AGNES DENES QUESTIONNAIRE
A new global survey inviting you to answer 11 questions set by Agnes Denes concerning humanity in the year 2022. Submitted responses will be buried in a time capsule to be opened in the year 3022, a thousand years from now.
This May, forty years since pioneering environmental artist Agnes Denes (b.1931) first sowed the seeds of her prophetic public artwork Wheatfield – A Confrontation (May 1982), transforming the land that became New York’s Battery Park City into a two-acre wheat field, CIRCA presents ‘Another Confrontation’. With this new commission, Denes transforms Piccadilly Lights and other major screens around the world into platforms for environmental change. Featuring three new video works alongside a specially created interactive AR wheatfield on Instagram, Denes alerts audiences once again to the planet’s continuing humanitarian and environmental challenges.
“PLANT HOPE – HARVEST PEACE” – Agnes Denes
Denes rose to international attention in the 1960s and 1970s, creating work influenced by science, mathematics, philosophy, linguistics, ecology, and psychology to analyse, document, and ultimately aid humanity. Her theories about climate change and life in an ever-changing, technologically-driven world demonstrate a deeply prescient understanding of society today.
Another Confrontation traverses over 1000 years of humanity (1982 – 3022) to debut a series of videos created by the artist for CIRCA and a worldwide questionnaire highlighting Denes’s focus on ecology, her fear of our present environment’s decay and hope for future survival in the following three acts:
PAST: 1-10 MAY 2022
WHEATFIELD–A CONFRONTATION, 1982
An act of protest, Denes planted an expansive wheat field in a landfill in lower Manhattan in 1982, two blocks from Wall Street and the World Trade Center and facing the Statue of Liberty, as a comment on the mismanagement of world hunger, food, waste, energy, commerce, trade, land use, and economics.
PRESENT: 11-20 MAY 2022
TREE MOUNTAIN –
A LIVING TIME CAPSULE
The man-made mountain was conceived by Denes in 1982. Measuring 420 meters long, 270 meters wide, 38 meters high, it was planted with 11,000 trees by 11,000 people from all across the globe at the Pinzio gravel pits near Ylojarvi, Finland in 1996. A living time capsule, the land upon which Tree Mountain is planted cannot be touched for 400 years.
FUTURE: 21-31 MAY 2022
QUESTIONNAIRE + TIME CAPSULE
A new global survey inviting the public to answer 11 questions set by Denes concerning humanity in the year 2022. Submitted responses will be buried in a time capsule to be opened in the year 3022, a thousand years from now.
AR WHEAT FIELD
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Denes’s best known public artwork Wheatfield —A Confrontation, CIRCA and Piccadilly Lights have commissioned an augmented reality wheat field. Expanding the experience into mobile devices, a special collaboration with Meta Open Arts has enabled the development of an AR-generated wheat field by AR Outdoor Media Company, Darabase, with the advanced camera filter enabling global Instagram users to tap and grow their very own augmented wheat field.
Coinciding with Agnes Denes’ 91st birthday on 31 May 2022, a curated selection of AR wheat field photos generated by the public will be presented by CIRCA on London’s iconic Piccadilly Lights.
CLICK HERE to step inside the AR Wheatfield and hashtag #AnotherConfrontation before 20th May 2022 to see your image appear on the world famous Piccadilly Lights.
“My decision to plant a wheat field in Manhattan instead of designing just another public sculpture, grew out of the longstanding concern and need to call attention to our misplaced priorities and deteriorating human values,” she wrote.
“Placing it at the foot of the World Trade Center, a block from Wall Street, facing the Statue of Liberty, also had symbolic import…. It represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, economics. It referred to mismanagement, waste, world hunger and ecological concerns.”
– Agnes Denes
Agnes Denes was born in Budapest, raised in Sweden, and educated throughout the United States. She has participated in more than 600 exhibitions at galleries and museums internationally. Her solo shows have been presented at venues including Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1979) and Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1974), among retrospective surveys at Firstsite, Colchester, United Kingdom (2013); The Living Pyramid, Socrates Sculpture Park (2015); Ludwig Museum, Budapest (2008); Samek Art Gallery, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA (2003); and Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (1992) and a major, critically acclaimed solo exhibition at The Shed, New York (2019-2020).
Each month, we sell limited editions by our exhibiting artists to support the #CIRCAECONOMY – a circular model we designed to fund our free public art programme and create life-changing opportunities for the wider creative community.
In March, over £300,000 was generated from the sale of Yoko Ono’s IMAGINE PEACE and donated to the United Nations CERF.
