ART IS SCIENCE and never has this been more apparent to me than during this project.
Art is also shopping.
Because you need stuff to make stuff. And if you don't already have the stuff you have to buy it.
If you don't have a lot of money for your project you do a LOT of very careful shopping. Shopping around, comparing, thinking, wrangling and thinking some more about whether this is the right purchase you're about to make.
It's taken me days but I just pulled the trigger on two cartloads of ingredients.
It feels ridiculously exciting. I have committed to my thinking, so help me.
My decisions were based on science. Or my version of it which means hours of online research, days of field tests, conjecturing, hypothesizing, more tests, making notes (the ones in the picture are two of many pages), scratching things out, starting over, pondering, finding things out, talking to experts, wondering, gulping, experimenting and a lot of double and triple checking measurements and then checking again.
While I wait for the stuff to show up I am going to make some other stuff out of stuff I already have because I found it in the recycling bin outside my apartment.
This is what happens when you don't have a big budget for your project and you don't get the grant and it's too late (or so you tell yourself) to do the Kickstarter thing, you go dumpster diving.
Okay I'm off to make freezer trays out of giant cardboard bike boxes, I'm sure you'll be hearing all about it.
From the Durango Herald: "The dried up bed at O.C. Fisher Lake Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, in San Angelo, Texas. Part of the lake lies on San Angelo State Park and officials there say that long periods of 100 degree plus days and lack of rain in the drought-stricken region over the past few years has nearly dried out the man made reservoir that once spanned over 5400 acres." (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
>>> Unpopular subject alert >>>
I'm not vegetarian just in case anyone was wondering. I have no anti-meat agenda. But it doesn't take much research to realize that not only is factory farming of beef unhealthy for cows and the humans who eat them, it's unsustainable in terms of the quantities of land, water, oil and grain it takes to raise such large animals this way.
Okay so RELAX you can have your hamburger. No-one needs to give up eating beef altogether, but it seems to me if we weaned our collective US meat-eating habits away from quite so much beef toward less high-impact meat like chicken and pork and at the same time concentrated on reforming factory-farming in favor of grass-fed operations, we'd be using less space for all that grain, less water to grow it and oil to transport it, and we'd be raising healthier, happier, tastier meat at the same time.
What's not to like?
I'm not an expert on this, I'm an artist. But it worries me how much water we're using. I eat beef once in a while. I like meat. I like water even more though and I'd hate for us to run out of it.
Frankly the thought of how much of it we're using apparently without thinking about whether the outflow is sustainable FREAKS ME OUT.
I know it's probably simplistic to think this system can change fast given the politics involved. But that doesn't mean it can't.
Not only does grass-fed beef take less water to raise (since the cows graze on grass not cultivated crops) it's obviously much healthier and yummier than grain-fed beef...
From her article about Grass-Fed Beef vs Factory Farming by
"It was only after World War II that the United States began confining cattle in factory farms. Until then, cattle grazed from birth to market on their native diet of grass—as they still do in most of Europe, South America and New Zealand. Because the cattle are raised in a natural setting and at a natural pace, they lead low-stress lives where the use of antibiotics and growth hormones is unnecessary."
"...When animals are 100% grass-fed, their meat has less total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories than feedlot meat. It’s also higher in omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats found in salmon and flaxseed, which studies suggest may help prevent heart disease and bolster the immune system. It also has more conjugated linoleic acid, which recent data indicate may help prevent breast cancer and diabetes, among other ailments. In addition, it contains more vitamin E, beta-carotene and vitamin C than grain-finished meat."
Less impact on the land, fewer resources, healthier cows, cheaper to raise (no hormones needed), tastier and better for you. Okay then. I don't know, it seems like a no-brainer to me but then I have a BFA in painting. Back to the studio, hey what's for lunch.
AAAAAAGGGHHHrrrrw YES that is a gurgle of anguish from the lab aka the studio okay I mean the kitchen.
