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"I am not green I am greedy"
Phoebe Washburn on her project for Deutsche Guggenheim



Phoebe Washburn recycles seemingly worthless materials for her gigantic installations. With her organically sprawling works constructed of countless cardboard boxes, old newspapers and wooden slats, she overcomes the borders between installation, architecture and sculpture. Now the young artist is transforming Deutsche Guggenheim into an environment somewhere between a factory and a greenhouse. Her commissioned work Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow can be viewed there from July 14. In an interview with Achim Drucks, the young New Yorker talks about her spectacular project for Berlin, the American culture of front lawns, and about excursions to the junkyard.





Phoebe Washburn's studio, Brooklyn, New York, during development of "Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow", 2007
Photo: David Heald
© 2007 Phoebe Washburn



Achim Drucks: For Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow, you've grown grass in the Deutsche Guggenheim. It's cultivated in a large wooden construction, transported on a conveyor belt, and then dried on the roof. What was the idea behind this "plant factory"?

Phoebe Washburn: For a few years now, I've been skimming off of systems (one example is the recycling system in NYC). After having done that for a while, I wanted to create a sculpture/installation that had its own set of systems. I wanted to make something that was more than a static sculpture in a gallery, more like an ongoing event that required attention and developed over time – something that even created its own product and generated its own waste. It was my hope to eliminate the step of skimming off of something else and instead generate everything in the gallery during the installation and during the course of the exhibition – to sort of create a microcosm in the gallery. The concept of a "plant factory" seemed fitting. It is a very banal, innocuous product, but at the same time it's open to many interpretations.





Phoebe Washburn's studio, Brooklyn, New York, during development of "Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow", 2007
Photo: David Heald
© 2007 Phoebe Washburn



What does the cryptic title of the work actually allude to?

It's a series of strung-together words that vaguely touch on meanings here and there. "Regulated" refers to the factory line and the production line. "Fool's Milk" is a play on the term fool's gold. And it refers to the ridiculous nature of the factory. I see the factory as a huge maternal thing that is birthing out plots of grass, so I suppose that is where the "milk" reference comes from. Also, the factory is totally foolish because it consumes its own product – it's a dead end. But it's all very loose and hopefully vague enough that it is open to other meanings and doesn’t steer the viewer too much.





Phoebe Washburn's studio, Brooklyn, New York, during development of "Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow", 2007
Photo: David Heald
© 2007 Phoebe Washburn



One theme of the work for the Deutsche Guggenheim is the cycle of becoming and passing. Sometimes you recycle materials that you've used previously for older works. What do you find interesting about such cycles?

I find it very satisfying to "make do with things" and to see what happens with respect to materials. I find it interesting to see how using reclaimed or recycled materials can affect the piece. I like the inherent problems that arise as a result of finding materials and making do with them in whatever condition they are in. I began recycling past installations into new installation as a matter of practicality, and then I noticed that the materials were adding layers of information and history to the installations.




Phoebe Washburn
"Manning Stay Station" 2005,
Installation view, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY. Image courtesy of Zach Feuer Gallery


Does Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow have a specific link to Berlin?

There's no intended direct link between Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow and Berlin, because I had conceived of the idea right before I was commissioned to do the project. However, as I've researched this project I have seen some areas of resonance. For example, there's a history of green roofs in Germany. Also, I found myself researching grass seed around the time of the World Cup last summer and I came across information about the grass used in the soccer stadiums. I was surprised by all of the attention to detail and rigor that went into the grass cultivation. It was serious business!




Phoebe Washburn
"It Makes For My Billionaire Status" 2005,
Installation views from Kantor/Feuer Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.
Image courtesy of Courtesy Zach Feuer Gallery


That is typical German.

I am also interested to see how this project will read in Berlin. In my opinion, it seems like a very American project. There is a big "yard culture" in America and it is in full force right now in these summer months. Yards have become a symbol of one's status. People see your yard as an extension of your house. It seems like house, car, and yard are the three big markers of one's social status in most of America, which makes sense because they are the most visible and obvious markers of status. So I definitely think that there is a strong American influence in this project. And it will be interesting to see how it reads in another culture. For me, the irony of all of this is that I live and work in an area where I see almost no green space. So obviously, I am making generalizations about American yard culture but I think there is some truth to this. So I hope that the installation will touch on some of these ideas in some way.




Phoebe Washburn's studio, Brooklyn, New York, during development of "Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow", 2007 Photo: David Heald
© 2007 Phoebe Washburn


The white cube of the Deutsche Guggenheim is not easy to install works in. How important to you is the interaction with the space?

The space that houses the installation always steers the project in terms of scale and form, and sometimes conceptually. I build mostly everything on site, so there are innumerable things that affect the installation. The fact that the pieces are often so labor-intensive and require many people working on them also affects the final outcome. I like to leave the plan open enough to make changes on site and react to the site. This is what I call the "blind spots" in the project. This idea of a conveyor belt and product line seemed very fitting to the "long walk" in the gallery space at Deutsche Guggenheim. I'm hoping that as the viewers "click" down the long gallery, the grass plots will be "clicking" down the belts as well and it will make sense. The experience of walking through the long gallery will resonate with the linear movement of the production line.



Phoebe Washburn
Untitled, 2004 Installation view, Bronx Museum, New York, NY. Image courtesy of Zach Feuer Gallery


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