All That Glitters is Probably Toxic 

Good Good Days?

In the 1990s, Kirsten Stolle’s mother dressed up as a strawberry with fish gills and marched the streets of northern California.  

Her surreal regalia was a commentary on how the Monsanto Company, an American agrichemical and biotechnology corporation, was attempting to insert flounder DNA into the genome of a strawberry to improve the plant’s frost resistance. In response, anti-GMO activists organized a puppet theater protest in Santa Cruz.   

A multimedia artist then living in San Francisco, Stolle drove an hour south to support the parade. Standing on the sidewalk, she watched as her mother — a self-described anarchist — fought the power while dressed as a fruit-fish hybrid. 

“It was amazing,” Stolle remembers. “That parade was one of the first times I experienced a protest that looked like fun. The message was getting out loud and clear through boisterous music and drumming, ridiculous costumes, and dancing down the street.”

Detail from Only You Can Prevent a Forest at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, College of Charleston, with artist Kirsten Stolle.

The demonstration left Stolle hungry for change. But she didn’t become an activist until the early 2000s, when she experienced health issues caused by soy products that had been genetically modified to withstand huge amounts of pesticides.

“To understand the connection between chemical companies and agriculture, I started researching,” says Stolle. Her investigations revealed the industry’s ugly underbelly — a world mired in corporate propaganda, brutal warfare, and cancer-causing contaminants. 

Up until then, Stolle’s artwork had focused on “creating abstractions based on natural and human forms.” But this newfound activism soon seeped into her studio. “My creative process began incorporating artistic research,” she says. “I shifted into more conceptual and long-term projects.” 

2, 4_D Weed Killer

In 2010, she revealed Anatomy of a Future Forest, a series that meditated on how flora and fauna may evolve should climate change rage on unchecked. That same year, Stolle fled the Bay Area’s oppressive cost of living for Asheville, a place with good weather, endless galleries, and comparatively affordable rent. 

Since then, Stolle has focused her creative career entirely on agribusiness issues. In 2020, for instance, she revealed Pesticide Pop at NOME Gallery in Berlin, Germany. The solo exhibit explored the “seductive power of chemical company advertising” with images of weed killers that had been “absurdly glorified as objects of desire,” Stolle explains.   

Stolle’s most recent exhibit, Only You Can Prevent a Forest, debuted at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston last fall. According to Stolle, the show’s title served as the unofficial maxim of America’s chemical warfare program during the Vietnam War. 

New Hunters

“The motto, a bizarre riff on the 1947 Smokey Bear slogan used to prevent forest fires, referenced the aerial spraying of herbicides like Agent Orange to destroy trees and crops,” she notes. 

The exhibit’s focal point — a massive neon-green wall hanging — reinterpreted the slogan and “offered an absurd directive.” Other pieces in the series ranged from “Plant Protection,” a mountainous assemblage of plastic pesticide bottles covered in gold glitter, to “Science for a Better Life,” a collage of redacted magazine advertisements from the 20th century. 

Elements of Only You Can Prevent a Forest are featured in a solo exhibit, The Grass Isn’t Always Greener, at Tracey Morgan Gallery.  

“The themes I address hit upon relevant social issues, and can be challenging and uncomfortable,” says Stolle. “Yet I hope viewers come away feeling moved, wanting to have a conversation. Ultimately, I hope my work encourages critical thinking and allows for the unexpected.”

Kirsten Stolle, Asheville. Her solo exhibit, The Grass Isn’t Always Greener, will run through Saturday, April 8, at Tracey Morgan Gallery (188 Coxe Ave., Asheville, For more information, call 828-505-7667 or see

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