Community art grows at CAM/ Flanders 311 | Visual Art | Indy Week
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Community art grows at CAM/ Flanders 311 

Constant gardener

click to enlarge Taj Forer's "Lettuce Harvest, Cedar Grove, North Carolina" (2007), color print - PHOTO COURTESY OF FLANDERS 311

Growth 1: The Garden
CAM/ Flanders 311
Through July 5

Taj Forer, the current artist in residence at Raleigh's Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), has some personal history with community-oriented projects.

In one bio-fueled cross-country project a couple of years ago, Forer photographed Waldorf Schools all across the United States. The Waldorf education, pioneered by Rudolf Steiner, emphasizes an interdisciplinary development of the mind, body and spirit. Forer attended a Waldorf School growing up in New Jersey, and now he finds inspiration in Waldorf campuses. His Waldorf background is integral to fundamental themes in his photography: the simplicity of the everyday, a return to the very basics of sustenance, and a deep-rooted optimism forged in our connection to the land.

In particular, Steiner's notion of biodynamic farming—connecting the daily workings of a farm and its ecological footprint to larger holistic notions—plays a crucial role in Forer's work, and is a focus of the images now on display at Flanders 311.

The CAM/ Flanders exhibit had its beginnings in photographs Forer made while still a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student in the summer of 2006 in the Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, N.C. The project expanded the following year when cameras were given to community residents. A preview of the exhibition indicates that both their photographs and Forer's will be included.

The garden itself is an exercise in community building and sustainability. It was founded in 2005 to help knit the rural population of Cedar Grove together after a local shopkeeper was inexplicably murdered in a crime that remains unsolved. Members pay an annual fee of $5 and work in a co-op-style system for a share in the garden's weekly harvest. Although a very recent development in the community, the garden has already been credited with helping to heal some of the wounds inflicted by the murder and has become an effective means for community involvement.

The photographs in the show are about as varied as could be expected coming from one rural garden plot like this. There are traditional straightforward portraits, some shots of gardeners working in the rows, close-ups of various plants and harvests, and a wide variety of images of the gardeners themselves and their daily work in the garden. The images very much have the feel of a pluralistic visual diary—which, in fact, they are.

A potential weakness (and great challenge) of a show featuring varied work by non-artists is how effectively the show holds together from a curatorial standpoint. While inclusiveness is socially admirable, it can diminish the exhibition quality if the organizers fail to take adequate care.

Nonetheless, I find these sorts of community projects quite compelling as they make for interesting art forums: Such shows occupy a position somewhere between public art and social activism. This particular show is an example of an emerging artist who is putting his money where his mouth is by committing his art to a community and its well-being.

CAM is still in the infancy of its partnership with NCSU's College of Design, and Growth 1: The Garden is a starting point, both for Forer and for the museum. Both are laying the groundwork for future community involvement and interaction; we look forward to seeing the benefits that Forer's residency will bring as CAM matures and stands on its own feet.

Flanders 311 is located in the 311 West Martin Galleries & Studios, at 311 W. Martin St., Raleigh. Visit cam.ncsu.edu for info, or call 513-0946.

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