Month: June 2016

the seed of an idea

Seed pods. What are they about anyway? Why did I choose them?

One could argue that I didn’t, but this is not an existential blog post. It’s a practical one. The answer is at both times simple and complex.

The simple answer has to do with shape. Since I made the bulb (garlic, amaryllis, whatever you want to call it) I have been enamored of making shapes. Organic, curvy shapes to be precise. Seed pods tend to be both organic and curvy. It’s funny, but there is a moment in the making of these pieces where I just want to touch and hug them. It’s the moment when the space starts to be enclosed and the vessel begins to appear. The roundness is intoxicating. And observers to the process really start to understand what my vision has been. Up to that point it is a bunch of flat steel welded to steel rods.

I have also been super aware of the reactions that I get to these forms. The forms don’t always have a clear origin but can remind one of milkweed pods, garlic, bulbs etc. And for this reason, I think they inspire a non-verbal reaction. One that is based in something that we may not even be aware of. If you look at children’s books that identify things you will see that it is all about shape. Bananas have a curved banana look. Lemons and limes are elongated circles almost bordering on an oval. Oranges are ROUND. You get the picture (so to speak)

So what is the complex answer?

Well, it has to do with Monsanto. Yes, I’m talking about the company that many in the environmental world call evil. I will refrain from judgement. I won’t refrain from telling you how Monsanto is influencing me as an artist.

You see, I have been introduced to a new term, one which describes a potentially freaky scenario. The term is “terminator seeds”. According to Wikipedia :”Genetic use restriction technology (GURT), colloquially known as terminator technology or suicide seeds, is the name given to proposed methods for restricting the use of genetically modified plants by causing second generation seeds to be sterile.”

This is a pretty scary thought.

We, as a species, have the technology to create seed that will grow a plant that will not be able to reproduce on its own. The logical sequence then says that farmers must buy seeds every year in order to farm successfully. And who will they buy them from? Uh huh.

This is from the Monsanto website:

Myth: Monsanto sells “Terminator” seeds.

Fact: Monsanto has never commercialized a biotech trait that resulted in sterile – or “Terminator” – seeds. Sharing the concerns of small landholder farmers, Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. We stand firmly by this commitment, with no plans or research that would violate this commitment.


Monsanto’s customers range from large family farmers in countries like the United States and Canada to small landholder farmers in countries such as the Philippines, India and South Africa. Each farmer and each culture has different needs and challenges, and we are successful only if our customers are successful. That’s why Monsanto has never commercialized a biotech trait that resulted in sterile – or “terminator” – seeds. We share many of the concerns that farmers – especially small landholder farmers – have about this technology.

What is a “Terminator” seed?

Through modern biotechnology, it may be possible to develop crops that will not produce viable offspring seeds. Sterile seed technology – dubbed “terminator technology” in the popular press – is one type of gene-use restriction technology in which seed produced by a crop will not grow.

We remain committed not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. After consulting with international experts and sharing many of the concerns of small landholder farmers, Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. We stand firmly by this commitment. We have no plans or research that would violate this commitment in any way.

This sounds really good, but the wording is such that you can easily overlook the phrase “not to commercialize sterile seed technology”. This means they HAVE the technology but they won’t SELL the technology or any seeds that result from the technology.

Okay, I’ve bored you with all of this rigamarole, what does it mean to a sculptor from MD? It means that I am pondering a world where humans, and by extension corporations, can control the very food we eat. What happens when a seed pod has no seeds inside of it to start the chain of life again next year? What happens if milkweed pods and fruit seed pods and all the different seed pods out there become empty?

That is what is driving me to create these larger than life seed pods sculptures. I don’t have answers, I don’t know if there are any answers. But there sure are a lot of questions.

Here are pictures of one of the finished seed pods and another that is still in progress. They are part of a three piece series.

 

 

 

thine enemy

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how and why we define someone as an enemy. It seems that these days enemies are everywhere and we are being told who they are and what we can do to defend against them. To me the answers seem ludicrous and childish. But there are a lot of people drinking the enemy Kool Aid.

