Michelle Stuart

Seeded Site

1969–70

Not on display
Artist
Michelle Stuart born 1933
Medium
Graphite, pencil and ink on paper, papier mâché, wood and plastic
Dimensions
Support: 610 x 610 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Edward and Agnès Lee Acquisition Fund 2018
Reference
T14993

Summary

Seeded Site 1960–70 is a square format drawing in graphite and pencil on paper, displayed in a light grey painted pine box with a Plexiglas cover. At the centre of the work there is a rectangular recess within which sit twenty-six beads, painted with dark grey acrylic paint, which were hand-made by the artist and resemble seeds. The drawing, which also lines the recess, features two overlapping structures: firstly a series of vertical stripes at equal distance from each other, and secondly a moon map depicting the lunar landscape.

The moon drawing began with a rubbing process. Stuart then modified the drawing to create crater forms drawn both from her imagination and from photographs she obtained from the American space agency NASA. She transferred these into her drawing by means of a vertical grid, which enabled her to insert the individual craters with precision. Stuart uses this technique as a way of organising organic forms within her compositions. In the early 1950s she worked as a cartographic draftsperson in an architecture and engineering office which collaborated with the US Army Corps of Engineers, amongst other clients, and transferred information from military aerial photographs onto maps. Stuart’s drawings relate to these maps both technically and aesthetically, something which curator Anna Lovatt has argued connects them with the socio-political climate of an earlier time: ‘Stuart’s Moon drawings borrow the gridded structure of these maps, while conjuring a Cold War climate of surveillance and territoriality that found its most spectacular manifestation in the Space Race.’ (Anna Lovatt, ‘Palimpsests: Inscription and Memory in the Work of Michelle Stuart’, in Djanogly Gallery 2013, p.9.)

In 1969 Stuart started a wider series of drawings which simulate the landscape of the moon. Seeded Site relates to these but its three dimensional qualities are unique to this piece. It is a pivotal work in the artist’s output, referring forwards to her later large scroll drawings and also back to her early box sculptures. In its medium and in its representation Seeded Site goes beyond a reproduction of the lunar landscape. Its title implies that it is a place of potential fertility: in the middle of the abstract, cold moon landscape, normally visible to the human eye only through technical imaging devices, a concentrated implantation of seeds has taken place. This evokes a development of land in two ways: first, through cartographic surveillance and recording in a man-made system of order; and second, through agricultural production. The latter is to be understood as a symbolic gesture, since the grey painted seed forms cannot bear fruit.

The use of the seed forms, albeit in this case hand-made by the artist, marks the beginning of Stuart’s use of actual organic materials such as soil, wax, seeds and plants. She has commented specifically on her use of seeds, stating:

Karl Jaspers said that the beginning is round. The seed is roundness in flux, trying to expand to grow. It is the beginning and the end and the middle in one fruitful cycle. Seeds move by air, by land and sea and humans carry them in boxes, sacks and pockets. They are transported in the fur of animals, the faeces of birds and the stomachs of whales. The seed is life and, when it is pressed, its DNA blossoms out into whatever will accept it. It will last, when preserved, for centuries.
(Stuart 2010, p.148.)

Stuart’s work is closely linked to the history of land art. Her own extensive journeys have repeatedly influenced her work, and many of her destinations have become the subject of artworks. She is especially attracted by remote and abandoned places where her multifaceted interest can be historical, botanical, and also astronomical, so the cosmos has repeatedly played a role in her work. In this context the lunar landscape can be understood as a destination that Stuart can only explore through her art rather than physically. Throughout her career she has worked across different media, producing large-scale earth works, multi-media installations, earth drawings, encaustic paintings, sculptural objects, drawings, prints and, more recently, photographs.

Further reading
Michelle Stuart, Sculptural Objects: Journeys In & Out Of the Studio, Milan and New York 2010.
Anna Lovatt (ed.), Michelle Stuart: Drawn from Nature, exhibition catalogue, Djanogly Gallery, Lakeside Art Centre, University of Nottingham, 16 February–14 April 2013; Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York, 21 July–27 October 2013; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 25 January–19 April 2014.
Michelle Stuart: Topographies. Works on Paper 1968–2015, exhibition catalogue, Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills, 18 July–5 September 2015.

Monika Bayer-Wermuth
February 2017

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