Fine Arts Gallery exhibits pieces that are alive

Staff Writer

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is still evident in Mississippi seven years since it first reached land.

Taken from him his home, work and friends, Jeff Schmuki, artist and current professor at Georgia Southern University, was forced to find new ways to continue making art. The hurricane left him with only two t-shirts, a pair of jeans, a laptop and his pick-up.

Schmuki diversified his approach to making art in the seven years following Katrina. Although he’d studied ceramics, his nomadic lifestyle made practicing ceramics impractical. He diversified his approach to art by incorporating living material, welding, engineering and more. 

“I am a product of a liberal arts institution,” Schmuki said.  

Schmuki’s exhibit “Armagardden” opened Sept. 7 at 5 p.m. in the St. Edward’s University Fine Arts Gallery. During the opening, the artist explained how his experiences have shaped his art. 

The exhibit will remain open to the public until Sept. 27. 

Schmuki’s exhibit is a hydroponic system of tubes, powered by solar energy, that nurture several dozen eatable plants. The sounds of the hydroponic system, like water gurgling, are amplified and broadcast through a homemade speaker system. This creates an eerie background noise that sounds wholly organic. During the installation’s stay, a few students will be in charge of monitoring the system so that the plants will be correctly supported. 

The prints created by Schmuki and his partner that hang on the walls around the living installation are composed from old hydroponic system drawings and sprinkled with plant-like colors. 

The overall effect is as if the visitors to the installation have stumbled upon an ecologically-friendly scientist’s futuristic plans. 

Schmuki began his transformation as an artist by picking up several Chia Pets at a thrift store. While cutting the Chia Pets apart and glazing pieces of them, Schmuki became enamored with the growth of the Chia plant. Since that first brush with organic material, Schmuki has continually incorporated Chia and other plants into his work. 

In 2009, Schmuki created the Mobile Collards Garden Public Intervention. He painted a container pink and placed a hydroponic system that supported the plants sprouting from it within the container. He then took his piece into grocery stores and began conversations with people shopping in the fresh foods section. He asked them questions about the origin and make-up of their food.

“I started becoming more of an activist in my work,” Schmuki said.