The Sowing Club: Carrie Dashow in the Studio

April 5, 2017 by

The stylized carrots and bell peppers in Carrie Dashow’s screen prints offer a minimalist addition to the timeless still life genre. Hand-drawn and collaged, finished in Adobe Illustrator, and burned onto silkscreens—instead of the traditional brush and canvas paintings—these prints disregard the decadence and exotic tastes championed by their traditional Dutch and French Baroque counterparts. In fact, Carrie hopes they provoke quite an opposite vision: thriving, local foodways for Greene County, New York.

A new gardener, Catskill-based artist, WSW alumna and Studio Workspace Resident, Carrie arrived in the silkscreen studio to print a series on companion planting, or pairing crops which foster optimal growing environments.  She first became interested in gardening while living in New York City and since moved upstate, where she and her husband are starting Atina FoodsNow in her third year as a budding permaculture advocate, Carrie is looking to blend her art and farm practices.

In 1999, Carrie became known for her Hello Project, when she decided to personally greet each person passing through her everyday life. Community connection and social interaction are the cornerstones of her often performance, video, and installation-based work. A similar ethos resonates with her newest project: creating a visual guide to companion planting for aspiring local gardeners, sourcing the content personally from regional farmers. 

The first step was asking which pairings the horticulturalists preferred—which plants thrive together and why? This left Carrie with the unusual couplings of apple trees and comfrey, carrots and lavender, and roses with garlic. Different peppers are happiest when planted together. Each pair has then been translated into a simplified set of graphics and printed. As Carrie worked in the studio, we harvested a few more details on the project.

WSW: Where did you look to research companion planting?

C.D.: I asked local farmers and gardeners in the county where I live—I was interested in how local people were using companion planting. In my past work, I preferred to talk to people who had experience in the area instead of doing text-based research. Rather than trying find the “truth” of a subject or what’s real, I’m looking for what people in the community find true for themselves.

How were you introduced to farming and companion planting?

I became interested in gardening as I was thinking of it as time-based, but thinking isn’t the main ingredient to what makes a garden work. It took me a long time to begin to understand how it works and learn its timing and mechanisms. This really is such a big project, I’ve just scratched the surface.

There is a gardener who lives in my town who I met at the farmers’ market. It was inspiring to hear her talk about plants and it made me excited just from how she spoke about them. She managed this little farm that we would walk around and tell me why she planted this with that, and how relationships are formed between the plants. Like zinnias were next to the lettuce because lettuce is so short that it needs a little shade, and the zinnias were so colorful that they attracted insects that would harm the lettuce. I wanted to understand these relationships and felt that by conversing with gardeners about their experiences and drawing the plants, this could help me bridge these understandings as a new gardener and old artist. It might help others to see images to look at to see what crops work together.

Aside from local testimonials, is there anything else you’re currently looking to that’s fueling your work?

Recently, I’m reading about nature having standing and if nature has certain rights equal to a person. I’ve been looking at humans having control over nature versus nature being in control. While contemporary culture attempts to quantify everything, I like to think about something outside of us as in control (or out of control). Maybe if we interrelate with nature more, respect it more, utilize it more, and realize we are not in control of everything, could help the state our environment is in.

It sounds like nature is currently in control of your life. How do you work between your obligations to both your garden and art?

With our garden, we have this food business and I’m looking forward to seeing how I can integrate these into my art practice. As part of our business we host dinners where we serve food from our garden; it’s fun to think of how I can bring the dinners into the project as well.

One year, we found that one of the mung beans had secretly planted itself and suddenly we had a bunch of mung beans! So I individually wrapped each bean then gave them out at a dinner we hosted. If everyone plants one then brings them back next year, maybe we can cook them together.

When she’s done screen printing, Carrie will return to finish the work on the letterpress, adding outlines and final details. The last part of the project will be a postcard distributed at upstate farmers markets, asking participants to record their companion planting habits. Like the mung bean, she’ll send these out into the community and hopes they will find their way back—growing an accessible archive for the secrets of local gardening.

Carrie Dashow is an video, performance, installation, and print artist currently based in Upstate New York and the co-founder of Atina Foods. Find more of her projects, such as Yesiree Public Notary and Subliminal History of New York State on her website and more of her work our Flickr

Are you a gardener or farmer with a knack for plant relationships? We’d love to hear your companion planting stories! Email Carrie here!