In May 1982, American artist Agnes Denes began to transform a two acre empty plot at the foot of the World Trade Center into her work Wheatfield – A Confrontation, Battery Park Landfill. In the prior months, truck loads of dirty landfill had been dumped on the site, consisting of rubble, dirt, rusty pipes, automobile tyres, old clothing, and other garbage. Tractors flattened the area and eighty more truckloads of dirt were dumped and spread to constitute an inch of topsoil for planting. Together with two assistants and a varying number of volunteers, Agnes then dug two hundred eighty five furrows by hand, placed seeds of wheat and covered the furrows with soil.
Over the summer, the seeds grew and the field changed from green to golden amber. In August, another tractor arrived and harvested the wheat – a total produce of over a thousand pounds in weight came off the field. The harvest was sold and soon the plot carried the foundation for luxury apartments.
While citizens of urban areas are usually not confronted with production of their food, Denes created a short but notable situation where people could peek into the process. By planting the seeds right in the financial heart of the city, Denes brought two worlds together that are normally geographically far apart: the fields were the food is grown, and the mouths into which it disappears.
The work is best understood through the words of Wendell Berry in his essay The Pleasures of Eating: “Eaters, that is, must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.” But thirty seven years after Denes harvest, and thirty one after Berry’s words, nothing seems to have changed. How can we again acknowledge, and live according to, their linkage?
Show the seeds, the soil, the plants, the insects and other animals that all create those fields along with us.
In The Learned Pig‘s new series, Fields, we would like to invite you to explore this question with us. Among our contributors are artists, writers, farmers and bakers, who each approach the subject in different ways from different perspectives. James Eric Simpson and Sue Spaid show how artists alert eaters to the significance of current food production. Keefe Keeley demonstrates in his eloquent essay Revisiting a Geography of Hope what he considers the role of farmers to be – not only as growers, but also as designers of the landscape. Meanwhile, Sjoerd van Leeuwen’s Landscape Amnesia and Bruno Notteboom and Pieter Uyttenhove’s Recollecting Landscapes enhances this changing character of the landscape, as they both search for ways how to document the landscapes that no longer exist.
Notably, we received many contributions that cross over certain fields. James Eric Simpson is both farmers and artist, Nance Klehm is both ecologist and artist, and baker Katie Gourley is also urban planner, organiser and designer. Fields continues to seek ways not only to cross the divisions between field and visitor/consumer, but also to explore how the crumbling of former labour boundaries can open possibilities for new approaches and voices.
As this section of The Learned Pig continues to grow, you’re also encouraged to take us on a walk through the fields. Show the linkages that stayed unnoticed, that have been ignored or are long forgotten. Show the seeds, the soil, the plants, the insects and other animals that all create those fields along with us. Join us in our search to recognise how eating is an agricultural act.
Image credit: Sergey Kishchenko, RESANITA. From the series Field, 2015. See more about this project in Observation Journal.
Click here to explore FIELDS.
For more information on submitting your work please see Open call: Fields.