Artist-Educator-Farmer: Walking with Aimee Good

Aimee Good flows between her roles as Director of Education and Community Programs for The Drawing Center in New York, and managing an organic garlic farm in Maine. She describes it as passing through a membrane, from a public to a quiet place, and she does it well. Aimee recently obtained her organic certification from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the oldest and largest organic state association in the country. Meanwhile, she also prepared a new season of city-wide art education and public programming for the Center, which is currently under construction, with partners such as the CUE Art Foundation, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the National Museum of the American Indian. During a recent foggy morning, we took a long meditative walk through Prospect Park after she and her husband delivered their nine-year-old daughter to a nearby public school.

Mama’s Lil Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread (Detail of Version 2), by Aimee Good, 1997. Photo by John Horner

EP: What was your training?

AG: I received a BFA in sculpture from the Massachusetts College of Art, and an MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. But I come from a long line of potato farmers in rural Northern Maine. Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside, in the fields, in the woods. Much was asked of me at a young age; I was given a lot of agency in the family farm. My hands were always employed with farm tasks: picking, sorting, pulling; and with interior domestic tasks: cooking and baking. My hands went through a lot, learned and know a lot. My father let me into the larger picture, riding the tractor with him. He pointed out the arc of the horizon as it met the rolling edge of fields and trees. I saw color, the cut of furrowed lines drawn upon his freshly turned soil. He taught me to see.

EP: You have a strong sense of your place in the world.

AG: I am always questioning what is my place. On a very deep level, I believe that I chose where I was born. I bear the blue sky from Northern Maine in my lungs as I walk through my life here.

EP: You experienced making with passion long before art making.

AG: Farming is hard work; you have to find your grace in it. I learned to meditate when I was seven years old. I learned what it was to work in the sun alone, engaged in repetitive labor, in wholesome patterns. I grew up in a family where, whatever you took on, you applied yourself with your full being. Farming is not a job; farming is a life. And there is a lot of emphasis on how things look, a strong relationship to beauty. My mother, who has a lightness that I admire, has always said that I was very serious early on. I often did the work that no one wanted to. Much later, artwork would become the natural extension of what I was already doing as a child, holding people’s hearts.

EP: What was your early artwork like?

AG: My mature artwork is about food and feeding, about nurturance and sustenance. I started welding at Colby College in Maine, and that early artwork was about flight-I made wings. After I came out of college, I did not feel that I had enough work to apply for graduate school. But then, a friend opened an exhibition space in Boston and I partnered with an artist who was also an architect. (I feel watched over; I seem to meet the people that I need to connect to-to love.) We collaborated in crafting three large outdoor sculptures for the Convergence Festival at Roger Williams Park in Rhode Island. I have always sought situations of making with purpose. That experience inspired me to return to school while I worked on the Massachusetts school choice and charter school movement with the Foundation for Partnerships Trust.

EP: How did you transition to your current artwork?

AG: One night I experienced a vivid dream in which I found myself walking with animal guides across a landscape and came across living bones. They looked at me but it was not my time yet. I was meant to walk on to witness the passage of time. So I began to make installations of rib cages from bulls, horses and goats. I poured and spilled milk that stained and molded, creating images. I made a heavy dough dress and wore it. The stories came from the farm. My hope was to bring people into an installation space that I created and spark something-trigger memories. I worked with discarded materials from a butcher, such as veal tongues. I cast body parts; I made videos; I experimented a lot. I made work as ugly as possible. My last name is Good, and sometimes I got as far from good as I could, to look at it, so I could see it; to come back and know what it meant to be good in the world.

Dough Dress, by Aimee Good, 1998. Polaroids by Elizabeth Leister

EP: It feels like work from memory-healing memories?

AG: I think of my pioneer ancestors who came to a place, pierced the earth, and worked very hard to make it. But with that came toughness. There was a positive: making a dream happen. There was darkness, a constriction: the pressure to conform and not throw the system off by being different. There was shared labor, but women’s opinions did not count for much outside the home. So I inherited a thick and heavy mantle from the women in my family. I carried a deep sadness that I had to work through.

EP: How has it been to live and work in New York City?

AG: I am attracted to opposite poles: from a completely rural landscape to a completely urban one. I moved to the city after a fellowship at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, which marked a closure. I made a sculpture of bread, passed it around for the audience to hold and eat, if they wished, and silently walked away. In NYC, I initially experienced a shrinking of my gestures. I worked for a while for Martha Stewart, who even filmed a program in our family farm. Giving birth to my daughter brought me to a crossroads. Priorities were reset. My creativity, out of necessity, shifted. I began to contemplate inviting the spirit of collaboration into my life. I missed the art community and began to work with the education departments of the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. I had visited The Drawing Center throughout my undergraduate and graduate school and, when a six-month position opened there, I applied. That was six years ago.

EP: So, it has been a learning experience, yet again.

AG: New York has taught me how to find the center of my power as a human being. I am eternally grateful for that.

EP: But farming is coming back…

AG: Farming was there all along. I always kept up to date with the organic farming movement in Maine, which is the oldest one in the country. For a while, I tried researching various artisanal industries, such as goat cheese and industrial hemp. Five years, ago I began to pursue farming salad greens, which eventually led me to organic garlic, and I bought 500 pounds of seed. The first year was a trial by fire, but it reopened a conversation with my father about the future of our family farm. He manages 1,100 acres. I now lease forty acres from my dad.

EP: Do I also hear a new artist-residency in the making?

AG: There is great powerful energy in northern Maine. I have always thought of creating an artist residency program located within the context of an active farming community. I register a level of authenticity in communities where economies are established in relation to natural resources. The best art residencies I have ever experienced were those in which I was asked to step outside of my comfort zone and present my work to a community-to give back to a community. I plan to build a mobile pizza oven and start hosting community dinners in my hometown, to build awareness and solidarity for the development of more local and regional food systems. I want these art residencies to be about understanding the interconnectedness of everything. My organic garlic is not about me: it is about all the people who helped produce it and will be fed by it.

EP: Art is like good bread.

AG: Yes! I seek conscious choices, a knowing and seeing even if those choices are not always understood, accepting your endings and daring beginnings. I gave myself the gift of art making. I continue to do long, collaborative, large-scale projects that merge public participation, in terms of art as social practice, to allow multiple points of access. My Maine survival skills and understanding of the facets of local communities have served me well living here. But I also choose to return to farming, to collaborate with my father and mother to reclaim the future. Family farms are dying. I have a unique perspective to put in front of audiences. Reclamation is big with me. I like the Native American notion of one running ahead, to make sure that the way is clear for the rest of the tribe.

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