an Installation by Artist & Activist, Melissa Smedley
Friday, November 10, 2017
5:30 - 7:30 pm
With an appearance by
the Art Ranger
November 10 -
December 5, 2017
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION When Melissa Smedley first heard the term, “The Lettuce Curtain,” it had an immediate visceral impact. In local vernacular, this evidently referred to the unwillingness of tourists to venture out from the Peninsula to the City of Salinas—even if it was “Steinbeck Country”—because of the need to traverse the farm fields. As a relative newcomer to the area, she found the concept to be at once burdensome and fraught with controversy; yet it evoked inherently beautiful and compelling images in her mind’s eye. The “Lettuce Curtain” is both locally charged and laden with global and financial implications. Leafy greens are vital to maintain our health; but the systems that produce nourishment in an era of weather extremes, mono-crops, and shifting political winds seem ever more vulnerable, technological and complex.
Perishables is a visual meditation on this “Lettuce Curtain” and other facets of the agricultural tapestry of the Salinas Valley. In this era of vigorous debate over our country’s lack of clear policies on immigration and severe climate factors, many of us are actively wondering, “what is the true cost of our food in this country?" What if we were to compensate these tax-paying workers fairly and create paths to their citizenship? And what if we were to, as a community, vigorously and conscientiously protect the crucial water table beneath our feet?
The Salinas Valley became Melissa’s home eleven years ago and during this time she has immersed herself in the layered stories of the land, the history of water policies, and the ever-changing physical and visual quilt of cultivation and harvest that makes up this “salad bowl.”
Prior to Salinas, she lived in San Diego, ten miles from the U.S. Mexico border fence, where she witnessed U.S. immigration policy as an elaborate military checkpoint. Here in Salinas, she observes this “border” and its high-stakes tensions played out in a different theater; upwards of four and a half billion dollars in leafy greens, strawberries, crops—and even more in economic impact—mingled with an elaborate interdependency of scarce groundwater, housing shortages for laborers, extreme drought, and an uncontrollable climate change. While on her way to the grocery store, driving through this storied landscape, layers of corporate and political will and human ingenuity percolate through the treasured soils of mega food production. What exactly is required to move baggies and clamshells of perishable leafy greens far and wide across America and the world? As she contemplates this green agricultural bounty, she absorbs the polarized, frigid-hot winds of our political climate. Her installation is an interpretation of “The Lettuce Curtain” as well as the implications and ironies of “borders” when our ability to produce this produce still depends on the labor of “invisible humans.
ABOUT THE ARTIST Melissa Smedley is a multi-media artist, activist, and educator. Smedley works in sculpture, installation, video, and performance depending on the art that best expresses each particular situation.
Find Melissa’s work, writing and musings on her website