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Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager
Jun 15, 2021
The days were bitterly cold when Columbus artist and educator Danielle Julian Norton first installed Vitamins for Space, her contribution to Climate Changing: On Artists, Institutions, and the Social Environment, back in January. The outdoor kinetic work incorporates materials such as steel, cedar, a solar panel, vintage wheels and organic elements to create a unique cultivation space for Ohio-native moss, and to elevate consideration of the necessity to care for one's community and environment.
Through the changes of season since, the installation has literally grown as intended. A miniature field of spongy green moss is thriving inside, along with a few unexpected sprouts of leafy greenery. According to Norton, “It looks like birds brought some things in there.”
Norton with Vitamins for Space
The moss mound inside Vitamins for Space
On a visit to her installation this week, Norton took care of some maintenance: tightening bolts, confirming the continued functionality of the solar panel, reworking the opening to the water funnel to ensure it’s providing enough moisture, and replacing a rubber belt that keeps the wheels in motion. As she and her assistant for the day, Kris Howell, set about their work, Norton took a moment to explain the presence of a bronze potato on the steel frame that holds the wheels in place.
“I always use the potato as a sign of creativity because it makes something out of nothing, and that’s my favorite kind of art. I love that you can cut off a slice and stick it in the dirt and grow something new,” the artist explained. “One of my favorite art stories is ‘the Polke potato problem.’ It was this artist who used potatoes in his work and he passed away [before a planned retrospective], and the potatoes kept rotting. The staff at the museum was like, ‘We don’t know when it’s art and when it isn’t; we don’t know if we should replace the potatoes or we should let them rot.’ So there was this big discussion of how they should categorize it, and I think that’s hysterical because there’s such a fine line between when something can be called ‘art’ or not. And for me [the potato] reflects how you can see something differently and shift your way of thinking and seeing, and that can apply to anything.”
One of the wheels and the water funnel at work in Vitamins for Space; the bronze potato and a bronze broccoli stalk are visible to the left, just under the white circular solar panel
For the future of Vitamins for Space, Norton is considering adding more native plant life culled from another space she's been actively cultivating: the outdoor, artist-run compound Zippitydirtdada. The start of her summer break from teaching at Columbus College of Art & Design has given the artist more time to consider how the work in front of the Wex might be made better. "This project was a learning experience, and it was done in public the whole time" she said.
With beautiful summer weather ahead, most of the students away and parking easier than usual as a result, now's an ideal time to plan a visit to campus to check out Climate Changing and Norton’s installation alongside outdoor works at the Wex by Chris Burden, Paula Hayes, and Maya Lin, as well as the public art installed elsewhere at Ohio State.
In Norton’s near future is the debut of a new work she’s currently creating at CCAD for the group exhibition SHIFT: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally. It opens July 31 at the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery. More info about that show is available here.
Photos: Melissa Starker
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