ChéPasa recently sent me news of her brilliant work in the exhibit, and said that he was quite intrigued by it before he’d discovered that it was Mz. Grothus who had created it. Knowing her lifelong passion for peace and anti-nuclear activism increased his appreciation even further, knowing that the concepts behind the art really mirror her life’s work in so many different directions, including her understanding of the interconnectedness of not only humans and all living beings on the planet to one another, but to the very earth itself. In addition, he has his own history of using pollen as art.
Bless his heart, he shares so many of the cultural and artistic events that he and Miz ChéPasa attend that he becomes my de facto eyes and ears to the worlds of art, dance, and literature in New Mexico. He quoted from the exhibit’s catalog about her display, which was apparently in a glass museum case, causing one to believe they weren’t so much objets d’art, but instead, a scientific display meant for study and consideration. I’d submit that one might not be faulted for invoking Picasso’s belief in this case:
‘We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.’
You’ll see that Barbara even named her pollen ‘specimens’, adding a bit of whimsy to her creations. Really, they’re her interpretation of the consequences of war, peace, and Empire by pollen.
Poster outside the door to the museum of a huge photo of the Trinity atomic bomb test just north of the Jornada del Muerto (how appropriate) and east of White Sands, Latitude 33° 40′ 31” N, NM, July 16, 1945. The new photos are ones he took yesterday on hs second visit to the exhibit; it was the final day.
Japan, 1945 2009-10
Cultural Palynology: 33° latitude
Denudus imperium (pollen of empire), Babylon, 2400 BCE
Globus pacis (Buddha pollen), Silk road, China, 200 CE
Displodi telum (gunpowder pollen), Ji’an, China, 800 CE
Ignus omneconsumens (atomic pollen), Trinity Site, NM/Nagasaki
painted ceramic, 4 x 15 x 4in, 8 x 8 x 10in, 7 x 7 x 8in, 8 x 8 x 8in.
“Barbara Grothus assigned scientific names to ancient pollen collected from sites located at one latitude around the world, from different time periods. She compares them with more modern examples of Ignus omneconsumens* collected at Trinity Site in New Mexico.
Grothus grew up in Los Alamos and has been politically active all her life.”
Ché wasn’t able to find an online photo of the whole display, so he scanned the one in the catalog and sent it along.
I did find some photos of other pieces in the exhibit, most notably:
Margaret Randall, writing for the New Mexico Mercury, describes the exhibit:
“Visualizing Albuquerque is the comprehensive and extremely interesting exhibition currently on display at a number of city venues: The Albuquerque Museum, UNM Art Gallery, 516, Sixty-Six, and others. In this piece I will only address what is being shown in two Albuquerque Museum galleries, presenting a history of art in a city not traditionally known as an art mecca (in contrast with others such as Santa Fe and Taos).”
Miz Margaret is (ahem) quite opinionated, but the artwork is indeed worth perusing, and clearly shows how much talent exists in Albuquerque and environs.
When I reached Barbra by email and asked her to describe what led her to this concept, she wrote back almost immediately. It seems all of this was off the top of her head, having been cleaarly so immersed in it all, and it’s a fascinating look at the journey that brought her to work to fruition.
“So the story of the pollens is like the story of most of my work. It is conceptual, and I get an idea and then things happen. How it started was during the 2nd Iraq war when all the museums were destroyed, I was dismayed, as we all were. Somewhere along the line I saw a photo of our army at Babylon, where they were changing oil all over the ruins of the site. I was amazed at the disregard for the place. So I started digging around and found that the no fly zone imposed on Saddam was at 32.5 degrees l. or something like that. Babylon is at 33 degrees latitude. I started doing some reading about Babylon and came to the conclusion it was the locus of empire, from earliest times until now. Once the “jewel” of the region, it was beautiful, rich, all that. So all kinds of vanquishers came to grab it, it would be rebuilt, then destroyed. It turns out it had been sacked and burned so many times that the clay out of which it was built became fired, so in the destruction of it was the seed of its survival. It would have just melted into the desert and gone back to clay over centuries, if it had not been burned so many times.
It was accidental that I learned that Ji’an, China, where the clay army was buried, also was at 33 degrees l. There were 600,000 people living there in 200 BC. I found out that Wudi (spelled different ways, but he was the one who the clay army was for) had heard about a civilization to the west, and he sent explorers that direction. Caesar, in 43 BC was hot for silk, and there were monks who walked over the Silk Road (not at 33 degrees) with silkworms in their staffs as silk was a prize commodity and it was forbidden to export the worms. All of this is more or less factual, though I may have misremembered some details.
Of course the Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed around this time as well, and I was curious about why they were there, and this is when I learned that Buddha came from India where his ideas never took root, but the concept traveled east and dispersed from there. So somehow I began to think about cultural cross pollination, and this idea began. When I found that Dar es Salaam was also at 33 degrees, I began to research other places that were also at that latitude, and when I found that Nagasaki and the Trinity Site were at 33 degrees, I figured I could really do something with this.
It was during my reading about all of this that I found that palynology had become a branch of archeology/anthropology. For example, there is a cave where there were neolithic burials, and people lived in the cave at the same time. They found a lot of plant pollens there, and think the tradition of flowers and death are perhaps related because the odor of decay was (perhaps) muted by using flowers/plants with interment. They can now use microscopic testing of soils and such to analyze a season a particular layer of a dig may be connected to. You may know about this. It is a long story of research while the ideas were growing for me.
I made several iterations of this piece. This is the last one, and it is the pollens of war and peace at 33 degrees. The curator of this show has a good sense of humor, and all of my naming and the general concept were appealing to him. A lot of people were trying to figure out how to get into the show, and I had no idea I would be in it until a few weeks before the opening when they asked me to bring it in. It was very exciting to be in the show. And it was almost an accident that it happened as there was another show at the museum that I showed this piece, so it was a result of that that the curator even knew about it, a disc of the images was made and he saw it. I think. Anyway, I had run into him months before the exhibition, and he mentioned how much he liked the work, but that was the only contact I had with him about it.
I am so thrilled che pasa saw it. There is another piece in the show that has stuff from the Black Hole. It is “the Museum of De-accession” and it is also very clever. Maybe cp saw that too.”
Her mention of ‘The Black Hole’ is in reference to the Los Alamos store that her life-long peace activist father, Ed Grothus, operated. The store sold primarily surplus equipment for the Los Alamos Laboratory. The name was his jest that “everything goes in and nothing comes out”. Upon his death in 2009, he was eulogized in this splendid tribute at democracyfornewmexico.com. He tells some of his story in this video.
This is the trailer for ‘The Secret and the Sacred – Two worlds at Los Alamos’, which features Ed’s passionate philosophical reasoning against nuclear bombs and the hideous costs of radioactive waste.
* ignus omneconsumens (discovered here)
Thank you, Barbara Grothus, for all that you do toward creating a better world, and for all that you are as a human being. You’re a treasure, indeed, as are your family. I hope you’ll be able to take a bit of time from your busy schedule and answer and questions or comments.