Researcher combines art with agriculture

Michael Roccia
Staff Writer

The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College held its weekly “Art After Hours” events on  Feb. 1, where artist and researcher Alice-Marie Archer’s harmonious blend of innovative agriculture and artistic craftsmanship was highlighted.

About 50 people attended and were intrigued to learn more about her work in the areas of hydroponic farming, and how she connected her research with her passion for art. 

Archer showed how she began to knit and create structures that would be the beginning stages of her sculptures during the pandemic lockdown in early 2020. Knitting made it possible to make forms that soilless cultivation would thrive in. She handknits the fibers of sculptures and embeds them with seeds to allow them to grow outward creating intricate pieces of art from live plants.

Archer believes her sculptures bring a type of “wow” factor that people are usually not prepared for.

“They may find it really crazy…. that’s the reaction I’ve had in the past; they think it’s really strange and outlandish,” Archer said.

She does not know where her work will take her, but hopes that it might catch on and be utilized in urban areas in the future.

“It’d be really fun to see the norms of how we make things being a bit different,” Archer said. 

Archer has been working in the hydroponic farming industry for her whole career. Hydroponic farming is a method of growing plants in nutrient rich water without soil. She is very knowledgeable on the subject, as she has seven years of experience in the soilless farming sector as a practitioner and a knowledge leader. 

During her talk she said that her work intends to take back soilless farming from the commercial and corporate world and reintegrate soilless cultivation with its natural environment. 

“It’s about providing a contrasting voice to the norms that we see in corporate hydroponics,” Archer said. “Working in hydroponics, I found that it made me feel uncomfortable with the way that they made decisions, ecologically speaking.”

Caroline Eastburn, project curator, was fascinated by Archer’s work which inspired her to reach out and organize this artist talk. 

“I was looking for artists like her, and I thought that her work was just so innovative, and also research based and beautiful at the same time,” Eastburn said. “I really loved her work and that’s why I wanted her to come here.” 

Eastburn brought Archer to the Benton Museum of Art because she believed her pieces would allow visitors to not only admire great creations, but also think about their life choices.

“I hope that it changes people’s mindset and helps them think more about where their food comes from and the different corporations that they engage with,” Eastburn said. “I hope it allows them to think about their lives in a more artistically informed way.” 

Many of the guests who attended the talk shared Eastburn’s sentiment and were amazed by the dedication and creativity of Archer’s work.

Brenda Rodriguez, a sophomore Art History major at Pomona College, attended the event as part of the student centered programming and as the Art After Hours intern this semester. She was interested in Archer’s new and innovative pieces on display and her insights on the unique techniques utilized.

“I never thought about a sculpture as being able to hold something that is living, like a plant, in a museum,” Rodriguez said. “That was definitely really inspiring to see. The combining of two practices that wouldn’t otherwise be combined.”

Rodriguez was not the only one inspired by Archer’s lecture and art pieces. Many people who have a strong connection to both the botany and art world were invested in the research and artistic endeavors that she had been at the forefront of.

Plant scientist and textile artist Naveen Hyder attended the event and left feeling influenced by Archer’s insights and even saw parallels to her own work.

“I was just inspired by the whole process of how she’s sort of wove, no pun intended, her scientific background with art and brought it together so beautifully,” Hyder said. “I have some ideas myself now.”

Archer’s talk was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the work she is doing. Her exhibit “Stitch Field” opens Feb. 14 at the Benton Museum of Art. Eastburn invites the public to come see this exhibition in person.

“I think it is novel in the best way where every time they come, the installation will look different,” Eastburn said.  “I hope that everyone really enjoys seeing her work.”

Michael Roccia can be reached at michael.roccia@laverne.edu.

Michael Roccia is a junior communications major with a concentration is public relations. This is his first semester as a staff writer for the Campus Times.

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