Interview: Charlie Morris
by Claire Ruud
During his residency at Artpace, Charlie Morris, a multimedia artist based in San Antonio, cultivated helmock and then planted it in public spaces around town. I was intrigued by the project because of the innocuous appearance of the plant (it looks a lot like parsley) and the danger invovled in its cultivation and consumption. So I asked him about it. (For more images, see my review of the current Artpace residencies.)
...might be good (mbg): Why hemlock?
Charlie Morris (CM): The hemlock piece ‘Conium Maculatum’ is interconnected with two other pieces at Artpace. An illustrated book of Marque de Sade’s Julliette, and a shipping pallet of 28 severed military hats cast in plaster complete the installation. The thread that links these pieces together is essentially political. The infamous Poison Hemlock functions as a linking metaphor between political censorship, and corrupt power.
mbg: Where did you find hemlock seeds, anyway?
CM: They were available to me by a source specializing in biological resources for scientific research.
mbg: Can you describe the art of growing a good crop of hemlock?
CM: More importantly, for me the question is not how, but why, to cultivate this particular plant to be included into a larger installation. The act of production, documentation, and territorial context, demonstrate our collective fear and ignorance toward political, historical, and natural environments.
mbg: I assume you planted the hemlock pictured in your video piece yourself. Am I right?
CM: Yes, after documenting photographically the growth process for approximately 3 months within a controlled setting, they were planted in numerous locations outdoors and documented on video. Most reactions are mild at first until the viewer comes to realize that the seemingly innocent looking photographs and videos represent an actual highly toxic plant, distributed throughout the immediate environment. Many viewers express how common looking weeds and plants go relatively unnoticed in our fast paced daily lives. Some have even expressed a need to become more observant when encountering nature.
mbg: How did you dispose of the plants once you were done with them?
CM: After the production, documentation, and subsequent intervention into the environment, the plants continue on a naturally determined course in the location where they were planted. Thus, continuing the installation beyond the walls of the gallery space into public space.
Claire Ruud is Editor of ...might be good.