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Jessica Rath: Projects


Summary Note

Jessica Rath: Projects contains materials related to three projects: take me to the apple breeder; Ripe; and, a better nectar. Materials include work prints, unglazed cast apples, glazed apples, studies on paper, notebooks, exhibition ephemera, audio files, and press materials.

Biographical Note

Jessica Rath is a Los Angeles based artist who attained a Master of Fine Arts from California Institute for the Arts (CalArts) in 1996. Her solo exhibitions include take me to the apple breeder at Jack Hanley Gallery in New York (2012), Pasadena Museum of California Art (2012), and the Perlman Teaching Museum, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota (2013); and 3 Solo Projects, Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design. In 2013, Rath received the City of Los Angeles (COLA) Fellowship and exhibited the resulting work at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (2014). Rath’s awards include a Center for Cultural Innovation Artistic Innovation grant, two Durfee Foundation Artist Resource for Completion grants, a Metrolab Commission Grant, and the Bridge Residency Award from Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, CA.

Rath’s practice considers how we shape the aesthetics of agricultural production and of our immediate landscape. take me to the apple breeder, based genetic work at Cornell University Agricultural Research Station, garnered reviews in Art in America, Artforum, Xtra Contemporary Art Quarterly, and LA Times; articles in Bon Appetit, Garden Design, Smithsonian Magazine and Treehugger; and interviews by KCRW’s Good Food (radio) and Columbia University’s Venue blog.

Scope and Content

Intrigued by science journalist Michael Pollan’s description of rare, odd apples from the Noah’s Ark of apples in his book Botany of Desire, Rath visited the Plant Genetics Resource Unit (PGRU) in Geneva, New York, a joint USDA/Cornell University project. The reason for this vast living collection is that edible apples cannot be planted from seed, but must be grafted from existing trees, thus keeping the variety literally “alive” to save it. At the PGRU, buds are collected from apple trees all over the world, then grafted onto dwarf rootstock and matured until fruiting.

Rath made nine sculptures based examples of varieties from PGRU. While the size and volume are based on the original, high fire glazes were mixed and matched to allude to various hues of yellows, reds, pinks and greens and represent some of the unusual russets and blushes on the apples. The artist returned to Geneva in March 2011 on a Center for Cultural Innovation grant to photograph genetic diversity at the Cornell University-NYS Agricultural Experiment Station, where apple breeder Dr. Susan K. Brown has planted out thousands of seed “sisters” from each of her cross breeding of two apple trees. Over the course of six to seven years, Brown leaves the trees unpruned, to grow wild.

The diversity of tree architecture from one cross is broad, as are the clones used for genetic material to breed with. Assisted by professional photographers Ken Marchionno and Mary Wingfield and grip crew from Rochester Institute of Technology, the artist shot these trees against 20 x 30 foot white muslin backdrops to catch the beautiful, leafless silhouettes and the sensuous detail of their skin.

Following her work with applies, Rath turned to Roma and Paragon tomatoes. Ripe is a series of sculptures, prints, drawings, and films based on the history of genetic manipulation of tomatoes from their discovery in the Andes to contemporary Florida politics dictating their aesthetics, and the inverse correlation between genetic modification and taste. The seed for Rath's project was the discovery, published in the journal Science in June 2012, that the same genetic mutation that gave tomatoes a desirable scarlet color was also responsible for dulling their flavor.

Over the course of six months, Rath worked with a group of fine art finishers to develop a paint layering process that would accurately capture the complexities of "tomato red." Based on a Ferrari finish, the lacquer consists of a yellow undercoat, four to six layers of red, a red that is suspended in a gloss urethane and a final layer that takes down some of the shine, giving the sculptures a bit of texture.

Rath documented a tomato vine that she grew and cared for over the course of 18 months in a drawing called Indeterminate (Before human). The piece consists of a drawing from life of her vine, and then a traced version of that original drawing. Together, the vines reference the plant she grew and the original tomato plant that humans found in the Andes. In a series of lithographs called Early Girl, she overlaid text from a 1970s-era Burpee Seed Catalog, something she remembers drooling over in the cold, gray winters of her childhood in southern Missouri, on a background of the variegated reds, oranges and yellows of heirloom tomatoes.

