The Intermingling of Artist and Soil

We had our CSA party on the farm last Sunday, so we arrived early and got into our annual damage-control routine — cutting and hiding wood scraps; loading garbage for the dump; mowing common-area wilderness, and setting up tables, drinks and food. By 1 pm, cars were rolling in; by 2 we were eating, and by 3, the live music was well on its way, featuring a few long-haired guys from Soul Symmetry, and one short-haired guy. They were great.


The party was also great, as parties go. Good food; good music; mingling of folks… All the elements were there for a good time. The thing is, I realized, I just really don’t care that much for parties. I minded my space and socialized the best I could until after lunch, when I was saved from my overfull and undercaffeinated lull by my brother and daughter.

Lorence approached me with a whining and mean-mugging Scoob in his arms. “I think she wants to take a cruise in the Gator.” I gladly embraced his suggestion, and we fired up the machine and made a slow lap around the boundaries of our property, escaping the crowd and embracing the vastness of nature and nurture around us.

Out to the wild trail edges we went, as the Scoober settled and Lorenzo expressed his excitement and appreciation for the party and the cruise. “Thanks for taking me around man; it’s just beautiful out here. You guys really know how to throw a party…”

Beautiful though it was, my mind remained jaded as we concluded our long loop around the southern border and I eyed the darkening skies with suspicion. Why hasn’t this goddamn hay been baled yet? At the peak of one of the field’s hilly crests was a circle of bales and a sculpture.

Thankfully, by the time we returned, the last preparations were being made for the demonstration of art. All season, Monica has been expressing her interest in this concept of art on the farm, advocating for performance art shares to create live or recorded art pieces in exchange for veggies, and stressing the importance of art in our lives and shared space. All season, I’ve met her suggestions with vague disinterest. It all sounded cool, but I just somehow couldn’t see it.


Sunday, however, I got to see it. We herded the folks into the dusty barn, where a large projector had been set up on the north wall for a showing of Jenna’s new video project, A Rare and Dying Thing, which had been recorded on the farm with collaboration from a number of other dancers and artists. Through her introduction and the piece, she explored themes of our relationship to the land in the light of climate change, and the complexities of the electrical interface between human and soil. It was beautiful and powerful, and I watched as the energy of the party shifted helplessly in its wake.

From there, we walked up the hill to the circle of bales and sculpture. A few of our work shares, Emma, Ella, Carson and Melissa H., had collaborated on some spoken word pieces, and Leo had created a sculpture for the farm. He introduced his piece – a wild, windy tornado of debris – and the difficulty of working sans-studio, as a moving student and procrastinator, and one of the last rare specimens pursuing an arts degree from UWSP. The wildness of his piece masterfully embodied that of our farm and the spaces between us.


From there, the spoken word performers exchanged pieces, exploring their experiences on the farm, and the inspiration they’ve found therein. They invoked the radicalism of Wendall Barry — exploring the awakening and molding of their changing ideas and ideals around food, soil and soul — and the grave reality of our responsibilities in light of a changing climate.

I was absolutely blindsided. Caught in the interplay between deadpan honesty and gentle humor, the performance hit me like a heavy punch to the gut, and a warm, welcoming hug. Having myself become so enmeshed in the comings and goings of the day-to-day; the balings of the hay and mulchings of the plots, I’d forgotten that we exist in the vastly broader contexts of community, ecology and solar system. The readers and speakers dragged me unwittingly to my senses, as I looked with new eyes on what had previously been an unbaled field.

Kneeling behind the circle, I looked down. A flower came into focus; one I’d stepped on thousands of times, but taken no notice. It was everywhere, but I didn’t know its name. It wasn’t clover, but looked similar. It was beautiful. I stroked the stem, lightly fingering the feathery bud, and returning at long last to my senses. What the fuck am I doing here?

The artists concluded and I left. There was nothing more to be gleaned from the party. Against my own will and expectations, thanks to the graciousness of the artists, I’d been given all the things I’d forgotten that I needed.