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Grass Fed

Margot Casstevens' new show sends a message about Earth, with earth as the medium


  • Mike McCall

It smells like dirt. Twenty-four hours before opening the latest show at the downtown Saranac Art Projects, a ripped-open bag of potting soil sits in the center of the gallery floor. There are dirty rags, gardening shears, a watering can. That’s not the art, though.

Running down the center of one room — nearly from wall to wall — is an alien strip of grass, a putting green of sorts. It is perhaps the most out-of-place of all of the objects on the floor, and yet it is the only one that belongs here. In fact, that grass is the centerpiece of Margot Casstevens latest art show, “Seed Folk.”

Across the luxurious, velvety expanse of bright green are sets of disembodied legs kneeling down amid the long blades. Their skin is a muted green, as if the decades of sitting there have caused the chlorophyll to seep through.

And next to the grass lies a note on a ripped-out sheet of notebook paper: “DO NOT WATER THE GRASS! I WILL DO IT! J MARGOT.”

Unlike other shows Casstevens has exhibited, “Seed Folk” isn’t just about making art. It’s about growing that grass. It’s about fusing sculpture and drawing with tiny seeds and, simply, hoping they’d grow correctly.

“You read the back of the grass package — but you don’t know,” she says.

Casstevens publicly destroyed her last show. At a finale event for “Skin & Earth,” she dissolved the collection of rice-paper body casts in a vat of water.

“That show represented the way things deteriorate. The way it’s all temporary. Here we are and … then it’s gone,” she says. “I wanted to do something that celebrated the upswing of the cycle.”

The idea for “Seed Folk” was planted when she was talking with a friend about how humans are slowly destroying the planet. This friend was upset, she recalls. But in talking, Casstevens realized something: She herself was calm about the state of the world.

“The Earth will continue. Life will go on. The only question is if we’ll be a part of it,” she says. “For me that’s not a sad thought. It’s the resilience of nature.”

And that’s what this show conveys. Humans crouch in the grass like ancient overgrown ruins, mere relics of a bygone civilization. And while those human forms are lifeless, the greenery around them endures. Just like a tree root shatters a suburban sidewalk, or uproots a sewage system, the “incredible pushing power” of nature far outmatches any damage that could be done by human hands, says Casstevens.

At the front of the gallery, a headless torso lies in the fetal position, with grass sprouting from its shoulders. It rests in a kind of conch shell made from aluminum siding. Casstevens pauses as she looks at the piece: “I think I’ll call it ‘Venus on the Half-Shell.’”

That torso is her torso. The crouching knees are hers, too. The body arching its back from the brick wall of the gallery — that’s her, too. She emphasizes with each piece that this is her exploration — that, someday, she and her artwork will be a relic, too. She and her work are just splashes in the petri dish of human existence.

What she’s learned is that so much of what she does by making art can’t be about the object, but the process. The moment.

“The April show really broke that open for me,” she says. “[Aging puts it] more and more in your face that you’ll wake up one morning and not wake up.” 

“Seed Folk”: Mixed media artwork by Margot Casstevens • On display through Sat, Dec. 31 • Saranac Art Projects • 25 W. Main Ave. • Open Thursdays noon to 5 pm, Fridays and Saturdays noon to 8 pm •

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