heARTbeat: The Art of Wolfgang Laib’s Meditation in Rice & Pollen

ColumnWolfgang Laib’s work nourishes the heart with the mind of an artist and the soul of a monk.

Wolfgang Laib’s latest installation “Unlimited Ocean” is on display at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago through December 23, 2011. When I experienced Laib’s work for the first time, viewing the Milkstone Series in Los Angeles during the late 1980s, I didn’t quite understand it. It had an intrinsic natural beauty and a minimalist appearance that made me look, but not knowing the context of Laib’s background, I missed the story. Only now can I appreciate his ephemeral use of materials to convey ritual and nourishment.

The Milkstone Series

Turns out Laib’s father, who was a doctor, and his mother, a well-educated woman with an interest in eastern culture and art history, had much to do with his choice of career and aesthetic leanings.

Carol Diehl writes:

In 1960, despite Germany’s strict zoning laws requiring that houses be clustered in towns and villages, and specifying every detail of a building down to the size of the windows, Dr. Laib, together with a young Swiss architect, built a modernist glass house in the middle of a vast meadow surrounded by forest. As the family began to take extensive trips throughout Europe and later to Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Mesopotamia and India (where Dr. Laib ultimately undertook to develop and support an entire village), the house became a reflection of their experiences. Over time it was emptied of furniture until almost nothing was left in it but a few well-chosen Eastern religious sculptures; the Laibs slept on futons and ate their vegetarian meals sitting on the floor. This extreme simplicity and orientation to the floor would later become important elements in Laib’s work.

“Unlimited Ocean”

Laib’s “Unlimited Ocean” was created over 10 days in October. With a group of several SAIC alumni, Laib poured over 30,000 piles of rice in the space. Seven stacks of pollen meticulously collected for their intense color germinate his largest installation to date.

The meditation Laib aspires to is felt while contemplating the installation photos, and emphasized in his statement:

“The more you complicate things, the more you lose. In renouncing you achieve more.”

After the exhibition closes, the Art Institute of Chicago will be working with the artist, local farms and animal rescue facilities to repurpose the rice for food for animals, so as to waste not want not.

Photo Credit:  Sean Kelly Gallery.  Inspired by Marcelo Almeida on Google+


Eco, trends, art, creativity and how they tumble through social media to shape culture fascinate EcoSalon columnist Dominique Pacheco. Her trends blog, mixingreality, speaks to these topics daily, and here at EcoSalon, she takes a weekly look at the intersection of eco and art. We call it heARTbeat.

Dominique Pacheco

Dominique Pacheco is the author of EcoSalon's weekly heARTbeat column.