Back in CRAFT Volume 09, columnist Wendy Tremayne introduced us to the creative mind of sustainability and reuse artist Flo McGarrell. The genius of McGarrell spanned from crafting greenhouses from 5-gallon water bottles (pictured above) to making inflatable rooms to creating his signature “agrisculpture” living art to writing how-tos on growing organic food. McGarrell also had a lifelong love of Haiti and directed a nonprofit arts center in Jacmel called FOSAJ. On January 12, 2010, he was killed instantly when the hotel he was in collapsed as a result of the devastating earthquake. Flo McGarrell’s absence is deeply felt, but his artistic contributions will live on. Here is a picture of McGarrell in his Vermont studio:
And here is Wendy Tremayne’s column on McGarrell as well as his Roswell Scrubbie project.
The I ♥ Roswell project: It’s free, adapted, and homegrown.
By Wendy Tremayne
A while back, I received an email with a curious subject line: “Would you like a greenhouse?” Links in the email led me to a Flickr page of photos. The greenhouse in question is a tall, translucent igloo made of 5-gallon water bottles. This wondrous object of utilitarian garbage-art was part of an exhibition that took place in Roswell, N.M., created by Flo McGarrell during a residency at the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program.
McGarrell’s creative task was to live on the land. His challenge as a gardener was to use tools made from waste materials found lying about the urban landscape. Locals who heard about his I ♥ Roswell project recalled the numerous Roswell artist-resident gardens that didn’t work.
Observing that the town’s cultural hub seemed to be the local Wal-Mart — a place where teenagers go on dates — and noticing that shops selling UFO trinkets saw more traffic than the town’s two impressive art museums, McGarrell, 34, turned his attention toward research rather than to local lore. He read books about permaculture, gardening, and soil building at the local library, with little regard for the stories of previously wilted leaves.
McGarrell observed life cycles and decided that he would create agrisculpture: “compost, plant in compost, water, harvest, preserve, save seed, and repeat.” There were mini cycles too: “Eat, wash dishes, feed plants dishwater, poop, flush with graywater, repeat.”
A conversation with the dumpster also helped. “It called out, ‘Flo, you come from a line of thrifty cheapskates (hunters and gatherers)’,” McGarrell recalls. “‘You cannot resist. C’mon, see what’s inside. It could be treasure!'” The final work featured worm bins made from supermarket racks, bucket planters, and that stunning greenhouse.
McGarrell compares the process to “blowing on a dandelion puff … seeds, spores, and memes infect, inoculate, and ferment in the world.” He categorizes his work as open source and has published the Roswell project’s “code” on recipe cards displayed beside the exhibit.
While not a gardener at the onset of the project, McGarrell now sports a cigar box of seeds (saved, stolen, and swapped). He plants them regularly by means of “graffiti gardening” as he travels, though he recounts that our society does not always welcome thrifty-minded sorts. “I was reprimanded by the police for ‘stealing from the city’ while diving the recycling bin in the Roswell Wal-Mart parking lot,” he says. “There ought to be ‘Free’ boxes in every neighborhood.”
McGarrell reminds us that when using junk as a creative material, “You don’t have to settle for what you find. You can modify to your specifications and all the while learn about tools, methods, your environment, and life! That’s the low-price-high-value deal that Wal-Mart can never beat.”
To see more of McGarrell’s work, go to gowithflo.net.
Project by Flo McGarrell
Net bags (3-6) used for produce
Pieces of poly rope
Zip ties or rubber bands
Old detergent bottle
This scrubbie is built like a pompom.
1. Cut the net bags and bits of rope to equal lengths.
2. Bundle and cinch with zip ties or rubber bands.
3. Fluff the net and fray the rope with a comb.
4. Trim the scrubbie to the desired evenness of shape (Figure D).
This one’s built like a tassel.
1. Cut off the handle of an old detergent bottle, keeping the top and bottom openings intact.
2. Cut the bag and net bits to equal lengths.
3. Tie the bundle in the center with a long cord, 12″-18″ leaving equal length tails, then zip-tie the bundle. It should now look like a tassel.
4. Attach the scrubbie to the handle. Take the 2 long tails of cord and pass them through the inside of the handle, then bring them back up along the outside of the handle to the opening with the scrubby bits, and tie them off.
This should make a locking sort of tension, and create the kind of handle you can pass
your hand through.