Lynden Garden's Exceptional "Sweet Corruptions"

Artist Emilie Clark on Compost, Domestic Life and Ecology, Part I

Jun. 3, 2013
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In a continuation of the Lynden Sculpture Garden’s Series “Women, Nature, Science," the exhibtion “Emiiie Clark: Sweet Corruptions” opened June 2 on what evolved into a day with bright sunshine overlooking the vibrant green acreage from all Wisconsin's May rain. Clark had travelled from the East Coast to be at the gardens the past few days to oversee several components to her complex and fascinating new exhibition.

“On the Grounds" at the Lynden, Clark installed Research Station: The Fourth R, 2013, a portable desk and field station with a wooden worm stool. Notebook logs to write in, a microscope and headphones were available for viewers to use and to listen to her chapbook The Art of Right LIving, 2012, placed on one of the shelves. Just several feet away Pilot Garden was a display of freshly turned earth with a few seedlings beginning to sprout, planted and fenced in for the forthcoming harvest, a collaboration with Urban Underground and Alice’s Garden.

“In the House" and throughout the Bradley homestead,more than one dozen of Clark's paintings and watercolors with graphite on paper filled the foyer, living rooms and halls. However, in the Bradley dining room Clark’s installation A Month for Every Season: A Year of My Family’s Food Waste, 2011-2012 was sprawled in artful, decaying disarray across Harry and Peg Bradley’s elegant wood table, compelling to view.

The New York based Clark recently exhibited this installation in one of the city's galleries during September and October 2012. Clark stated at the opening, “I used a plywood table that I had constructed at the time, for that exhibition, where there were white walls, and that merely evoked the image of a dining room table, and so that installation appeared more scientific.”

“It’s really exciting to have this installation in the Bradley dining room, “ Clark continued. “This is a private collection, and people lived here for many years. So this is a domestic space, where people lived and actually had dinner, on a daily basis, and so the installation inhabits a new context. And my work regards, focuses, on the domestic space.”

Clark speaks to the fact that her exhibition “Sweet Corruptions” is based on the teachings and writings of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor and scientist Ellen H. Richards. Richards’ work as a sanitary chemist drew on the interrelationship between living organisms in the environment, especially the so called home environment, and she coined the word "ecology." Richardson also believed as Clark explained, “That there was a need to create a sustainable environment in your own home, where one lived, and if you could create a sustainable environment there, you could create that in the entire world to eventually prevent disease and suffering.”

Clark intermingles Richards' philosophies with Walt Whitman’s poem “The Compost,“ which reads Such sweet things are made of sweet corruptions. And corruptions, sweet and unsavory, appear in beautiful states of decomposition on the Bradley’s dining room table, the deep browns, greens and muted rust red hues imbued with scientific correlation while the viewer marvels at the evocative display. Even solutions in lab jars, black brown liquid depicting this important biological process, also collected the Clark’s food wastes. 

In containers and out of containers and on the table lay: broken egg shells, crustacean shells, citrus rinds, from grapefruit to oranges, dishevelled corn cobs and husks, dried mushrooms, hardened bread crusts, lobsters half eaten in the shell, nuts, oyster shells, pistachio shells, semicircular pizza crusts resembling clay and yes, even two Oreo cookies, split and unfinished, the sweet, white crème filling still visible. The composting and  decomposition process on complete view, and while natural, scientific and significant, can be rather unsettling to gaze upon. Clark even admitted to breaking a jar when compiling the waste before the installation and commented, “The smell [when it broke] was a revolting experience.”

So to imagine this on display in an installation, and then to “feast” upon, or study A Month for Every Season” is a sensuous, serious contemplation of what human’s do and do not put into their bodies for enjoyable or nutritional purposes. Of what materials, items, become consumed and left behind, intentionally or unintentionally, and Clark’s table relates to only organic materials, foods, per se, a strictly scientific compilation of food and the remaining waste from their daily bread. The compost and decaying process slowly, microscopically, materializing before the viewer’s very eyes, laid bare on an actual dining room table, where one would have enjoyed these tastes, at one time tantalizing to the eyes and mouth, and hopefully then of substance to fuel the human body with energy. And this incredible installation represents only one small element of Clark’s complete exhibition at the Lynden Gardens through August 25.

Perhaps a quote from Clark’s chapbook The Art of Right Living sums up her tablescape best, a truly exceptional, rarely visualized image of what humans consume: “Persevere and treat your food as you would your body, remembering that in time, food will be your body.” B.W. Richardson, 1870

The Lynden Sculpture Gardens presents “Emilie Clark: Sweet Corruptions” through August 25, and Art Talk Milwaukee, Part II, will discuss the Research Station: The Fourth R later this week.



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