‘Cultivator’ by Matthew J. Rezac

July 13th, 2010 : : : : Tag Words: ,

It can be hard to believe, but once 75% of the American population lived in rural areas.  Remnants of this era, when more people were physically close to the production of food, come in many sizes:  from a towering grain elevator to simple, manually-run farm implements.  For pastel artist Matthew Rezac, who grew up near Bennington, Nebraska, a suburbanizing town northwest of Omaha, the Stored Potential project provoked this reflection on the intimacy between tool, farmer, land, and family:

“A hand-pushed cultivator rests in a pole shed near Bennington.  Dad used it to draw out the rows of a large garden, grown to feed his ten kids. He’d set straight-line guides made of string and homemade wooden stakes, align the single iron wheel and spade, and cut long, shallow grooves where sky and earth were better proportioned for planting.  Farming at this scale forges together the tool, the person and the land, embedding them with grit and exposing faults between ability and aspiration.  Ten children grew up, the garden grew small, my dad died, and the cultivator was balanced across the shed’s wall studs on a constellation of nails.  Now Omaha’s skyglow rolls forward like oncoming headlights.  Housing developments extend outward at tangents from the city, begun by nurserymen who own the land and have reapplied their skills of propagation.  At the margins, we attempt to carry forward the best of our agrarian inheritance:  solitude; craft; self-reliance; the ability to sustain; tell stories; have grace.  Each requires an enduring presence.  The cultivator and the grain elevator testify that commitment — to a people and a place, across generations — has made a difference.  To the freeway travelers heading east, to those sharing a meal to celebrate its yield, the cultivator’s bold, simple form draws notice and casts its shadow.”

To the Stored Potential jury, Matthew’s drawing of a simple cultivator took on the quality and scale of infrastructure when sized equal to the elevator and juxtaposed with the adjacent freeway.

Since leaving Nebraska, Matthew has studied world religions and theology and spent several years in public policy advocacy focused on social justice issues.  He now works for a private foundation in northern Minnesota, assisting rural communities in shaping their future through community engagement and cross-sector collaboration.  Matthew believes that the deep social capital existing in small communities and the relational culture that generates it are assets that need to be better understood and utilized.

Matthew continues to be transformed by the people, land, and structures that create his “home place.”  The risk of losing this connectedness pervades his paintings with grief, love and conviction.  A few times a year, Matthew can be found wandering the acres and outbuildings of his childhood home to collect reference photographs.  He describes this experience as “abstract, serene and unpredictable,”  qualities that translate compositionally in his work.  But this looking to the past is not an exercise in nostalgia.  ”Having a place to return to, where my history physically resides, allows me to propel toward the future with greater intentionality.  My art is one attempt to pass forward the best of my rural inheritance, honor extraordinary family ties, and extend the circle for my own children as we walk toward the future.  If I didn’t know where I came from, I couldn’t know where I am–or how to get to where I want to go.”

More of Matthew’s work can be seen at www.matthewrezac.com.


Ity Bity Mock-up

July 9th, 2010 : : : : Tag Words:

This week, we roughly affixed a 24×36″ black and white piece of each design to the side of the grain elevator as an initial inquiry into how the images are negotiating the massive scale of the elevator.  With a few site conditions to resolve – mainly the clearing of brush on the city right-of-way – we worked our way to a silo on the west side we could access and set up our ladder.  As daylight dwindled, each piece seemed like a postage stamp on the enormous concrete structure, further getting us in touch with the enormity of this project and leaving us even more in awe of the folks at Silo Extreme Outdoor Adventures (Rick Brock and Ron Safarik) who passionately care for and climb this structure day in and day out, and are generously making this project possible.

‘Diminishing Returns’ by Scott Keyes

July 4th, 2010 : : : : Tag Words: ,
Producing nearly one and a half billion bushels per year, Nebraska is unquestionably one of the best places in the world to grow corn. Though Nebraska’s fertile soil and hot humid summers provide an ideal environment for corn, parts of the area lack sufficient precipitation to adequately meet the demands of such a water intensive crop.  As a result, seventy percent of the state’s annual corn yield is produced with the help of ground water irrigation, thus Nebraska farms account for one sixth of the nation’s irrigated agricultural land.

A majority of this water comes from the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest underground water system in the US, roughly the size of Lake Michigan.  Though the aquifer does replenish itself naturally, current levels of irrigation, combined with an increasingly hot and arid climate, create an unsustainable situation.  In some areas, water levels in the Ogallala have dropped more than a hundred feet in the last fifty years.

