Natura Morta: A Florida Still Life

Natura Morta 1: A Florida Still Life

Natura Morta 1 consists of various Florida citrus, ceramic vessels made by myself, pine shelving constructed for the installation, soil, seashells, preserved bees and alligator head. Each element is placed, sourced and created to convey meaning through metaphor on the topic of Florida citrus agriculture, land and water use and the weight/power/choices in human consumption/consumer purchasing. The piece can be read left to right, starting at the soil and so is a story of growth. Read top to bottom a story the still life becomes an account of death and decomposition. Each sourced object connected me directly to a person and organization I involved in my research process.


A brushed black painted wall background frames the still life installation. It is divided the imaged canvas in two on the diagonal creating momentum and creating a contemporary feel.  It is painted black background to give unlimited space, the abyss, the vortex and directly reference the dark backdrop of traditional still life painting.

A broad [drop down shelf] made of imported New Zealand pine craft panel serves as the base Natura Morta [scene/composition/still life]. The shelf front a panel, 6 inches tall is open exposing a nook.

Old growth Florida pine was once used for sailing ship masts. Staring from nurse log, a pine seedling would slowly grow toward the light provided by the felled tree in a dense dark subtropical and tropical Florida forest. The tree would remain thin and dense, tree rings growing tightly through the years. With the advent of clear cut logging procedures in the [date] old growth pine stands became a rarity making soft young larger pine trees the staple commodity. As a result pine became manufactured into materials such as plywood and laminate. Today Florida pine especially in Alachua country is a contentious issue.


A matt black round small ceramic basket made of arched coils is submerged in a mound made of two distinctly different types of dirt. One sandy and grey one dark rich brown full of organic material, a single shell sits upon the sandy mound. Inside the basket are three rotting lemons.

The dirt grounds the basket and the object above on the shelf. The sandy dirt is from swallow tail farm the other potting soil purchased at a hardware store. Soil nutrients is vital to the growth of crops. Different food requiring different soil characteristics for optimal growth. Seashells are industrially fired and used for their calcium as a supplement to acidic soil. Soil also required compost or decomposed organic material to replenish nutrients taken from the soil for the growth of a plant. The lemons, omitting an acrid smell, due to rot provide a reminder of decay needed for regrowth. This cycle of decomposition, fallen fruit given back to the soil beneath a tree or in any other food grown in the industrial agriculture complex does not fall and rot, hence the need for abstract soil enhancement such as seashells. These particular lemons are taken from a program partnering a UF Starbucks with a community garden. Coffee grounds and lemons are collected and added to compost for the community.


On the left hand side of shelf is small pile of shells from St.Augustine a beach tourist center East of Gainesville.

Shells in traditional Vanitas still lives represent birth and fertility and life. Here the shells serve as a traditional symbol but also as a reminder of land use and death. Tourists in St. Augustine and much of coast collect shells, as I have done with these, on a regular bases. Yet another reminder at human consumption and impact.

Alligator Head:

The preserved alligator head sets the scene clearly in Florida. It acts here like a skull in Vanitas paintings representing death but also as a connection to the natural world bluntly reminding the view of their human impact yet another reference land use and human consumption. Citrus groves in Florida at odds with the wilderness and native animals.

Basket of Lemons:

In a black ceramic basket not unlike the one earlier but this time models after a kidney shaped swimming pool. Rests a single sprig of small lemony citrus clipping taken from my neighbor’s yard. It is citrus season in Northern Florida and within the last two weeks fruit can seen ripening. Beside the sprig is a fake plastic lemon containing lemon juice, such as can be purchased at any grocery store. This is a reminder of the industrialization of citrus. The plastic encasing ode to the landfill a toxic space where much of our food scraps end up encapsulated in plastic and un-able to decompose.

Fruit Bowl and Citrus:

A large majolica fruit bowl shaped in a quatrefoil so that each citrus fruit snuggles into a column is decorated with leaves. This leave motif runs vertical along the pot so the leaves can be seen as growing either up or descending. The line extends to the hanging fruit above. The leaf motif a sign of frozen life, being ceramic, will out live all other materials in Natura Morta, a relic of nature when the actual citrus within is consumed by human or the elements. Eight kinds of citrus are present in the bowl all from a farm south of Palaka FL. purchase at the Gainesville’s Union Street Farmers Market. So many types are included to speak to the diversity of the species and meant as a challenge for the observer to question and notice the variety in size, shape and color on display. In the average chain/encorporated grocery store four varieties of oranges are mainly found, just two are available now at my local Publix, even though some 100 varieties exist and it is currently citrus season in Central Florida where it resides. Beside the vessel are two orange wedges, freshly sliced the other bitten into. This signifies human consumption and urge and entices the viewer to intervene and give into desire and eat against the convention that art is not to be eaten or interacted with. noon entering the room for my final critique students commenting “I want an orange”, or “that smells good” echoed.

Hanging Fruit:

Suspended above the bowl are three limbs of lush oranges strung with brown twine and tied with a bow referencing the feminine and domestic. Taken from a painting by Juan Sanchez Cotan entitled Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber from 1602 housed at the San Diego Museum of Art the idea of hanging fruit is used to compose half a parabola, a dynamic and even curve. Often meat is hung in past still lives such as in Pieter Aertsen’s Dutch Still Life with Meat and the Holy Family ,1551 of meat in a market place this gives the composition an inherently carnal feel. From the hanging limbs a few leaves overlap the boundaries of the back painted quadrant on the wall containing the installation, a lovely lush moment that speaks to breaking boundaries and the chaotic nature of growth ever manipulated by humans in agriculture.

Bees: Beside the hanging fruit and above the shelf in the back abyss are pined “name of bee” and “name of bee” specimens pined to the wall function to draw a viewer into smell the acrid rotting lemons below the shelf meld with the potent smell of fresh oranges that impregnate the room. Bumble bees and food alike or at risk these days because of mass monoculture methods in agriculture. Food stuffs are grown industrially as monocultures, with just plant growing for many square miles. Bees need a variety of plants to feed on and plants and traditionally such as the orange blossom rely on pollinators to deliver pollen from the anther to the stigma for fruit production. Colony collapse disorder has been a major threat to the North American Honey bee and many food crops. It is estimated that between 2007 and 2013 more than 10 million beehives were lost, nearly twice the normal rate of loss. Seedless varieties, such as the navel orange and clementine are Parthenocarpic fruit. This has advantages over seeded fruit such as a longer shelf life and greater consumer appeal. This means that fruit trees are grafted and identical.



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