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"Installation art is an artistic genre of three-dimensional works that are often site-specific and designed to transform the perception of a space."
The Memory of Water, Buenos Aires 2018
During my artist residency at Fundación´ace for Contemporary Art in Buenos Aires, I took a unique approach to exploring the memories associated with water. Combining intuition and archival research, I spent time by the Rio de la Plata, tracing its origins and exits. Tracing how the water moves through the city and noticing that the city is designed to face away from the river. I spent days listening to the stories of local people who live on or use the river daily. I also spent time with community groups striving to improve the river's water quality and remove the massive amount of trash accumulated along the coastlines. Based on my experiences, I created an installation piece that included the sounds of water leaving the city through various drains and entering the Rio de la Plata. I also incorporated oral stories, video work, archival images of joyful recreation on the Rio deal Plata, and excavated objects from the river itself.
My ultimate goal was to present a vision of the long-term history held within the water while highlighting the significant connection between water health and human life. Through the installation, I aimed to inspire people to reflect on their own relationship with water and how we can contribute to protecting this vital resource.
Unseen Field Culture, 2017
Field Culture Unseen: The Green Bean
During my time as ProjectArt’s artist in residence at the Homestead Branch library, I got an opportunity to engage with the area's local community by teaching three art classes a week. The art classes were for children and attracted many families within the area. As a Homestead resident myself, this provided an opportunity to expand my perception of the local community, build relationships and deepen my understanding of the systems in place that govern residents' lives.
Homestead has a growing abundance of suburban neighborhoods forming on former croplands. As you travel the roads of Homestead in between these newly budding neighborhoods, there are still acres and acres of croplands. Lands used to mono-crop 1-2 products for big companies in the food industry. This monocropping technique is a sort of farmer-less process. Fields are owned by companies that contract out certain services. There is no specific farmer who walks the fields, inspects the plants, and makes a decision as to what is needed. Instead, similar to the pharmaceutical business, chemicals are purchased and prescribed. Synthetic herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, and fertilizers are sprayed relentlessly.
One of the main crops that caught my attention this year was the green bean. South Florida is the largest green bean producer in the nation, with an estimated 33,000 acres dedicated to this legume. At harvest time many former school buses pass from the Florida Turnpike into the back streets of Homestead. These buses carry many people who come to pick beans. Driving by a field that is currently being picked is like witnessing a scene from the past. Many straw hats and colorful fabric-wrapped heads dot the green fields. Women and men carry baskets and buckets of beans to fill a large truck. It is a beautiful sight but also loaded with conflict. Who are these people? Are they aware of the chemicals they are being exposed to? Are they being fairly compensated?
As an artist who utilizes ethnography to explore the world around me, I decided to approach a field currently being harvested. I took a field recorder and a camera. I walked into the field, my recorder was on, and I could hear the sounds of the beans hitting the buckets in a rhythmic fashion before I could even see the hands of the workers. I exchanged hellos with people as I approached; everyone was friendly until what I believe was the foreman approached me. He turned me away, told me no pictures, no video, told me to go back to the street. I persisted until another man approached, the field manager, who works for the actual field owner. He escorted me away from the picking, and we stood to the side, and I interviewed him. He explained that most bean and squash pickers are Haitian, that they are brought by buses, that they are compensated by weight, and was unclear about who was actually paid, alluding to the possibility that there was a third-party contract.
The one thing I took away from the interview was a comment that the bean producers are having difficulty finding hand pickers. The field manager explained that only the older generation of Haitian people know how and are willing to do this work and that the younger generations are finding other jobs. He lamented that it is a fading technique and that machines would soon have to complete the harvest, and that machines were not as efficient as the human hand, often leaving many beans broken or behind. His final comment in the interview was, “But for now, it is okay, the only real threat is Trump sending them all back.”
I continued to trace the journey of the green bean. From the field, trucks are taken to a pack house. In the pack house the beans are dumped into a large holding area to be then fed onto a conveyor belt. At the center of the belt are many people picking the good beans off the belt and boxing them. There is an entire orchestrated process and choreography happening. Many hands picking, packing, boxing, forklifts criss crossing paths, machines spinning, fans blowing, gum chewing. At the back of the packing house the conveyor belt makes its exit, there is a line of trucks and trailers, this is where the “cull” is collected. Beans are poured out like a water fountain into the back of these trucks and trailers, they are the waste, the compost, the rejects. For my installation piece at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami I have brought together objects encountered as a result of my ethnographic journey. The video footage was taken when I approached the first bean field, I asked if I could take the video but chose to obscure faces to protect the people who are picking America’s iconic green bean.