Pardon the caps and the drama. It's where I'm at right now.
It's like this, after weeks of testing, price comparing, research and days of even more testing and recording my results in a rough approximation of scientific method I was about to pull the trigger on a bunch of bulk ingredients from a frustrating but well-meaning site (Family business since 1976 / Free gummi fish with purchase over $75) when an extra test I made just for the heck of it turned out a surprising and interesting result.
Okay I'm excited! I just wish I had stumbled on this sooner.
My deadline is next week. Shipping takes a few days.
I would stick with Plan A, the known quantity if it weren't for the fact that my test combined with further reading and a conversation with an actual person on the phone at a company based THANK YOU LORD in Maryland with a HOTLINE amen didn't lead me to strongly suspect I will get better results with this new ingredient or rather combination of ingredients.
The nerve-wracking part is I haven't tested the recipe yet. I am going on experience so far, trial and error, educated guesswork, and a spot of science.
Honest to god I had no idea when I got into this project that I would be learning so much science. It takes all of my brain to absorb the information (hygroscopy the ability of a substance to attract and hold water molecules from the surrounding environment) but it's fascinating.
Every product I research has a different plant or animal source and every substance has different chemical and physical properties. These are known, named, quantified, tested, doumented, analyzed and classified substances. The thing is that no-one is using them in quite the way I plan to, namely demolding gelatin onto the ground in August.
Pudding on the plateau. Jello in the jungle. Dessert in the dirt.
Sorry I really am a little punchy. Anyway the point is when it comes to this application of these materials, I'm on my own.
This is also where it gets tricky. Since everything is sold in different quantities, some in grams and some in ounces, my math pea-brain is at capacity with ratios and conversions (thank you online calculator) while my science pea-brain is busy with the physics and chemistry (thank you Wikipedia).
My more developed art brain gets to decide what colors of Jello to buy.
Meanwhile my deadline approaches, cue JAWS, happy Shark Week. So if I sound a little crazier than usual now you know why.
Reality check: All this research and preparation is for a project which IF all goes well will last a day before disappearing into the ground. That is unless Plan B works in which case the Jello will take a few days to disappear.
By all accounts the slugs loved my last onsite tests out at the farm.
Which brings me to this, that ultimately when you strip away the art talk about entropic sculpture and the conceptual point about water and beef-farming, in fact if you strip away the human audience, the physical biological fact is I am making a sugar buffet for banana slugs.
If someone makes art in the woods and the slugs eat it...oh god. Okay.
What's the worst that could happen? The whole thing could massively fail ie. no Jello no gelling no installation, mud on my face...
Did you know that an 8oz cup of sugar by volume is 196 grams?
Also, Peptides (from the Greek πεπτός, "digested" from πέσσειν "to digest") are short polymers of amino acid monomers linked by peptide bonds.
I have no green thumb but I'm okay with invasives. Here I am proudly showing off a successfully cultivated specimen of the fungus JelLo-Fi, species name Gelatinus Vulgaris Lofilia. Crops up in Arlington, Washington in late August.
I'm taking Jello, which is made from cow hooves, and putting it in the dirt next to a stream on a former dairy farm in order to highlight our disconnection from the source of our food and the unsustainable amount of water we use to raise beef.
I can't seem to find consistent numbers on just how much water it takes to raise a pound of beef. It's been puzzling me why there is such a huge range from apparently reliable sources, but apparently it's a relatively complex matter that is of course charged with emotion (we love our beef!) and difficult to extricate from the politics of commerce and the agricultural system.
Kai Olson-Sawyer, the author of this article (where I got the above graphic) on how much water it takes to raise beef for EcoCentric, "a blog about food, water and energy", is similarly perplexed and the article if you stick with it takes a good look at why it's so difficult to arrive at a consensus.
One thing's for sure, whatever the number is it's too high.
