Gary John Gresl: The Body Farm at Lynden

This project was begun in the spring of 2017 thanks to interest in the idea by the director of the Lynden Sculpture Garden, Polly Morris.  It was about that time that I became one of the Artists in Residence there.

I designed three separate but related small plots of land, each about 12’ x 15’, each surrounded by fencing: “Hidden Losses,” “Souvenirs,” and “Basic Construction.” It happened that the selection of the areas allowed three slightly different environments, even though the plots were relatively close to one another. There was a plot appearing to be a pine forest and grassy environment, a second with more of a swamp-like bramble area, and a third with a prairie terrain which was more exposed to the sun.

HIDDEN LOSSES, Gary and his son, Joshua, in the first stage of creating The Body Farm

Previously, over several decades, my ideas about art and art-making became increasingly focused on the ephemeral nature of the art, especially that which I made. Objects made of bronze or steel could be expected, if cared for, to withstand the forces of nature for decades, even centuries. However, my interests grew out of fascination with both human and nature-made objects derived from rural and rustic settings, often made of materials which were destined to be altered, to decay, to evolve and eventually to disappear or become unrecognizable as to their original function and setting. These included objects found on farms, cabin culture settings, in old buildings and outdoor environments. Of course, I recognize that nothing lasts forever, not even civilizations and countries, nor planets and solar systems. Our human corporeal bodies will be gone, eventually made into dust within a lone slow heartbeat of the Earth.

SOUVENIRS, early first summer

I designed “The Body Farm at Lynden” based on elements of the real Body Farm in Tennessee, where forensic and police scientists and investigative professionals study the decomposition of real human and animal bodies for the purpose of solving crimes. As the bodies change, they are photographed and observations are recorded about alterations wrought by invading insects and other creatures–by what nature exposes them to.  This can help in determining a time of death even though exposure occurred in different conditions.

BASIC CONSTRUCTION, first week completed

My three Lynden Body Farm installations are made of multiple objects, sometimes called “found” or selected objects, which become site specific art installations/assemblages.  In each of the three plots I placed the body of one large assemblage that I had made during previous decades, allowing them to respond to forces of nature…wind, sun, rain and moisture, animals and changing seasons. These sculptures, motivated by my affection for the rural and rustic places experienced during my lifetime, had previously been exhibited in galleries as complete art objects.

One can say that I sacrificed them for “art’s sake” at Lynden, enabling others to watch and study the gradual alteration caused by nature.  This art entropy project has gone on for three years, with changes documented in photographs of my making.  In fall and winter seasons the decaying “bodies” are exposed and bare, while during springs and summers there is a resurgence of plant growth and animal activity, all steps leading to their ultimate demise.

Gary John Gresl