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A factory devised to nurture the growth of grass for the factory’s own sod roof, where it will eventually wilt and decay—so describes Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow by Phoebe Washburn, whose installations often explore generative systems based on absurd patterns of production. Washburn typically combines countless numbers of cardboard boxes or pieces of scrap wood that she skims off the refuse of consumers and commerce, combing dumpsters and loading docks for basic matter. Her materials are discarded relics of daily routines, incidentally discovered and transported to the studio where they are ordered and repurposed, imbuing with value what was once deemed worthless. Washburn highlights the potential of the common, overlooked and discarded. Her choice of previously used material is often considered as a political statement, as a reflection of a society of excess, as a metaphor for, or symptom of, consumption. But the artist is far more interested in creating something vital by using discarded and ignored material. Featuring already used, already worn, already consumed objects, which carry evidence of their own histories, she stacks, binds, and nails together her discoveries into installations that tell the story of their own making, consolidating by-products of their creation, such as sawdust and packing materials, into the final project.



Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow, 2007
Phoebe Washburn’s studio, Brooklyn, New York, during development of
Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow, 2007
© 2007 Phoebe Washburn


For Deutsche Guggenheim, Washburn has conceived of Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow as a self-contained “factory” that incorporates its own product—grass for the project’s sod roof—into the installation over the course of the exhibition. For the first time, the artist integrates mechanics into her work, using a conveyor belt loop to shuttle small plots of soil through different stations for light and water, which nourishes the growth of grass. These “plots” are periodically tended by a “gardener” who plants the seed, allows it to germinate in a greenhouse before shifting the organic matter to the factory where it will mature, and finally places the output on the roof of the structure where it will eventually atrophy and wither, removed from the sustaining system of water and light, thus exhibiting the full cycle of growth and decay.



Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow, 2007
Phoebe Washburn’s studio, Brooklyn, New York, during development of
Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow, 2007
© 2007 Phoebe Washburn





Portrait of Phoebe Washburn
Phoebe Washburn in her studio
© Ashkan Sahihi


Washburn has relied largely on improvisational and amateurish construction techniques throughout her career; her earlier ad hoc landscapes of cut cardboard or scrap wood precariously filled exhibition spaces. The varying shapes and sizes of her materials and the building methods that she allows to develop organically and spontaneously result in structures that are often notable for their undulating, animated rhythm. Washburn has an affinity for systems, though they may appear illogical; she finds that instances of inefficiency allow for other elements to enter and guide the system. Here, the spontaneity of her architecture resonates with the natural development of the growing sod roof as well as its organic decline and decay. This aesthetic practice stands in contrast with the characteristic efficiency intrinsic to the conveyor system. But Washburn often mines such apparently ridiculous juxtapositions—here, organic growth and mechanical tools—as loci of creativity. Washburn’s titles typically reflect this mischievous openness in their play on the sound and meaning of words; here, the title references the regulated system of a factory that, in this case, produces something fairly worthless (“fool’s milk” can be considered a play on “fool’s gold,” a term for a mineral commonly mistaken for gold).



Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow, 2007
Phoebe Washburn’s studio, Brooklyn, New York, during development of
Regulated Fool’s Milk Meadow, 2007
© 2007 Phoebe Washburn