A visit to an art museum can often produce more questions than answers for the curious viewers who encounter a wealth of diverse perspectives inherent in each unique artwork. One living, growing sculpture recently unveiled in the courtyard of the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA) asks visitors to question where exactly they fit in between their built environment and the unique ecology of South Florida.
"Victory Garden" is a sculptural, functional community garden created by Miami-based artist Emmett Moore, on view through June 25, 2023, in the museum's Paradise Courtyard. The first installment of “Welcome to Paradise,” a new commissioning program highlighting temporary public works created by South Floridian artists, “Victory Garden,” like the works that will follow it, centers on artists working at the intersection of ecology and technology.
Borrowing its name from the “victory gardens” or “war gardens” planted in homes and parks throughout the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany during both world wars of the 20th Century, Moore’s sculptural garden serves as a symbolic gesture aiming to boost the moods of its surrounding community members and encourage self-reliance at a time when global food-supply chains remain tenuous.
“A garden improves morale. When you’re self-sufficient and producing food for yourself and your community, it feels good,” Moore explains. “Especially in 2023, when people are maybe losing faith in the government or seeing the vulnerabilities of international systems, being able to provide for yourself, or having a backup plan, gives you autonomy and a sense of freedom. During World War II, the use of victory gardens was very much about providing food. In 2023, it’s more than that — it’s symbolic of taking matters into your own hands.”
MOCA curator Adeze Wilford says that in addition to producing food, “Victory Garden” — complete with benches and solar-powered USB charging stations — provides multiple services to the surrounding community.
“Sometimes it’s a quiet space of contemplation, but it’s also an active garden where things are growing,” Wilford says. “If someone is making a pesto for dinner, they can come in and grab some basil. It’s a site where people can also learn more about what they’re consuming and how to grow things on their own.”
“One of our missions at the MOCA is to be a place where the community feels empowered by the work we put on view. We wanted to explore that beyond what’s in our gallery,” she says. “The ’Welcome to Paradise’ series was born out of a desire for multiple entry points to our museum and to offer our artists and community more space to explore."
Moore says only plants native to South Florida and the Caribbean have been and will be planted at “Victory Garden,” including loquats, Jamaican cherries, Cuban oregano, collard greens, spinach, starfruit, bee balm, and Everglades cherry tomatoes. As visitors mill around the functional sculpture, they’ll notice a series of QR codes; these lead to videos documenting the bounties cultivated by community gardens across Miami-Dade County.
Moore hopes the educational content will inspire visitors to participate in this sustainable, renewable practice.
“My role is in trying to connect the art community and the community of North Miami in this broad context of community gardens," he explains. I want to create a platform for people to think about gardens in their own neighborhoods that are doing the work, day in, day out, to provide real food for people who need it. We’re not pretending that we’re feeding the community – it’s an art project that hopefully inspires. We want to honor the people with boots on the ground.”
Situating a community garden within a contemporary art museum is a rare pairing that’s meaningful to Moore, as it mirrors humanity’s presence within the greater environment.
“The fact that it’s in the context of contemporary art is important. I wanted to make a physical connection between local ecology and the built environment,” says the artist. “Everything is connected. Even if things appear to be disparate, they’re all situated within the context of the environment and local ecology. A lot of people, both from here and transplants to Miami, could think about the plants and animals already here and thriving and understand our connection to what already exists.”
Throughout “Victory Garden,” steel drums are given second lives as planters. Moore says he was drawn to the drums’ universal and anthropomorphic qualities, and the sculpture draws parallels between what’s growing inside the planters and what continues to grow each day inside us.
Moore was inspired to create "Victory Garden" a few years ago after undertaking another do-it-yourself project: designing and building a home in South Florida with his wife. The build found Moore researching and defining a personal ethos replete with hope for a symbiotic relationship between technology and ecology that ultimately saves the planet.
"There are some ideological movements spawning on the internet around words like ecofuturism. As time goes on, our relationship with the environment will involve technology more and more. It will be a symbiotic relationship where technology will save us and the planet, and there will be a beautiful, green future. This project is inspired by these eco-movements and thinking about DIY ways to use technology to affect the outcome of the world," he says.
Wilford adds that "Victory Garden" serves as a timely, urgent call to Miamians and those living beyond to consider the self-empowering, self-sustaining benefits of taking an active role in producing food for your community.
"When creating this work, Emmett was thinking about how the pandemic threw into stark relief just how tenuous things can be with our food supply. He was thinking about ways the community can feel empowered to nourish themselves in less complicated ways," she says. "With rising food costs, it's become more of an imperative to think about how we can be a part of eradicating food scarcity in our community. Part of that is growing food in low-effort ways. Gardening doesn't have to be this huge endeavor with dozens and dozens of raised beds — it can be done on your windowsill."
"Victory Garden." Through Sunday, June 25, at Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 770 NE 125th St., North Miami; 305-893-6211; mocanomi.org. Admission is free.