Emily Nelson, local artist of leaf and worm


It’s not that I have an obsession with worms lately. It’s that worms are part of the zeitgeist. Humble and earthbound, they provide an essential link in the cycle that connects soil, food, people, waste and water. As such, they’re the perfect subject for Emily Nelson, a UVA art student who’s been doing some really exciting work around questions of community and food. But she goes a step further, using worms not just as subject but also as medium.

Vermiculture as high art!

Behold the centerpiece of Emily’s senior show in Ruffin Gallery: a bed frame housing a worm composting operation, complete with shredded newspaper (including C-VILLE!). Those dark things pinned to the netting are small burlap pockets into which visitors—yes, you—are invited to put food waste that the worms can eat. Every day at 5pm Emily does a participatory feeding and watering of her wiggling collaborators. Show’s only up until Friday, so get over there!

Emily, along with Graham Evans, is the brains behind the Nourish(meant) project—think school bus with garden on top—which I wrote about last year, here and here. Their summer travels in the bus yielded some of the material for the show: audio recordings of various people describing what "nourishment" means to them, and Emily’s hand-drawn booklets that she and Graham handed out along the way.

These are gathered and bound into a very beautiful book called "Recipes," which seamlessly integrates lyrical images with practical green advice: "Keeping a bucket in the shower will catch the normally wasted water as you wait for it to heat up. Use it to flush the toilet." Somehow, Emily also captures the sense of a community, a growing movement toward better and more sustainable food. It all feels very of-the-moment to me.

Anyone else know Emily’s work? Seen the latest show?