Permission to Play in the Dirt: DePaul Art Museum Illuminates the Beauty of Decay

Kendler, New Ways to See I & II (courtesy of the artist)

Turn on a TV or open a magazine and chances are you'll see messages deriding dirt as a nuisance, a mess, and even dangerous to our health. But we neglect dirt at our peril.

Rooted in Soil, a brand new exhibition at the DePaul Art Museum, remind us of the ways soil matters. Our early wisdom knew it: "For dust you are and to dust you will return;" but in a sanitized age, it's a truth we often need to remember. Rooted in Soil provides a perfect antidote, starkly reminding us through the works of artists such as Sally Mann, Sam Taylor-Johnson (and a beautiful apothecary of compost by Claire Pentecost), of the essential role that decay plays not only in our own lives, but in nature.

NRDC's Artist-in-Residence, Jenny Kendler, is also featured prominently in the show, as is Vaughn Bell, a Seattle-based artist that NRDC showcased in our booth during the 2013 iteration of EXPO CHICAGO.

Jenny has been working in the Land and Wildlife Program at NRDC since April 2014, helping our lawyers, scientists and policy advocates animate environmental issues through her practice. Jenny's series "New Way to See I & II" transforms classical sculptural forms by replacing the eyes with lichen, a colorful organism that emerges from a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus. Lichen plays an important role in soil formation and is an exceptional bio-indicator of air quality. Rooted in Soil also features two small mock-ups of life-sized statuaries that will be eventually be placed in Chicago's parks. The statutes, which are composed of seeds and other natural materials, we decay when exposed to the elements, gradually transforming from human-made form to flower garden, mirroring what Jenny hopes is our changing relation to nature itself.

Jenny's work, as well as that of the other talented artists featured in the exhibition, underscore the important and often overlooked role that dirt, dust and soil plays in our environment and in our lives. But most of all, the show, which is co-curated by Farrah Fatemi, an Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences at St. Michael's college, reminds us of how collaborations between environmental experts, artists, and cultural institutions, an lead to an unexpected and often disarming appreciation role that the natural world plays in our everyday life. And that, in the end, is what NRDC's Artists-in-Residence program is all about.

Make time to play in the dirt and visit the DePaul Art Museum. Rooted in Soil will be on view through April 26, 2015.








Special thanks to Elizabeth Corr, NRDC's Manager of Arts Partnerships, for helping with this post