Leaving no struggling animals or marooned boats in its wake, this profound water loss does not lend itself to the types of dramatic scenes which often catapult other environmental issues into the public consciousness.  Hidden underground, the alarming depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer literally lacks visibility.  When California native, Scott Keyes, began doing research for his Stored Potential submission and for the first time learned of the diminishing Ogallala Aquifer, he saw the potential to make this hidden resource visible.  By taking advantage of the silo’s enormous height to create a 1:1 scale model of well 5N 40W28CDA, a groundwater irrigation unit located in Chase County, Nebraska, Keyes creates a tangible snapshot of the region’s precarious relationship to its most invaluable natural resource.  Using USGS data gathered since 1970, historical water levels within the well are marked at five year intervals along the silo’s interior – the walls that once contained the commodity created by confluence of sun energy and underground water.  The jury agreed that by rendering this important water issue visible, this submission represents a byproduct of the region’s agricultural legacy which is as real and concrete as the abandoned silos on which it is situated.

Scott Keyes currently lives in Waikiki, Hawaii, where he is an architect for the Federal Government, working on projects for N.O.A.A., the National Park Service, and the US Navy. He received his Master of Architecture degree from the University of Toronto and has also studied at the University of Bologna and UCLA. Scott has previously worked for Bruce Mau Design and Diamond and Schmitt & Architects and has had projects featured in Canadian ArchitectSpacing Magazine and The National Post.


’80ft of Tomatoes’ by Tinca Joyner

June 28th, 2010 : : : : Tag Words: ,

A neighbor of the towering grain elevator, 10-year old Tinca Joyner found inspiration for her submission from the plants she cultivates in her own backyard.  Both a productive farmer and artist, Tinca has lived in Omaha for all of her 10-year life and has been making art and planting seeds for most of it.  The Stored Potential jury found the intersection of these two things especially noteworthy in Joyner’s use of reds and oranges to depict the juicy fruit (or is it a vegetable?) in a style representative of Art Nouveau, especially in its tenet of applying artistic design to everyday utilitarian objects, in order to make beautiful things available to everyone. Although Tinca intended for the tomatoes in her drawing to be oriented to the bottom, as a tomato plant often looks like when supporting large bunches of fruit from a plant that commonly out-produces the needs of the grower, Tinca says the guy at Kinkos accidentally scanned her drawing with the tomatoes to the top.  Perhaps he knew that placing the bunch of tomatoes at the top of the elevator would maximize their exposure.

At Tinca’s house, her family has a garden set up in the front yard. She loves to choose seeds at the hardware store and watch them grow for harvest. Along with beets, carrots and peas, Tinca has decided to take on the task of growing a watermelon this year along with some poppies and sunflowers. She enjoys painting as well as drawing and always keeps an easel set up at the foot of her bed. She likes to host mini art shows in the stairwell of her house when her family is entertaining. While typically, Tinca likes to work in abstraction, she chose to draw cherry tomatoes for the grain elevator because they are the most fun of all vegetables to draw and eat.

When entrant identities were revealed at the end of the jury day, we discovered that Tinca is daughter of Omaha singer-songwriter Simon Joyner, considered by some as the forefather of the Omaha music scene.  Perhaps Tinca will be the forebearer of a burgeoning oversized art-about-agriculture scene?


‘….that Hourglass Figure’ by Bob Trempe

June 24th, 2010 : : : : Tag Words: ,

Perhaps the most simply articulated submission of all, ‘………that Hourglass Figure’ by Bob Trempe, Professor of Architecture at Temple University, was a jury favorite both for its 2D manipulation of a 3D surface, and the method by which he achieves the illusion.  Manipulating a convex concrete silo with only an exterior surface is likely a frustrating constraint for an architect.  But with a series of simple black dots, Trempe’s submission virtually modifies the geometrical quality of one silo through the draping of a simple gradient pattern.  This pattern, designed in the shape of an hourglass, perceptually “tapers” the middle of the silo inward through the patterned shadow image. The pattern of dots creates the shaded quality one would find on a tapered, cylindrical surface.

Bob Trempe’s work as an architect and educator focuses on new methods of information visualization and how resultant emergent information can serve as instruction for architectural production. Thought of as the study of process itself, Bob’s works are typically articulated through repetitious systems, exploiting time-based qualities to notate, visualize, and analyze changes-in-state. Time always plays a critical role in these explora­tions of natural, man-made, and seemingly intangible phenomena as time is the living, breathing dimension of architecture.

Examples of his research can be seen through his office Dis-section Architectural and Media Design ( DAMD at www.dis-section.com ) as well as professional work with the design office of Verspoor & Trempe. Speculative projects such as “Slpistream” can be seen in the 2006 Birkhauser book “Distinguishing Digital Architecture.” Bob Trempe’s investigate works have been shown nationally and internationally at venues such as the ACM/SIGGRAPH Art Galleries in San Diego CA and New Orleans LA as well as exhibits such as DrawingOut2010 in Melbourne, Australia.

Whether seen as a statement about dwindling food reserves and farming, or simply as a playful gesture executed to make people look twice, ‘……that Hourglass Figure’ will, for the period of 3 months, reinvigorate and reinterpret an architecture of time past.  What appears to be a deep breath in will hopefully cause viewers to question perception and shifts in normalcy within the preexisting environment.