Art and Agriculture: “Continuous Service Altered Daily” Opens at the Bemis


May 30th, 2017

Photo courtesy of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

Omaha, NE— “You know I think that to people who don’t live in the Midwest, the combine is really an alien like machine,” Brooks said. “It’s a thing that people who are driving from coast to coast or doing kind of a road trip through United States and hitting tourist spots, they’re accustomed to seeing these massive metal boxes like alien ships that have descended to earth, and sometimes they’re broken down sitting out in the middle of fields, or sometimes they’re plowing through and there’s a big dust storm around them of things happening, and they’re very alien.”

The subject of David Brooks’ latest work is probably not too common in the art world. What he was describing is a combine harvester, which he has dismantled and re-purposed at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts for his exhibition, Continuous Service Altered Daily.

Every component of a 1976 John Deere 3300 series combine, some worn, some restored, and some plated, will be on display throughout several galleries, turning the machine into a more complex narrative.

“This is not about combines necessarily,” Brooks said. “It is to some degree about industrial agriculture as it relates to larger understandings of ecosystems or systems. Therefore, then, it’s about the viewer and the individual within it and how they can perceive themselves in relationship to these larger things which sounds abstract and sounds a lot like a lot when talking about it, but when seeing it, it actually can be very simple because it’s relying on individual subjective moments of interpretation.”

The title refers to an installation from the 1960’s, Continuous Project Altered Daily by Robert Morris, who revolutionized sculpture by highlighting the life of inanimate objects and their performative qualities.

Brooks’ work often concerns ecology and biology, and Continuous Service Altered Daily’s explores the nature of ecosystems and our relationship to them.

“So this project, in my mind, really does that, which is it takes this combine which does many different functions all at one time, disassembles it, reorders it according to a kind of a poetic relationship to ecosystem services, and also allows for material transformation to take place through the different exhibition spaces,” Brooks said. “So the when I say material transformations, that’s because there’re four different phases of the components as they move as a procession through the exhibition space.”

The ideas of classical sculpture and machinery might seem at odds in the context of a gallery space, but Brooks explained his negotiation between the two.

“The go to, kind of preconceived idea in one’s mind might be that, ‘oh they arranged it like an exploded drawing,’ like in a manual,” Brooks said. “That’s how you take things apart and then display it, so there might be parts of this that hint at that, but as soon as it might appear to be that, it actually completely interrupts that so that it’s not a preconceived idea.

“I want really for viewers to come and think about these individual objects as objects of beauty and aesthetic contemplation in their own right while also thinking about their relationship to the larger whole, pieces to a larger whole. Or maybe considering there’s something else as a way to kind of just reassess how we see things and to interrupt it and really offer in a moment of space to just rethink something and how we might think about it aesthetically.”

And how he chose to arrange them?

“Then there’s of course context, like relating putting one thing next to another thing either conceptually, so if I’m calling all of these objects components that partake in decomposition or water purification, your mind already sets this framework around it and you begin to see things differently. So if I call these totem pole looking things which, they look like augers but they’re really elevators, but if you line them all up in these spiraling forms like totem poles or staffs and I call it rain, you can instantly see how it looks like rain.”

“So that kind of poetic imposition or context is another one. So they are all really relying on different ways that we’re accustomed to seeing objects and how we might change, or rather rethink. Not change necessarily, but just rethink and reassess, re-evaluate our relationship to the objects period and how to perceive them.”

The public opening of Continuous Service Altered Daily will be this Thursday, June 1 at 6:30pm at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. The night will begin with an “Artalk” with Brooks and also Brandon Schlautman, Lead Scientist at the Land Institute. For more information, visit


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