Like many young urbanites, New York- based artist Patrick Costello finds satisfaction in a can.
“I started to get interested in canning when I was 19 and started growing food,” he says. “The knowledge was taught to me by my mom and my grandma, and it became a way of rooting myself to patterns that have sustained other generations of my family.”
At the time, Costello lived in Charlottesville, where he graduated from UVA with a studio art degree and co-founded C’ville Foodscapes, a worker-owned edible landscaping cooperative. He began making pieces related to canning food and preserving and arranging them in a color spectrum.
“My grandma wrote me this note that I still carry around with me,” says Costello. “It said, ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this, and I think it’s great that you’re using it in your art. Your great-grandmother would be so proud of you.’”
Canning may be trendy, but the practice marks a profound lifestyle shift for artists like Costello and Kate Daughdrill, collaborators on Second Street Gallery’s latest exhibition, “Listening Spirit: 5 Years of Burnside Farm.”
The pair met in Charlottesville where, Costello says, “we started to learn about growing food and building community.”
They met again at Burnside Farm, Daughdrill’s six-lot urban farm/art gallery on the east side of Detroit, where Costello spent three weeks as the farm’s first visiting artist. Elbows-deep in preserves, they decided to collaborate on a color spectrum specifically for Burnside.
“Suddenly we were like, ‘What other things could make colors?’” Costello says. “Kate was getting into herbal medicine, so we made tinctures out of plants that were growing wild around the garden.”
The expanding spectrum of plant-based material led to a full-blown exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
“We translated a lot of the visual and emotional aesthetic of my home into the museum space,” Daughdrill says. “We built these beautiful canning shelves and made a holy water station with beautiful, fresh, pure water we collected directly from the earth and blessed. All these visuals and experiential components connect to the magic of Burnside Farm and the story of growth and healing that that place seems to inspire.”
“Listening Spirit: 5 Years of Burnside Farm” expands the concept further, bringing to Charlottesville an installation that features shelves of jarred foods arranged in a color spectrum, a circular gathering table for sharing artist-made food and teas, a holy water station, plants, herbal medicines, ceremonial objects, an attuning station and the sounds and scents of Burnside. In addition to work by Costello and Daughdrill, the show includes contributions by artists Ali Lapetina, Phreddy Wischusen, the Right Brothers and The Printmakers Left.
The exhibition captures an intrinsic duality present at Burnside Farm: high-energy community activity and meditative calm.
“In the big room [at Second Street Gallery], we’ve got jars and food and stories and photos of Burnside,” Daughdrill says. “Then you move into the smaller room, which will be filled with wild grasses, and sit on a huge meditation cushion under a 7-foot dome made of woven yarrow and suspended from the sky.”
This attuning station highlights a deeper theme at play in “Listening Spirit.”
“The spaces we live in can help us adopt a posture of openness or invocation and make us more receptive to the healing energy of connection that’s all around us,” Daughdrill says.
That theme explains the exhibition’s relevance no matter where it goes.
“These processes—gardening, canning, knowing your neighbors, working with diverse groups of people, finding ways of creating nurturing spaces—those are the basic skills for building what cities might look like in the future,” Daughdrill says.
Communities like Burnside Farm nourish participants on a spiritual level, too.
“I thought I was working on Burnside, but it was transforming me,” says Daughdrill. “By learning these more essential skills, I found I connected even more deeply to myself.”
Costello is quick to jump in. “I’ve never had a religious practice, personally, and I’ve never been affiliated with a church in my adult life, but going to Burnside taught me that I didn’t have to be afraid of the word spirituality or of a spiritual practice,” he says. “Those things manifest in our relationships, in the energy of communing with plants and working with your hands in the soil.
“You took the time to start the tomato seedlings and transplant those outside of your front door. Then each day you go out and maybe you water them with water from a rain barrel. When you think about sustaining this other life, you start to think about your health in relation to that plant. A weird dialogue happens between you and this growing plant.
“Then it starts to fruit and you have a zillion tomatoes…in that bounty there’s real health, because you don’t need 20 dollars to go get a fancy meal. You just have a fancy meal.
“Then every August or September, you take the large amount of energy stored in these tomatoes that you helped create, and…on the coldest day of February when you’re just like, ‘All I want is summer air and warmth and comfort,’ you get a taste of that. To me, that’s spirituality.”