Mentoring Session

Ann Arbor Art Center, 1997

Materials: wooden ladders with script, two maple chairs, plywood corn crib, arm/hand cast in bees wax, stock tank, shelled corn, animal skulls cast in bronze

On December 10, 1996, my wife was forced to attend a series of disciplinary meetings, referred to as "mentoring sessions," with her older, tenured colleagues. In reality, these unethical, illegal sessions were interrogations, and precipitated her termination from the University of Michigan-Dearborn where she was teaching. These sessions initiated the design of Mentoring Session.

Following on the heels of corporate and academic agricultural experts, who had determined that there were too many farmers toiling the fields, Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson instructed farmers to "Get big or get out." That decree continued through the next two decades. Many farmers followed that advice and got out, fleeing the fields and migratied to cities for manufacturing jobs. Others got big and then ended up losing their farms during the ongoing farm crisis that began in the 1980's. Unable to pay off loans, many farmers took their own lives.

While some people may think that the agricultural revolution succeeded because America produces more food, cheaply, with less hands, we continue to witness the affects of this advice through unprecedented soil compactions, erosion, and depletion; through the pollution of our watersheds because of chemical runoff; through the annihilation of our agrarian communities; and now through the invasion of prime farmland by urban sprawl. 

On July 24, 1997, I visited a local dairy farmer who was barely making ends meet because he was feeling the strain of competing with industrial agriculture. One can only imagine that a few years later, his once fertile land would be lost forever, swallowed up by land developers.