Michael Mercil: Site set-aside

Michae Mercil installing at the Wexner Center for the Arts

Site set-aside (2017–ongoing) is the final project in a sequence of three artworks located outside the Wexner Center for the Arts by artist and Ohio State professor Michael Mercil. Its title refers to a US agricultural policy that once required farmers to dedicate a percentage of their acreage to conservation.

For this work, Mercil planted a mix of native grasses and forbs (e.g. coneflower, wild indigo, goldenrod) to establish a permanent carbon storage bank—recalling an ecological landscape that existed long before Ohio State’s founding on farmland at the edge of Columbus. Site set-aside is not, however, nostalgic for what is gone nor does it imagine a paradise lost. Instead, Mercil says, the artwork projects forward and out toward our ever-becoming world.

"The first man and woman are no longer there; our first relation to the world is no longer secured by the world. To allow the world to change, and to learn change from it, to permit it strangers, accepting its own strangeness, are conditions of knowing it now."
Stanley Cavell, The Senses of Walden (1972)

Site set-aside echoes the original Wexner Center landscape designed by Laurie Olin in 1989 as well the Paula Hayes garden planted in 2011 atop the building’s Film/Video Theater. Mercil’s previous artworks located outside the Wexner Center were The Beanfield (2006–8) and The Virtual Pasture (2009–11).

More about the artist

Michael Mercil lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he is a professor in Ohio State’s Department of Art. Spanning sculpture, drawing, painting, landscape architecture, film, performance, and farming, his work has been included in solo and group exhibitions throughout the US. In 2005, with artist and Ohio State Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor Ann Hamilton, Mercil began The Living Culture Initiative, a project integrating their art practices within Ohio State’s research framework as a public land-grant college dedicated to “mechanical, agricultural and liberal arts.” Mercil’s documentary Covenant: a film about farm animals (and us) premiered at the Wexner Center in 2013 and was supported by the Wexner Center’s Film/Video Studio. Mercil earned a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design in 1978 and an MFA from the University of Chicago in 1988.

Visit the artist’s web site