Los Angeles artist Jessica Rath’s take me to the apple breeder is the culmination of a three-year project steeped in plant genetics, seen in its entirety for the first time. Comprised of porcelain apple sculptures and large-scale photographic portraits of hybrid trees, the exhibition is informed by Rath's visits to the USDA/Cornell University Plant Genetics Resource Unit (PGRU) in Geneva, NY, which preserves endangered varieties from extinction, and its Agricultural Experiment Station, where apple clones are crossbred to create new varieties for large-scale consumption. The exhibition reminds the viewer that edible fruits are not born of nature, but are scientific and cultural constructions based on both a desire for idealized beauty and on meeting increasing agricultural demands as global warming changes how farmers grow.
The individual seeds of an apple are all genetically different from one another; planting the seeds from one apple engenders vastly different fruit and trees. PGRU’s vast orchard project to keep thousands of varieties alive has been aptly described as the “Noah’s Ark of orchards” in Michael Pollan’s book Botany of Desire. Sublime and haunting, take me to the apple breeder documents this essential genetic diversity.
The exhibition is made up of the nine sculptures capturing the dying fruits and eleven photographs that capture the new breeds by revealing their extreme architecture against white muslin backdrops. Investigating at the point of human intervention in the natural world, Rath questions the naturalist, artist and scientist’s drive to contain and beget beauty within the landscape, whether in the cultivated ground of agriculture and in our own backyards.
Jessica Rath received an MFA from California Institute for the Arts in 1996 and also studied at School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design and the Torrance Art Museum. She received a Center for Cultural Innovation ARC grant and Investing in Artists grant for this project and was visiting artist faculty at California Institute for the Arts in 2011/2012.
Kazakhstan Elite (pink), 2010. High-fire glazed porcelain, 4 apples at 3.5 x 2.5 x 3 in.