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"The Matrix" -- with Broccoli, Instead of Keanu

Posted by Josh Rothman  April 20, 2011 01:32 PM

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In the Spring 2011 issue of Gastronomica -- "the journal of food and culture" -- Eric LeMay introduces the sculptor Phil Ross, and his living sculpture, Junior Return -- a "hydroponic environment" in which a broccoli seedling is kept alive indefinitely, in a state of arrested development. "Most broccoli goes from seed to edible plant in two months," LeMay explains; this broccoli has remained a seedling "for almost three years." Artificial lights and a small pump on a timer provide it with just enough light and air to keep it alive. According to Ross, "The system keeps its enclosed plant in a dwarf state by supplying only enough resources to survive but not thrive."

Philip Ross's Junior Return.

The sculpture's name, LeMay writes, evokes both "the strapping, home-grown, corn-fed, archetypically all-American son who represents our collective future" and the horror-movie creepiness of Return of the Living Dead. The original Junior Return was made in 2005; since then, Ross has made a whole "clone army" of juniors. There are now eighteen of them, drawing power from an array of car batteries.

"The seedling becomes symbolic," LeMay writes, "a mirror that throws back at us an image of our own existence and asks us whether all of the human systems in which we live our everyday lives -- the schools, offices, marriages, and, most evidently, supermarkets in which we buy our broccoli -- might be designed so we survive, but [don't] thrive."

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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