Tinkerer Phil Ross is a one-man laboratory for geeky eco-art experiments. His illuminated hydroponic sculpture, ‘cultured’ living organisms, and clever splicing of ancient and future technologies aim to make controlled environments and gadgets a bit less daunting. Part quirky and part eerily familiar, Ross’s bio-tech works examine ‘the idea of nature’ within an identifiable social or historical context. His are the home-brewed science projects that you just cannot take your eyes off. ‘Nurture vs. nature’ is part of the underlying tension that seems to populate both his world and ours.
Ross coyly states on his artist website, ‘Many of the artworks that I make are created through the design and construction of controlled environmental spaces. In these environments I (aim to) nurture, transform, and refine a variety of sculptural artifacts much as one might train the growth of a Bonsai tree.’ Juggernaut (pictured at top) is just such an environment as the self-contained habitat for one living plant. Crafted from three blown glass enclosures (ala Victorian conservatories), the resulting hydroponic environment hosts a single plant whose roots are fed by nutrient-infused water. LED lights supply the necessary illumination. ‘Junior Return‘ (pictured above) uses similar methods, although a digital timer counts the seconds until a small pump is activated to move air to the plant and water to its roots.
As a masterful control freak, Ross has also experimented extensively with ‘cultured’ sculptural forms – mushrooms, fungi, microscopic oysters, and now gardens at large. His ‘Pure Culture’ and ‘Chronic Revelator’ series both take a slow-design look at aggregate art as an old-made new phenomenon.
Inspired by a weather-worn cellphone he found on a beach, the artist dumped a series of cameras into a cement mixer and ground them into future, recycled versions of themselves. On display in the 2007 exhibit ‘Chronic Revelator’, the rusted, broken, bare cameras are insta-artifacts or glimpses into the future.
The modified cement mixer that Ross used as a rock tumbler was on also display – churning and belching out sand and water. On an opposite wall were huge slabs of redwood with snips of watch hands peeking out from the underside. Ross had taken the folk-art wood burl wall clock and flipped it over, revealing our own perceptions of time and nature. This is typical of Ross’s methods of getting the viewer to ponder permanence in general. It’s a future-forward strategy that lends itself to his ready-made, ad-hoc repertoire of eco-gadgetry and subversive design tinkering.