Art in the Parks: Sculpture --> Garden


In honor of Earth Day, today's blog post features a series of biodegradable works of art from environmental artist Jenny Kendler. 


On December 21st, 2016—the winter solstice—the CPD public art team and Chicago-based artist Jenny Kendler headed out to Northerly Island for the first installation of Kendler’s Sculpture-->Garden public art series. Since December, these biodegradable sculptures made entirely from soil, clay, natural fibers, and native seeds have been subject to all that Chicago weather has to offer. Now, several months later, they have crumbled and deteriorated into a layer of seed-rich soil. They will soon sprout and grow, completing their cycle from sculpture to garden.

Jenny Kendler is an artist, environmental activist, and naturalist whose work often unites these three disciplines, asking viewers to reconsider their perceptions of themselves and the natural world. The Sculpture-->Garden series is no exception. These biodegradable works of art - part garden, part sculpture - are more than first meets the eye.

Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

The starting point for the cast sculptures are garden statuary based off of the classic Venus de Milo statue. Rather than being formed from the traditional bronze or marble, they are created entirely from earth and plant-based materials. While the form of the Venus de Milo is easily recognized by many, the material is unexpected. Not only are we surprised to see a piece of art made from soil and seeds, but we are surprised to see garden materials in the form of a classic sculpture.

"What better way to visualize seasonal change in Chicago than to pair the public art offering of Scupture-->Garden with the nodeal days of seasonal change - the solstice and the equinox," says Mike Dimitroff, Manager of Public Art Initiatives with the Chicago Park District. "With a reference to both antiquity and immediacy, the diminutive Venus de Milo sculptures pay homage to the love, beauty, and power of nature as they 'melt' amorphously into seeds of change." 

Jenny Kendler explains, “Sculpture—>Garden helps us envision a counterpoint to the aesthetic-historical justification for Human Exceptionalism—reminding us that we belong to the natural world, and not the other way around. Even the human body itself is part of the cycles of nature—eventually going back to the earth to nurture future growth.”

Sculpture—>Garden is an exciting collaboration with the Chicago Park District, who has been generous enough to allow me to use the parks as a living laboratory of sorts. I’m looking forward to members of the public having the opportunity to see these figurative sculptures over a long period of time as they biodegrade into small self-sustaining prairies - a process which I hope can be a meditation on both our deep physical and cultural connections to the earth.
— Artist Jenny Kendler

The placement of each of the pieces in the Sculpture—>Garden series is an important part of the project. Each of the sculptures is located within a CPD Natural Area—specifically designated areas of park land that are representative of the native habitat types of the Chicago region. Natural Areas only contain native plants (species that are indigenous to Chicago) and likewise, the seeds that make up Sculpture—>Garden are all native.

Another goal for this project is to highlight the importance of biodegradable materials. Curriculum guides that accompany the sculptures explain how students can make changes to live in a more sustainable way and lessen their impact on the planet.

On the spring equinox in March, three newly cast sculptures were installed at Steelworkers Park (East 87th at Lake Michigan) in South Chicago. Kendler’s pieces will be placed in parks throughout the city on each subsequent solstice and equinox of 2017. Go check them out and let us know what you see—a sculpture, a mount of soil, sprouting seeds, or a patch of prairie!