Figures I've seen for water consumed in raising beef range from 52.8 gallons for a quarter-pounder via NPR (exrapolate to 211.2 gallons for 1 pound) to 2,000 gallons per pound according to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales:
"In a country like the United States, a fifth of all your grain production is dependent upon irrigation. For every pound of beef produced in the industrial system, it takes two thousand gallons of water. That is a lot of water and there is plenty of evidence that the Earth cannot keep up with the demand."
The bottom line of Olson-Sawyer's article? Listen to the Prince:
"Regarding the Prince and his 2,000-gallon figure—His Royal Highness appears to be fairly close to the WFN’s [The Water Footprint Network's] mark. And to his larger point of beef’s stampede for resources – water, energy, grain – he couldn’t be more correct: Eating the amount of beef that American’s do, at over 60 pounds annually, is exhausting our resources and is unsustainable, especially when considering growing consumption patterns around the world."
"No one can argue with the danger these kinds of toys represented, but it’s hard to deny their influence on the foremost scientific minds when they themselves were just discovering science." - Education News
When I was eight I requested a chemistry set for Christmas. This is curious given that years later I would earn my only D in chemistry but it was a fervent wish and it was granted.
When I got the small robin's-egg blue box I held it for a long time looking at the picture of the Bunsen burner and test tubes on the lid.
Inside in a bed of styrofoam nested brightly-colored chemicals in vials, strips of litmus paper, pincers for holding the tubes over the Bunsen burner and a flint lighter to light it.
There were instructions but it was more fun to just mess around.
The truth is I spent a lot of time simply staring at the chemicals and reading their names. Copper sulfate, copper chloride, potassium permanganate, this to me was a kind of poetry, their blues and greens and purples a visual drug. My favorite experiment was to watch the litmus paper turn from blue to purplish red before my eyes.
Eventually my brothers pillaged the box for any and all combustibles flammables and implements of potential mayhem leaving blanks in the styrofoam. The gaps spoiled the aesthetic of the box in my eyes as a composite object full of mystery and marginal chemist that I was I eventually lost interest in it.
Nonetheless my chemistry set phase must have left an impression...something about the immutable physics of substances and what happens when you heat cool mix dip and combine them.
I often tell my painting students, "Go ahead and try it nothing's going to explode!" I think my subliminal mad chemist kinda wishes it would.
I was being highly scientific in the studio aka kitchen yesterday The science of wiggle
I spent yesterday in my kitchen making variations on Jello. My current project is to discover the best combination of ingredients possible to give me maximum structure, shortest setting time, best release, most vibrant color and an appropriate degree of wiggle.
The chemistry of Jello is actually pretty fascinating. If you've ever wondered what makes Jello wiggle it has to do with the triple-helix structure of the polypeptides that form the collagen and how they trap water.
My tests involve a combination of ingredients including not just Jell-O® brand gelatin but also Knox® Gelatine, Jell-O's clear tasteless and less flashy cousin and my new favorite additive as it lends a superior solidity and firmness to the molds.
The other ingredients are in flux but I'm excited about my experiments. It remains to be seen how they will hold up outside.
Since the idea is for them to gradually deteriorate it's okay if they aren't bomb-proof but they need to maintain a degree of structural integrity for most of the day.
Aquifer’s Depletion Poses Sweeping Threat by Kathryn Q. Seelye
From an article in the New York Times about the disappearing town of Boise City, Oklahoma:
"The Ogallala was first pumped 100 years ago to irrigate farms and ranches. People continue to use it as if it were a renewable resource, but of course it isn’t. It is being drained faster than nature can recharge it, especially in the most arid areas, like Boise City, where high winds accelerate the evaporation of what little moisture there is.
So the aquifer is dropping lower and lower, and some geologists fear it could dry up in as soon as 25 or 30 years. This is a major issue confronting not just those eight states but the entire country.
As one reader pointed out to me, “that aquifer will not be recharged until the next ice age.”