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Bringing The Garden Into The Gallery

On the Indiana University campus, just behind the Musical Arts Center, there is a maze of gardens. Since it's been hot and dry all summer, most of the plants are shriveled and downright crunchy – except for a few carefully tended crops.

From Nectarines In Spain To Tomatoes In Indiana

Artist and Butler University assistant art professor Leah Gauthier waters the thirsty plants. She's growing them as a part of her latest exhibit, a gardening and food preparation project she calls Tending a Difficult Hope (you can visit that blog via a link below).

Gauthier says she's been growing food as art for about 5 years. Her series of works started with a nectarine in Spain:

I bit into a nectarine and it was like a religious experience. I thought, why do they have such great produce over there, and why is what I buy in the grocery store completely tasteless? It set a quest in my mind, to figure out why this was so. I did a lot of research; I found out about industrial agriculture and monocultures and food traveling 5,000 miles from farm to market. This is why it's tasteless.

So she came back and started planting hardy heirloom fruits and vegetables from seed, not just for her own gustatorial pleasure, but also to be more self-sufficient.

Growing In The Gallery

Gauthier confesses her fears that modern Americans have an unsafe relationship with large corporations. "We are dependent on them for our survival. So we don't cook, we don't grow our own food, we don't make our own clothes, we don't build our own houses."

In her garden, Gauthier chose to plant seeds in a dozen or so handmade vessels. They are sheer and shaped like chubby pea-pods, with shiny brass-colored fabric trim around the mouth. "So these vessels serve as sort of a highlighting," she explains. "They highlight what's inside of them. [Visitors can] come over and look inside and have questions about what sort of plants these are."

When the garden is transferred into the SoFA gallery at IU's School of Fine Arts, Gauthier will put these plant vessels on the floor and place grow lights around to keep them alive during the month-long exhibit.

Gauthier explains the long-term idea of the show. "Hopefully, they'll look very lush at that point. We're going to slowly start eating off them over the course of the gallery exhibit. There's a number of workshops where we're going to be cooking and preserving food, making DIY cookers. Slowly, over the course of time, all of this evidence over the summer, all this work that was put in to make this food, will slowly start to go away as we eat it."

Making The Practical Artistic And Visual

Betsy Stirrat is the director of the SoFA gallery. She's collaborating with Leah to help make her exhibit work in the gallery space. "I think it's very exciting, because, first of all, it's taking something that's very practical and turning it into something artistic and visual," Stirrat says.

She's worked on all kinds of exhibits in her career, but Stirrat finds this one somewhat unorthodox.

I'm perfectly aware of what people think of more experimental shows, so I'm sitting back to see how will people accept this. People like to see paintings on the wall. They understand that as art. They don't have to question whether it's art or not. This show is going to prompt people to question, 'Is it art?'

Relational Art

Both Stirrat and Gauthier describe the Tending a Difficult Hope exhibit as a work of what they call 'relational art,' which Gauthier explains as art that focuses on the interactions between people.

"The [relational] artist's job is to create a situation where people can come together," Gauthier explains, "so in this piece we're going to have multiple instances where people will be coming together: meeting each other, learning a skill, learning something that's hopefully very useful to them, and also eating a lot of great food in the process."

During her research for the piece, which involved learning how to preserve fresh produce, Gauthier discovered some of the aesthetic perks of making her own food.

I learned to can few weeks ago. I mean, you think about the corn you get on the grocery shelf and it's this aluminum can with this picture, this graphic of corn on the label. And when you do it yourself, it's this beautiful glass jar. It's also a very sensuous kind of thing, I mean, we're doing things from the very beginning, we're getting our hands dirty. We're smelling, we're tasting, we're cooking. There's so much pleasure involved.

External Links

Check out Leah Gauthier's blog, Tending a Difficult Hope.

Read some of the books that interest Gauthier:

Workshop Information

To RSVP for any of these workshops, contact or call 855-

8490. Please specify for which event you would like to RSVP in the subject line.

Friday, October 22, 7-9pm: Opening reception

Wednesday, October 27, 5pm: Workshop: Herbs (planting, vinegars, oils &


Friday, October 29, 12 noon: Gallery talk: Leah Gauthier

Saturday, October 30 (time TBA): Canning at Bloomington Cooking School

Wednesday, November 3, 12 noon: Workshop: Food Preservation

(canning, drying, pickling & root cellars)

Wednesday, November 10, 12 noon: Workshop: DIY cookers (smoker &

solar oven)

Wednesday, November 17, noon: Workshop: In the Raw (raw food


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