STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Artist Maryann Worrell’s “Crisis Farm Lab” installation explores environmental issues with the goal of creating conversation and change. In her work, she has broken down the structure of the average garden to its fundamental elements – seed, soil and water. The interactive exhibit invites viewers to look at natural food resources depletion and encourages them to grow their own.
“It brings the audience into a gallery setting and then when they leave, they’re going to have materials in which they can start their own planting and gardening,” she said.
The exhibits are mostly hand-built, she said, and are sculptural, so they’re artistic as well as educational. The idea began when Worrell was doing a thesis project in Ireland. She wanted to focus on the environment in some way, but the topic seemed too large. She also struggled with how to “make art that speaks to the need to change, and how much change one person can make,” she said.
She knew her own kitchen garden’s potential, so she started with that, deciding she could use her art to help people look at larger issues on a smaller scale. She researched Victory Gardens, when people grew their own food during World War II. She wondered why people stopped.
Giving viewers something to take home hopefully will help get them started again. Viewers will get a small amount of seeds (mostly veggies and herbs), a small amount of water, and a small amount of soil to begin growing their own food.
It’s sort of tongue in cheek, but Worrell called it a Food First Aid Kit. While living in Ireland, she saw that people there had kits on the walls for other emergencies (like first aid kits). She thought, “What if we did the same for food?”
“The idea is that it would hang on every person’s wall, in their house or garage. In a food emergency, they would start these gardens,” she said. “We’re already in a food emergency. They should be used now.”
California’s drought highlights what can happen (especially if things continue to get worse). It affects growing, which affects what’s available, which affects prices. It affects everything. But everybody can do something to help. For her project, Worrell also spoke with farmers. One told her that if everybody did small things, those small things would add up.
“If everybody did what they can, and don’t feel like you have to change your entire lifestyle, they would make a huge difference,” she said. “Even in an apartment or on a balcony, you can grow a small amount of your own food.”
Worrell hopes that the exhibit will help people realize, too, where their food comes from.
“It’s not coming from your local farmer,” she said. “It’s traveling least 1,500 to get to the supermarket.”
She hopes the exhibit will shed light on food systems, from farm to table, and encourage people to think about local farmers and maybe buying from farmer’s markets.
“You’re going to cut down on waste and fuel used,” she said. “And if you knew the difference in taste – taste is much better with local.”
Since Earth Day is in April, Worrell hopes that her exhibit, too, will help people want to learn more about such issues. She also hopes it brings people together.
The exhibit is “very community-based. I hope people start talking about growing a garden or about food systems, and getting to know their neighbors,” she said. “It’s all important. We’re all connected.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Crisis Farm Lab”
When: Reception Sunday, April 26 at 1 p.m. On view through May 30 by appointment, according to information at www.graygallery.co.
Where: Gray Gallery, 222 West Harvey St., Germantown, Philadelphia.