By Banita Giri
After courageously navigating through the silo-obstructed atrium and thoroughly gazing at food-themed artwork in the Hamilton-Williams Campus Center, students were able to learn about the food system by the artwork’s creator, Abram Kaplan.
Kaplan, producer of the sculptures and artworks placed around Ohio Wesleyan University, spoke about the connections between our food system and art on Tuesday Oct. 30.
Kaplan talked about his journey to lift the veil of the food system in an aesthetic manner: “Fine Grain: Visual Immersion in the American Food System.”
He asked questions such as, “are we connected to our food system?” and described how most people have a non-existent connection with their food in this decade.
Kaplan created this series of artworks to challenge students to better understand the food system.
“The artworks aren’t passive 2-D photographs, but 3-D photographs that are in your face,” he said.
“As a teacher, I want my students and viewers to come to their own individual conclusions about the food system.”
Each part of the collection signifies another piece in his journey to learning more about our food system.
On the way he discovered more about himself as an artist and about his own personal identity.
Among the pieces is the prominent “Trifocal,” located in the Beeghly Library lobby.
This huge piece is composed of many rotating 3-D triangular prisms with a different picture on each of its faces.
Kaplan said the piece represents the dairy process and the intermediates from the cow to our refrigerator.
“People seemed to pass over other art pieces but with this, there was a lot of interaction and a child-like enthusiasm,” he said.
“One person would come by and rotate the pieces in one fashion; if anyone came and changed that, the person would get angry and possessive and say ‘don’t you mess with my art!’”
Sophomore Nischal Sodemba said, “the “Trifocal” piece is my favorite because I like how you can see the different stages of what cows go through and the fact that it is interactive.”
Kaplan said this was something he was hoping for.
“I wanted people to make something of them and discover their own sensibility,” he said.
He believes that this process is usually missing when it comes to people and the food system.
Three pieces, “Multigrain,” “Stover Growth” and the “Panoramic Image of the Nutrient Cycle,” stand in the middle of the HamWill Campus Center atrium.
The “Panoramic Image of the Nutrient Cycle” is a fifty-foot long image that has two sides.
The inside represents the cow’s living conditions and the outside is a panoramic year-round image of the crop cycle.
“I wondered what the lives of these cows are like and the dignity of this animal in such a place,” he said.
The image is of the dark, dirty and cramped quarters in which only a sliver of light enters through.
“When we drive down the highway and see fields of green and yellow, we automatically assume that this is the type of conditions cows live in, without exploring what cows really go through,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan believes the cows are contained in the inside of the system, much like humans are contained in their choices regarding the food system.
Underneath the large panoramic image is a circular ground image called “Stover Growth” which represents the idea of immersion, according to Kaplan.
“I went week after week after week, across acres, to that same spot. I immersed myself to try to understand the environment in a way that is emotional,” he said.
“Multigrain” is a large, cylindrical, metallic structure that represents a real multigrain structure.
The huge structure sticks out in the Ham-Wil atrium. To Kaplan, it symbolizes the containment of the food system and how inaccessible it is to the average person.
“Having these impervious structures in the middle of a field is a challenge when comparing to the natural order of things,” Kaplan said.
On the lower levels of the Ham-Wil atrium is the “Four Seasons Room.”
Kaplan believes that it symbolizes “feelings that we have as outsiders coming into the food system,” as well as “what it means to participate.”
When OWU students eat at the Ham-Wil cafeteria and look out the window, the view is obstructed by Kaplan’s art pieces, “What You See is What You Get.”
He placed the windows on top of windows so that students are forced to observe them.
“We have trained ourselves to not see the windows at all and our experience with the food system is similar to that,” he said.
Kaplan believes that 80 percent of human cues are taken through the eyes.
He said that people don’t experience the food system visually at all.
He used the quote, “the real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes,” to describe how people should be observing the food system.
Paula Travis, coordinator of the Sagan National Colloquium events said, “It’s amazing that this exhibition ties in so well with the Sagan lecture series this year.”
Kaplan is a professor of Environmental Studies at Denison University.
He received this opportunity to explore the food system through art through funding of the “Great Lake Fund- New Direction Initiative.”