic tomatoes, whether it be the chemicals used or something else in its DNA. Regardless, the print is gorgeous.
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.
This fall, I will focus on landscape painting through an array of different painting techniques. One technique I have explored thus far is collage. My most recent painting, “Factory Farm,” is a landscape made by collaging my own meat receipts with acrylic medium and paint. By utilizing the receipt, the end result of the industrial process, I wanted to show that, as consumers, we are helping to build these factory farms by buying into the system. I will continue to use the receipt because it is versatile; it can be folded to look like a tile of a roof or torn and layered to look like rough terrain. Collaging receipts into factory farm and agricultural landscapes is a technique I will explore further this fall.
Another technique I will study is that of fluidity and form. Drawing inspiration from artists like Claire Sherman and Brendan Monroe, landscape painters who paint in this fashion, I will learn how to layer blocks of color without blending. This style of painting reflects a Buddhist concept that I have been exploring through other work. The idea is that everything in the universe is in a state of flux; nothing is permanent. Therefore, everything is constantly shifting and decaying. In order to create a fluid effect, I will use oil paint with an impasto medium. I will also focus on using only sedimentary colors, which have larger particles that can be suspended in a medium. As far as subject matter for these paintings, I plan to combine images of farm animals that I photographed at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, a place where rescued factory farmed animals live out their lives in peace, with the shapes of ink found at the end of receipt paper rolls. In the past, I have taken the “shock” approach of showing the cruelty inside factory farms, but realized it tends to back people into a corner. Ultimately, I would like to start a two-way conversation about this sensitive topic rather than making my audience feel guilty.
Other plans I have involve rotting fruits and vegetables onto canvas or paper in the shape of mandalas. In Buddhism, mandalas represent the impermanence of life and futility of attachment. They are traditionally made by groups of Tibetan monks using sand, which upon completion are scattered into a nearby river or lake as a blessing. The process of creating these intricate designs is meant for quieting mind chatter. Although I am not involved in the traditional mandala-making process, my goal is to represent impermanence. After I place the fruits or vegetables onto the desired surface, they will change form and decay over time. Eventually, I scrape the fruit or vegetable off of the surface to reveal a print underneath. Over time, the pigments of the prints will also fade. What I am currently interested in is how organic food rots compared to non-organic, and which type of surfaces work best for these experiments.
The ideal response from my audience would include being drawn into the painting, having an emotional connection to the content without being offended, and then walking away with a desire to educate themselves about contemporary food practices.