The Virtual Pasture
The Virtual Pasture is coming to an end on December 5, 2011. The flock has grown considerably since the three original ewes started their virtual presence and occasional live visits two years ago. Read a personal appreciation of The Virtual Pasture from Wexner Center Director of Education Shelly Casto on the Wexblog. Laptop "sweaters" and iPad "mittens," made from Shetland wool from the flock, are coming soon to the Wexner Center Store.
The Virtual Pasture is an ever-evolving, "agri/cultural" piece by Ohio State artist and art professor Michael Mercil. For the past two years, the sheep have resided at Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware and, on most days, visited campus virtually through a live video feed from the farm. Visitors watch the screen outside the Wex (facing the Oval) for 24/7 coverage of farm animal life in rural Ohio.
The work is the second installment in Mercil's ongoing investigations as part of the Living Culture Initiative in the Department of Art, in partnership with the Wexner Center and the Social Responsibility Initiative in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. As the first project in this series, this once empty patch of green space just outside the Wexner Center was home to Mercil's The Beanfield project from 2006 to 2007.
With The Virtual Pasture, Mercil turned his attention from vegetable crops to animals. Believe it or not, sheep and cows once grazed Ohio State's central campus grounds. Horses pulled delivery wagons to classrooms, auditoriums, and dormitories. But animals—except pigeons, squirrels, rats, raccoons, and dogs—are now mostly absent here. The Virtual Pasture has reanimated the campus landscape with its (small but growing) flock of sheep, presented via the images transmitted live to the on-site video monitor (along with occasional, monthly during the school year, "live" visits). The project entertains such questions as where, when, and how do we encounter farm animals now? And, how might we reestablish contact with the living creatures with which we still share deep mutual dependence, but which we have made invisible in our daily life?
In December 2010, Michael Mercil was announced as one of the recipients of a 2010 Harpo Foundation grant. The grant is funding the production of a video that will serve as the document and culmination of the the Virtual Pasture project.
Check out the our Flickr site for an album of pasture pictures from fall 2009 and for pictures of Mercil and one of the lambs visiting The Market at 15th and High on its opening day in May 2010. For more information on the project, see the Columbus Dispatch interview with Mercil in January 2010 and the segment from the WOSU.TV/PBS program Our Ohio. You can also read several posts about this piece on our blog and the Harpo Foundation's comments regarding the grant awarded to this project.