Location: Carl Zehr Square, Kitchener City Hall (Photo: Robert McNair for Sun Optic)

Paul Chartrand’s micro farm takes the form of a used dumpster, repurposed into a highly productive hydropnic garden. Within the dumpster, a NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) hydroponic system will nurture many dozens of coffee plants. The PVC pipes which hold the plants in circular cutouts switch back and forth, as the nutrient water filters downward back to the water reservoir. Plant lights encourage rapid growth, which may be viewed from the outside. 

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Dunnville, Ontario artist  artist Paul Chartrand received his Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Guelph in 2013. His is currently completing his MFA at the University of Western Ontario. Recent solo exhibitions include "Kokedama: A Fractured Garden", Niagara Artist Centre, St. Catharines, Ontario (2014); "Deep Cleanse", Roadside Attractions, Toronto (2013); "Fluxus Garden", St. George’s Square, Guelph, Ontario, which was a public artwork commissioned by Musagetes (2013).

Curated and produced by CAFKA


Artist's Statement

Project Description

An upended dumpster, its expected contents conspicuously missing. Replacing the typical detritus of everyday living is a hydroponics system built to grow coffea arabica plants. The weathered and repurposed dumpster is not only a means of growing and incubating these seedlings, but an exercise in absurdity, acknowledging the enormous amounts of energy invested in many naturally derived goods like coffee. The plants themselves are protected from the outside, but are also alienated by their sanctuary. Arabica plants were chosen specifically because of their culturally generated relationship to global trade networks and waste economies. Beans from mature plants often travel thousands of miles from their tropical areas of origin after harvesting, going through various processing stages to an eventual one-time brewing followed by disposal. This use of the beans also denies their biological purposes as the progeny of the coffee trees. The hydroponic system supports the plants through intermittent watering with a nutrient solution partially derived from percolated worm “tea.” The worm castings come from a composter which processes used coffee grounds after brewing. Using the coffee waste as a means of fertilizing a next generation creates an absurdist closed loop system driven by the overwhelming societal drive to consume this resource. 

Overall Practice Description

My material practice at this time manifests itself in several ways. Firstly in the form of research and drawings of potential projects. Some of these are purely propositional and others act as plans for sculptural projects. Secondly, these drawings are given form in sculptural habitats. These take the form of life support apparatuses built from carefully chosen, symbolic objects.Thirdly, I populate these habitats with living collaborators; referring to the plants and worms I involve. For me, this is the step which truly activates the sculptures and quite literally infuses them with life. In The Ethics of Earth Art Amanda Boetzkes emphasizes the importance of sensorial engagement in art.[1] By including living components, my sculptures engage many senses, encouraging viewers to consider their reciprocal relationship with the environment by using hybridity in a critical manner.

Repurposing objects as habitats and conceptual support systems subverts and re-contextualizes them as parts of functioning ecosystems. I also bear in mind that the living elements in the works are the biological foundation upon which our culture is built. Therefore the plants and other natural elements should be considered as living collaborators; claiming agency by their sheer power to change the appearance and effect of the work.

I am primarily working within the framework of hydroponic growing systems. Hydroponics are inherently artificial and help to further complicate the reading of these projects as outrightly environmental. However, as a DIY technique, this method of growing encourages a close observation of the system and a level of nurturing not present in larger scale horticulture. This observation is essential for my reworking of the viewer’s perception of nature, as the hydroponic system becomes a stand-in for more complex ones at play outside the gallery. As such, hydroponics are as much a conceptual tactic as a medium; operating both to sustain the lives of the plants and the attention of the viewer.  By creating humorously absurd living and breathing ecosystems, I visualize meaningful facsimiles which invoke the complicated environmental and cultural issues which are present outside the exhibition space, but on a more comprehensible scale for the sake of engaging a viewer more substantially.

[1] Amanda Boetzkes, The Ethics of Earth Art (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 178-179.

Top photo: Robert McNair

Sketch and photo: Paul Chartrand

Other works in CAFKA.16