With help from a production team, the artist also created two short films. One shows tomatoes bouncing in slow motion on a trampoline. Called Ripe Gambol, this film is "a parody of 'The Man Show' segment featuring bikini-clad women," according to the Los Angeles Daily News. It is meant to be projected 14 feet wide, its score booming from two 50-inch subwoofers and a pair of 1100-watt speakers.

Rath’s newest project as of March 2015 is a better nectar, an expansive multisensory installation through which the tender co-evolutionary communication between flowering plants and their pollinators is unearthed. Rath uses sculpture light, and sound to consider how bumblebees learn and remember multisensory floral signals to find better nectar. The work premiered on January 31, 2015 at the California State University, Long Beach. The exhibition was divided into three sections. In “Resonant Nest” visitors experienced a multi-sensory, human-scaled bumblebee nest that resonates human voice interpretations of bee communication composed by long-time collaborator Robert Hoehn. The seven-foot sculptures in “Staminal Evolution” were based on flowers that require “buzz pollination,” a process in which bees vibrate a certain frequency to open the flower and thus release its pollen. And in “Bee Purple,” immersive light projections emulated bees’ spectrally shifted experience of the color wavelengths that attract them to floral patterns and nectar. Visitors were provided with a human-scaled experience of a bee’s intimate sensorial journey from its underground nest to an audibly and visually pulsating world, based on the Rath’s research with Dr. Anne Leonard at the Leonard Bee Lab, University of Nevada, Reno.

Materials include work prints, unglazed cast apples, glazed apples, studies on paper, notebooks, exhibition ephemera, audio files, and press materials.


This archive is arranged into four folders: folders for each project, and a folder for articles, press and exhibition ephemera.

Inclusive Dates


Bulk Dates


Quantity / Extent

2 cubic feet



Related Archive Collections

  • CAE1406: Amy Franceschini & Michael Taussig: This is not a Trojan Horse
  • CAE1405: Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley: VENUE

Related Publications

3 Solo Projects: Jessica Rath, Lynn Aldrich, Carrie Ungerman. Los Angeles CA: Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design, 2009.

Birrell, Ellen. Figures and Ground. 2013. X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly 15: 10-23.

More Than Honey. Directed by Markus Imhoof. New York, NY: Kino Lorber Incorporated, 2013. DVD.

Newhouse, Kristina. Jessica Rath: A Better Nectar. Long Beach, CA: California State University, Long Beach, 2015.

Rath, Jessica. Going, Going, Going: The Art and Life of Ann Sims Rath Dugan. Los Angeles, CA: Self-published, 2009.

Sanders, Rosanne., and Harry Baker. The Apple Book. London: Frances Lincoln, 2010.

Container Listing:

  • CAE Box 20

    • Folder 1 Take me to the Apple Breeder, 2010 – 2012
    • Folder 2 Ripe, 2012 – 2013
    • Folder 3 A Better Nectar, 2014 – 2015
    • Folder 4 Articles, Press, and Exhibition Ephemera, 2009-2015

Additional Materials

    CAE Box 14 Tray 1 Small Objects

    • 3#27 Chromogenic Glass Samples, 2014

    CAE Box 26 Objects

    • 1#38 Notebook for ‘take me to the apple breeder,’ 2011-12
    • 1#39 Notebook for ‘take me to the apple breeder,’ 2011-12
    • 1#40 Notebook for ‘take me to the apple breeder,’ 2011-12

    CAE Box 89 Objects

    • 3#11 Fiberglass Surface Test (for “Resonant Nest”), 2014

    CAE Flat File F5 Oversized Items

    • 1#45 Clone with Central Leader, A/P, 2010
    • 1#46 Clone with Central Leader, A/P, 2010
    • 1#47 Sisters Columnar with Difference, A/P, 2010
    • 2#11 Early Girl (test), 2013
    • 2#13 Indeterminate (early study), 2013

    CAE Flat File F12 Oversized Items

    • 2#12 Trollop Sisters, 2013
    • 2#14 Indeterminate (study), 2013
    • 2#15 Watercolor Study for Early Girl, 2013
    • 3#26 Press Proof for A Better Nectar Catalog, 2015