News Column

The Idaho Statesman, Dana Oland column

May 30, 2014

By Dana Oland, The Idaho Statesman



May 30--Contemplate the tomato: glistening, perfectly formed, cherry red, sweet and succulent -- but wait, it might not be all it appears. In the hands of German artist Uli Westphal, whimsical images of tomatoes, beans and other fruits and vegetables represent a flashpoint in global food culture that increasingly is dominated by industrialized farms, genetically modified produce and limiting trade standards that stifle biodiversity.

"My background is not from activism," Westphal says. "But in a way you become (an activist) when you start dealing with subjects and realizing what goes wrong. You become politicized in a way."

Food as art, and art as food for thought, creates the context for Westphal's "Cornucopia," which will officially open Ming Studios this weekend.

The art center and residency takes its name from the building that houses it at the corner of 6th and Myrtle streets, the former home of Boise Art Glass. That business is now in the Bogie's building at 12th and Front streets.

Ming will celebrate its new digs twice -- first on May 30 with a traditional gallery opening event, and then again on First Thursday, June 5, with neighbors Bricolage and Classic Design Studio, food trucks and flamenco dancers.

This is now one of a handful of artist residencies in Idaho, including Surel's Place in Garden City, Art Lab in St. Anthony and a newly launched visual arts residency at the Sun Valley Center of the Arts. Ming is the first to put a focus on hosting international artists.

Artists will live in Boise for one to three months, connect with the community, and explore and translate their work in this geographical and cultural context.

The added global dimension will give a boost to the local arts community, says artist Kirsten Furlong.

"Having these artists come here will bring an awareness internationally that Boise is a great place to create," she says. "And being able to connect in a way other than just seeing their work will make for more opportunities for artists here."

It's an ambitious project from entrepreneur Jason Morales, who moved to Idaho in 2001.

"I've always been impressed with what Boise has to offer and how artists can relax, root in and do work with less distraction here," he says.

This isn't Westphal's first time in Boise. He is Morale's brother-in-law and has visited over the past few years.

He also is a multimedia artist who is gaining international notoriety. Westphal has shown in Tokyo, Belgium, Russia and Germany in the past year. He has a solo exhibition in July at Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam.

It made sense to jumpstart the process with Westphal, who also knows about constructing exhibition spaces, Morales says. Westphal helped design the center and build walls and storage space, along with his own installation.

"The show also is good fit for Boise, with its burgeoning activist, locavore and urban farm communities," Morales says.

"Cornucopia" is an artistic exploration of the tension between worldwide industrial food production and our romantic notions of our pastoral past.

It grew out of Westphal's focus on natural phenomenon.

"You have to be a bit obsessive to be an artist, I think," he says.

His focus on food started when he began photographing produce he found at a Turkish market near his home in Berlin -- produce you never would find at a mainstream supermarket, he says.

"That was a key moment for me in realizing that our whole food system and how we perceive it is an illusion," he says, because it's not only the shapes that are being suppressed -- it's the diversity.

"There are thousands of varieties of any given plant and we only cultivate a handful on a massive scale," he says.

Westphal started collecting seeds of noncommercial varieties, growing them on his rooftop "farm" and photographing them.

"Cornucopia" exposes some of that illusion and tries to get you thinking with his "Mutatoes" and "Cultivars" photo series. He also created an installation of fluorescent tubes that stores use to make food look better, and a large faux barn.

"I've been looking at all the red barns depicted on American food products. This barn is basically losing its function these days -- it's just a facade," he says.

The "Cornucopia" exhibit will set the tone for what Ming seeks to achieve, says Anna Ura, an artist and Ming's artistic director.

"We'll always have some kind of collaboration with local artists and the community," she says.

This time, Ming is collaborating with the Snake River Seed Cooperative, formerly Common Wealth Seed Library, a group founded by local artisan farmers Carrie Jones and Casey O'Leary that collects, propagates and trades heirloom seeds.

The group received a microgrant from The Charm School to pay artists to create artwork for a line of seed packets. Westphal, Furlong, Geoff Krueger, Amy Westover, Noel Weber Sr. and Cate Brigden each created one and their original artwork will be incorporated into "Cornucopia."

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(c)2014 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)

Visit The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho) at www.idahostatesman.com

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Source: Idaho Statesman (Boise)


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