Eco-art is an enormously varied genre, with artists working in tandem with the natural world to produce meaningful projects that may be temporary or more permanent. We might think of Paleolithic cave painters and rock artists as eco-artists since their materials were all drawn from the natural world — pigments, tools, and platforms. The concept of eco-art here at Rainshadow has been deeply informed by the work of Rhonda R. Janke, Ph.D, professor at Kansas State University, farmer at Parideaza Farm, and artist. The possibilities range from landscape design (even planting flowers in sidewalk cracks in urban settings), to creating color with flowers, to making paint with materials from the farm/garden. Dr. Janke inspired us by her beautiful paintings created by burying canvas in garden soil for about a month, allowing living soil micro-organisms to begin to decompose the cloth, in the process creating striking designs and patterns on the cloth. She refers to eco-art as “art at the intersection of art and agriculture.” Recently she refered to this kind of artistic work as “articulture.” As a farmer/scholar/artist, Dr. Janke sees her own eco-art as containing strong elements of eco-feminism: “challenging existing power structures and the concept of duality, placing value on social justice and transformational thinking” (R. Janke, personal communication, 2012). Eco-art can express various individuals’ and groups’ sense of connection to the land and might be very place-based, as each farm/garden is unique, and the artist(s) collaborate with a different landscape every time a new work was conceived and carried out. Also various forms of earthworks might be incorporated into eco-art, particularly in a rocky and desolate desert landscape, using natural stone and other local materials in an artistic creation.
I introduced the idea of eco-art to the Rainshadow Farm Group at the end of our January, 2013 meeting. A few members were skeptical and others were enthusiastic. One was so wholeheartedly engaged by the idea that she donated money for the canvas on the spot. The following month we included eco-art as one of our farm day projects. At our February meeting, we cut squares, approximately 12″ by 12,” of untreated canvas and tied and folded them in ways that would allow the minerals and microbes in the soil to “paint” them. “Farm soil as pigment” was the title of this project. Today, our canvas cloth paintings are still buried in different locales at Rainshadow Farm. Each person chose where on the farm to bury their canvases. Some are in the desert portion of the land, some are along the edge of an area where runoff occurs, some are in the chicken pen, and some are near it, but not in it. We will let the earth create our paintings. In a more moist climate, likely we might have dig up our artwork after a month. However, this is the semi-arid Mojave Desert, so we decided to leave the canvases in place for two months. Since we buried them we have had one very light snow. On the day prior to the February farm day, we had a rather heavy snowfall, leaving the soil moister than normal and easy to dig into everywhere on the farm. Other than that, very little precipitation has occurred. A few of us plan to periodically during the year put other canvases into place. It will be interesting to compare our end-of-winter paintings with those created during the growing months by burying canvases in garden beds. As no one placed a canvas in the compost pile, that would be another ecological farm zone to try.
After our April, 2013 gathering I will post photos of the canvases.