Wheatfield by Agnes Denes
Earlier in the week we posted about Not A Cornfield, a “living sculpture” cultivated on a brownfield site in Los Angeles. A few days hence we are reminded of Wheatfield by Agnes Denes, a public sculpture/installation/performance/subsidized farmland (take your pick) for a landfill area in Lower Manhattan and where Battery Park now sits.
For about a year, Agnes Denes prepared the brownfield site by removing the junk and debris from the construction of the World Trade Center. She uprooted weeds and collected all the plastic bags that drifted in. She even installed an irrigation system. And then, passing through the shadows of the still-standing WTC towers and expertly weaving through Manhattan's notorious traffic, trucks after trucks brought in a new layer of topsoil, a sort of homecoming to where they've been displaced previously by concrete, asphalt and high rises. The following year, New York City—that quintessential modern American city—had its own amber waves of grain to be harvested at the end of the (urban) agricultural calendar.
The 1982 project was subtitled A Confrontation, a confrontation between nature (i.e., the wheat, the topsoil, photosynthesis, et al.) and culture (i.e., the nearby skyscrapers, Wall Street, pavement, et al.). In other words, “Wheatfield was an intrusion into the citadel, a confrontation of High Civilization. But then again, it was also Shangri-La, a small paradise, one’s childhood.”
However, we are more apt to say it was a culture-meets-culture non-confrontation. At least for us, farming—in its massively industrialized, complexly regulated American form—is no longer emblematic of nature. And in many ways, farming is far removed from the genteel picture of rural life: a hot summer afternoon in the country, peace, forgotten values, simple pleasures.
As related to us by an agroeconomist friend, the life of a typical American farmer may now consist of an early morning check-up of international futures markets and then the day's weather over high-speed internet connection; a ride on a John Deere equipped with a GPS system to plant/inspect/harvest their GMO crops fed with cutting-edge super fertilizers; a check-up of their livestocks injected with genetically modified hormones; a listen to world news on 24-hour cable news channels, etc. In other words, these are not country bumpkins but 21st century technophiles.
POSTSCRIPT #1: Agnes Denes qualified and so applied and then subsequently awarded monetary subsidies from the US Department of Agriculture.
POSTSCRIPT #2: CornCam
Tom MacEvilly, “Philosophy in the Land.” Art in America (Nov 2004)