Sam Van Aken: The Open Orchard

Exhibiting artist-in-residence Sam Van Aken’s ongoing project, The Open Orchard, turns the first-floor gallery at McColl Center for Art + Innovation into a studio and workshop where the artist will preserve heirloom and antique fruit varieties before they disappear. Included are Van Aken’s botanical illustrations and descriptions of centuries old fruit; tree stumps taken from old heirloom orchards that show the transition at the juncture of graft and trunk; herbarium specimens of pressed branches and flowers; and peach “wands” collected during the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, suspended from the ceiling. In turning the gallery into a workspace, Van Aken invites the community to participate in, learn, and, subsequently, teach the process of printing and hand-coloring botanical illustrations, creating herbarium specimens, and cooking dishes based on these fruits. This experiential setting is simultaneously aesthetic, community-based, educational, research-oriented, and, ultimately, a form of conservation that attempts to address threats to food security and loss of diversity, preserving not just agriculture but the culture that surrounds these increasingly forgotten fruits. Evolving out of Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit project, in which heirloom orchards were preserved by collapsing them onto a single tree through the process of grafting, The Open Orchard attempts to “explode” the Tree of 40 Fruitproject by placing these antique fruits back onto individual trees and making them available to the public. Acting as a gene bank or archive of the parent varieties of today’s modern fruit, Van Aken’s The Open Orchard draws on the idea of the streuobstwiese, a sixteenth-century German term for a “community-owned, meadow orchard.” In preserving the origin, history, taxonomy, and the index of these rare and nearly lost fruit, the work created during this exhibition at McColl Center will accompany an actual orchard of these heirloom fruit trees. Sam Van Aken is an Associate Professor of Studio Arts (Sculpture) at Syracuse University. He is represented by Ronald Feldman Gallery. The Open Orchard and Sam Van Aken's artist residency are generously supported by the Windgate Charitable Fund and made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MA-10-17-0085-17]. Image: Sam Van Aken, The Open Orchard, Main gallery at McColl Center, 2018.