Phoebe Washburn's installations explore generative systems based on absurd patterns of production. She typically combines countless numbers of cardboard boxes or pieces of scrap wood that she skims off the refuse of consumers and commerce, combing dumpsters and loading docks for basic matter. Her materials are discarded relics of daily routines, fatefully and incidentally discovered and transported to the studio where they are ordered and repurposed, imbuing with value what was once deemed worthless. Featuring already used, already worn, already consumed objects, which carry evidence of their own histories, she stacks, binds, and nails together her discoveries into installations that tell the story of their own making, consolidating by-products of their creation, such as sawdust and packing materials, into the final project.
For its installation at Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, Washburn conceived of Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow as a self-contained “factory” that incorporated its own product—grass for the project's sod roof—into the installation over the course of the exhibition. For the first time, the artist integrated mechanics into her work, using a conveyor belt loop to shuttle small plots of soil through different stations for light and water, which nourished the growth of grass. These “plots” were periodically tended by a “gardener” who planted the seed, allowed it to germinate in a greenhouse before shifting the organic matter to the factory where it matured, and finally placed the output on the roof of the structure where it eventually atrophied and withered, removed from the sustaining system of water and light, thus exhibiting the full cycle of growth and decay.
Washburn largely relies on improvisational and amateurish construction techniques. Here, the spontaneity of her architecture resonates with the natural development of the growing sod roof as well as its organic decline and decay. This practice stands in contrast with the characteristic efficiency intrinsic to the factory system. But Washburn often mines such apparently ridiculous juxtapositions—here, organic growth and mechanical tools—as loci of creativity.