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Art People: creating an unhealthy environment


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Prairie grasses and flowers are starting to grow in some of the hanging transparent plastic tubes that make up Michele Brody's installation Prairie Experiment. Seeds float on the surface of water in which nutrients have been dissolved. While some of the seeds have sprouted, others have merely grown moldy.

Prairie Experiment doesn't pretend to be Eden. "It's not a healthy system," says Brody. "Many of the freshly germinated plants are dying because the water has no oxygen supply." What's important to Brody is articulating "the process of life and death, growth and decay. . . . If the plants do die," she says, "it's because of the environment that they're in, which is a reflection of the environment we've created. It's also a matter of testing which grasses would survive the best in the environments around us--like a toxic environment especially. If I really wanted to grow healthy grasses I would not have put them in tubes."

The tubes are hung to form a grid relating to the crisscross of wires and pipes in the room's ceiling. Brody also "wanted to create the feeling of a rolling prairie," so the water varies in height from one tube to the next. In tubes with little water are "grasses that grow in low-lying areas; the water goes up in elevation as the plants would go up in elevation. So the highest one, with six feet of water, is called mountain mint."

Brody's inspiration comes from her concern with preserving prairies. "When I first came through Chicago six years ago, it was so much more wide open once you left the city. Now the suburbs have spread out and out and out." She recognizes the need for housing; her father is a Staten Island builder. But she is disturbed by the destruction of wildlife. The Staten Island she grew up in "running around in the woods, making forts" no longer exists. It's "all housing developments now," she says. "I've personally almost chosen not to have children because of an anti feeling about population growth; there are just too many people."

Prairie Experiment is at ARC Gallery, 1040 W. Huron, through September 30. Call 733-2787 for more. One of Brody's Elusive Walkways--concrete blocks she casts herself that are laid with space between them for grass to grow--is on permanent display outside the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston. Call 708-491-0266.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Cynthia Howe.

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