While I was pondering (and rewriting) this blog this afternoon, I took a break and went out to take some pictures. I found honey bees on my Cranesbill, siphoning off the nectar.

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All of a sudden, the whole issue clarified for me. And here is what I began to think:

Have you ever gotten stung by a bee? The fact that they sting is a defense mechanism developed a very long time ago. They do not sting because they don’t like you. They sting because they perceive you as a threat. They would perceive any large being encroaching on their nest as a threat. But they have no feelings towards you specifically. Humans also attack those whom we perceive as a threat. The difference is that we aren’t always good at knowing exactly who the enemy is. It’s not always as simple as defending against a big destructive giant. There are subtleties and nuances and group dynamics to be taken into consideration.

And yet it seems easier for most people to see the world in black and white. If you are not my friend, you must be my enemy. There are also many people who seem to be waiting for a reason to hate, to condemn, to attack. And given the right amount of tinder, they will. For no other reason than because they feel threatened. They are afraid that the person who is not like them, the “other”, is somehow going to make their lives worse. They will have fewer jobs, they will be poorer, their kids will have fewer resources, they will have to pay more taxes…the list of potential grievances goes on. It is easy to fault the government, illegal immigrants, Muslims, rich, poor, African Americans, mentally ill people, homeless people, guns, corporations, Wall Street, Jews, women, men, white people, stupid people, smart people, LBGT, Democrats, Republicans, the news media and any other groups of humans that can be described as “different than me”. And I think that the politicians make it even easier by defining who we should hate and then claiming that they can defend us. They feed into our general fears and focus us so that we know who and what we should be fearing.

This issue of defining who our enemy is becomes even murkier with the element of time. I recently watched an episode of a British crime drama that takes place a few years after WWII. One of the characters talks about how difficult it was to switch the concept of enemy in her mind. She spent years during the war working to mathematically solve the encryption codes of the Germans. She firmly placed the German people in the enemy camp in her mind. Years later, she was having problems letting that go and not seeing every German as an enemy, someone who turned her country and her life into chaos and fear.

I can understand this mindset in this case. This was a clear story of one man in one country causing destruction, death and suffering in many countries. He aggressively chose to destroy and conquer, and many of his countrymen followed orders. The Germans, as a whole, were threatening the very existence of many countries. I think I would also find it tough to change my opinion of people from that country. How confusing and destructive it must be when friends and even relatives become enemies and vice versa.

To go back to the bee thing, in my thirties I became allergic to certain bee stings. Specifically yellow jackets. I swell up, I get groggy and I hurt for a couple of days. It is not so bad, yet, where I need an Epi-pen or I will die. But that may come if I get stung too many more times. The first time I had the bad reaction I made a decision. I was not going to be afraid of all bees. Yes, I can be afraid, wary and respectful of yellow jackets. But bees in general are not something to afraid of, simply because I am allergic to one of the species. It takes a conscious and strong decision on my part not to judge, fear and despise all bees and wasps but it helps knowing that even though they sting, they are also here on earth for a reason. They can do something I can’t. They can pollinate flowers. They are also part of the food chain for birds, spiders and other animals.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed during WWII, there were thousands of Japanese people who were interned. This included people who were first, second or even third generation Americans. But because they had a Japanese name or because they had family in Japan, they were labelled the enemy. Our enemy. Even though they were us, they were our enemy. How confusing is that? (I am reminded of Pogo’s famous statement, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”) German Americans avoided this fate but still were ostracized. For some reason, this feels truly reprehensible to me. We judged, juried and found the need to hate and protect ourselves against a very large number of people that were not a threat. It’s a fine line, but it is an important one.

So here is my promise. I will try not to define my enemies based on hearsay and conjecture. I will try not to hate someone just because my neighbor does. I want to judge someone based on my experiences and values as well as theirs. I want to look at the bigger picture, not to excuse, but to understand and to clarify what I don’t understand. It is really hard. I won’t always succeed. But I will try. And, lastly, I won’t let a politician (or any wannabe politician) tell me who my enemy is. I refuse to follow the herd, drink the KoolAid and join the bandwagon.

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And I will continue to love honeybees. Buh bye!