Agnes Denes’s Wheatfield – A Confrontation,
and its’ Monumental Legacy
by Barney Pau
Despite the permanence of her practice—raising hills; planting woodland; burying time-capsules—Agnes Denes’s most enduring legacy might be her most ephemeral work: Wheatfield – A Confrontation (1982). The installation took place in New York’s downtown, in the shadow of a skyline synonymous with success. Such monumentalism is so immutably infallible that we cannot conceive of its demise. A shrine to hegemony; it represents the pinnacle of human progress. Yet, by planting an innocuous field of wheat at the feet of the World Trade Centre, Denes reminded us of the fragility upon which this world is built. The installation lasted a mere four months, from its planting in May to its harvest in August, yet its legacy still resonates four decades later.
Wheatfield was a call to action; in Denes’s words, an invitation for people to “rethink their priorities and realize that unless human values were reassessed, the quality of life, even life itself, was in danger” (agnesdenesstudio.com: n/d). At the time, the 2 acre plot on which the field was sown was valued at $4.5bn. This meant that, upon harvest, each wheat berry had the value of $351.56—the costliest grain ever grown. For comparison, on 16th August 1982—the day of harvest—the US market value of a bushel of wheat was $3.41; or 3 grains to a cent. Denes’s Wheatfield highlighted the vast disproportionality of human value systems; “[i]t called attention to our misplaced priorities” (agnesdenesstudio.com: 1982).
Wheatfield’s confrontation did not end with its’ harvest. Five years later the grain travelled the globe with the The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger (1987-90), where visitors were encouraged to take the grain and sow, as part of an international seed exchange. Since agriculture’s genesis, the seed commons has been sacrosanct. The seeds commons is the open-source interchange of seeds that has historically enabled growers to exchange and diversify their crops, interbreeding them to be better suited to their environment; a refinement process that has lasted over 12 millennia. During the 20th century mechanisation, artificial fertilisers, chemical pesticides, and plant breeding astronomically increased agricultural efficiency and yield. This came to be known as the Green Revolution, an effect of which was that seed commerce was capitalised and co-opted by corporations into the oligopoly that it is today. Patents protect seed companies’ plants; genetically modified ‘terminator’ seeds sow sterile crops; and homogenisation pushes landraces—seeds tailored to their locale—into extinction. Cheated of their means of production; saddled with mounting debts; and fighting international trade prices: many growers have lost their raison d’être; in 2020, the most likely cause of death for a US farmer was suicide. The potency of a crop with such an ascribed value being handed out free in a global seed exchange might be the most resounding legacy of Wheatfield – A Confrontation: four decades hence, across the planet, the progeny of this once priceless quotidien crop continues to grow, a living testament to the fallibility of human value.
If one crop were to represent the idea of human ‘progress’ in Western Eurocentric narratives it would be wheat. The link between grain and state is one that James C. Scott explores in Against the Grain (2017). He highlights how grain cultivation was integral to the formation of the earliest states. His inquiry suggests that sendentism was forced on early people to create a grain core from which the state could grow. His notion of the genesis of agriculture pulls it away from the bucolic idea of settling, and instead suggests a long history of enforced settlement. The importance of grain to the state remains as prevalent today as in prehistory. Reshowing Denes’s work in the current climate is particularly affecting, overshadowed as it is by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine, known as ‘the breadbasket of Europe’, boasts some of the richest chernozem soils on the planet, perfect for grain agriculture. Prior to the war, the country was one of the largest global exporters of wheat, however, the ongoing conflict and the grain deficit it might incur has become a concern for global food security. Historically, grain shortages, and the inflation they cause, have been portents of civil unrest, even catalytic in sparking revolutions. Marie Antoinette’s apocryphal “let them eat cake!” was in response to bread shortages that helped ignite the French Revolution; and in 2011 Egyptians took to the streets chanting “bread, freedom and social justice”, during the Arab Spring. By planting the grain of our genesis at the feet of our cultural zenith, Denes’s Wheatfield was a powerful reminder of our fragility. Glimpsed from the ivory towers of hegemony, this unassuming field must have humbled even the most senior of executives.
Today, the plot on which Denes’s wheat grew would be valued at $13.4 bn, giving each grain the price-tag of $1,047.41, a potent reminder that Wheatfield – A Confrontation is as relevant as it ever was. With this fleeting work, Denes planted a seed of doubt in our hegemonic systems of power, a seed whose legacy still grows across the globe. Wheatfield, in the 40 years since its planting, has burgeoned into a global cry for change.
Barney Pau is a chef, artist and student on the MA Art & Ecology program at Goldsmiths University. Currently, his practice explores the connections between contemporary consumption and the codified norms of domesticity, playing with the symbolism of home by queering it. When he’s not baking bent bread, drawing gay toile wallpaper, or painting erotic landscapes, you can usually find him foraging for his food or reading books on bread.
This month, we are inviting people to donate towards The Global Food Banking Network – an international nonprofit that works towards a hunger-free future in more than 40 countries by sustaining, uniting and strengthening food banks.