“A primary figure among the concept-based artists who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, Agnes Denes is internationally known for works created in a wide range of mediums. A pioneer of several art movements, she is difficult to categorize. Investigating science, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, poetry, history, and music, Denes’s artistic practice is distinctive in terms of its aesthetics and engagement with socio-political ideas. As a pioneer of environmental art, she created Rice/Tree/Burial in 1968 in Sullivan County, New York which, according to the renowned art historian and curator Peter Selz, was “probably the first large scale site-specific piece anywhere with ecological concerns.”
“Two acres of wheat planted and harvested by the artist on the Battery Park landfill, Manhattan, Summer 1982…After months of preparations, in May 1982, a 2-acre wheat field was planted on a landfill in lower Manhattan, two blocks from Wall Street and the World Trade Center, facing the Statue of Liberty. Two hundred truckload of dirt were brought in and 285 furrows were dug by hand and cleared of rocks and garbage. The seeds were sown by hand and the furrows covered with soil. The field was maintained for four months, cleared of wheat smut, weeded, fertilized and sprayed against mildew fungus, and an irrigation system set up. The crop was harvested on August 16 and yielded over 1000 pounds of healthy, golden wheat. Planting and harvesting a field of wheat on land worth $4.5 billion created a powerful paradox. Wheatfield was a symbol, a universal concept; it represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, and economics. It referred to mismanagement, waste, world hunger and ecological concerns. It called attention to our misplaced priorities. The harvested grain traveled to twenty-eight cities around the world in an exhibition called “The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger”, organized by the Minnesota Museum of Art (1987-90). The seeds were carried away by people who planted them in many parts of the globe. The questionnaire was composed of existential questions concerning human values, the quality of life, and the future of humanity. The responses were primarily from university students in various countries where I spoke or had exhibitions of my work. Within the context of the time capsule the questionnaire functioned as an open system of communication, allowing our descendants to evaluate us not so much by the objects we created—as is customary in time capsules—but by the questions we asked and how we responded to them. The microfilm was desiccated and placed in a steel capsule inside a heavy lead box in nine feet of concrete. A plaque marks the spot: at the edge of the Indian forest, surrounded by blackberry bushes. The time capsule is to be opened in 2979, in the 30th century, a thousand years from the time of the burial. There are, still within the framework of this project, several time capsules planned on earth and in space, aimed at various time frames in the future.”
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