Candy is one of my favorite things to eat and make, no matter how many ways I’m told not to. I love highly processed sugar for its sweetness, molecular specificity, and sculptural possibilities. The figures pictured throughout this exhibit are pulled-sugar hard candy: they were folded like taffy while still hot to incorporate air and give the sugar a metallic sheen, then molded by hand.
While candy is one of my favorite media, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that sugarcane is grown as a monocrop, responsible for a laundry list of environmental hazards, including deforestation, soil acidification and degradation, pesticide and herbicide runoff, and coral reef damage. It’s difficult to think about modern agriculture without thinking of ruin. Half the world’s habitable land is currently used for agriculture, which is arguably the predominant cause of the ongoing mass extinction event we’re living through: 86 percent of the species facing extinction are directly threatened by agricultural activity. Most people don’t have firsthand experience of the ways in which food production decimates whole ecosystems, and avoid looking such destruction in the eye.
The following spreads of metallic candy pieces depict several components of our messy agricultural present. One is an exacerbator: corn, one of the world’s queen monocultures. Another is a linked pair of casualties: monarch butterflies, whose essential food source, milkweed, is being wiped out by herbicide exposure and habitat loss. Another victim is the tadpole: because amphibians’ skin is very thin and porous (it’s how they drink), they’re particularly vulnerable to pesticide absorption, leading to the decline of endangered species like the California red-legged frog. Oysters and kelp offer potential, if small, solutions: oyster reefs foster marine biodiversity, filter water, and reduce erosion; kelp acts as a carbon sink, creates valuable habitat for other species, and is a highly sustainable, fast-growing food source for people.