­­­­­­­Light and Shade Summer


Uprooted castor bean plants grown from seed, steel hooks, light, shadow and drawings in 2,000 square feet of darkened space, plants height 7' to 16', as installed 1' H x7' D x 70' W, drawings - white charcoal, graphite, mixed media and collage on paper 11' W x 30" (each 22 x 30").

Late in the summer of 1997 I discovered I had accidently grown a psychological profile of myself. My castor bean plants had grown tall as they reached for light. Some, planted in full sun had attained a height of 17', others, located in the shade were dwarfed by these attaining a mere 7' in height.  I had been making a series of drawings about my psychological state.  Many contained sharp light/dark contrasts along with extreme up and down movement across the page.

Light can be thought of for its physical properties or as a state of mind.  The dictionary uses words such as "brightness, illumination, dawn, a way of looking at or considering something, understanding or enlightenment, not dark".  The second definition includes "not heavy, mild, free from worries or troubles, blithe".  Shade too, along with shadow, can be considered as places of semi-darkness can be considered as metaphors for psychological states.  Again resorting to the dictionary I found "diminished or partial light, gloom or an influence that causes gloom, a faint indication, a remnant".

I began to research the Castor plants at Linda Hall Library, on the internet and in my own books.  Through my research I learned that the whole plant can be poisonous, but if prepared properly the seeds can provide a healing oil-castor oil.  Castor oil has been known and used since antiquity as an emollient for the skin and as purgative.  In some parts of the world the leaves are even prepared and eaten.  Now the plant's commercial value lies mainly in its use in pigments, resins and plastics.  Partington's Origins and Development of Applied Chemistry, describes a pre dynastic (oil) lamp from Qua thought to be the oldest known and possibly of Egyptian invention.  "In the time of Herodotos these consisted of saucers containing (castor) oil and salt, with a wick above (perhaps stuck in a heap of salt)... The salt was then soaked in oil and the wick lighted."  (Parington).

We uprooted the plants in late fall and united them with the drawings in the installation at Scott Francis' Chair Building. Derek Porter Studio created the lighting and many students assisted in the uprooting, preparation and transport of the plants.