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Wheat Project / Weizen Projekt


April 3, 2008

Today I am at the Obdachlosenheim for the first time, just hanging out in the community room with a couple of the residents, and a social worker. They are telling me about everything that they do here and what they have done. It is quite a contradiction to my preconceptions of this place. I think they already know that they aren't helpless. The point of this project will really be to show that to myself and to other people. I am not making this for the Obdachlosenheim residents as much as I am making it for myself. But that could be said about any of my past work, what I am trying to communicate to people is really what I am trying to communicate to myself.

So, one of the things that I was really impressed by was that the residents remodeled this community room themselves, with out any outside workers. And it is beautiful, a really nice place to hang out. I could never do this kind of remodeling, just the idea of such a big project let alone the technical skills really scares me. But maybe that is because I always approach everything alone. Her there is a community. Maybe this project isn't me building community for them but them showing me what community really means.

Heute habe ich Peter, Reinhilde und Heike kennen gelernt. Und einandere Mann aber die Name nicht bekommen.

Peter ist doch lustig und hat viel Energie. Er macht immer spaß mit die andern. Reinhilde ist süß und hat eine schöne Lacher (smile). Heike war serious und der andere Mann was stil. Er spielt Schlage (drums) und Guitare. Ich kann diese leute in Theaterstuck vorstellen. Das wird spaß machen ein Theaterstuck mit zu machen.

I also met Max (drives the Land Rover Defender) who also works here with André and his girlfriend Ray/Rae (with short hair). And Olaf, a apparently young man. i can't tell if Olaf works here or lives here.

Rae said something about having dienst, which means I think duty. Someone else also said something about their dienst. It sounds like people take turns with different responsibilities, dienst. It is really organized they have a whole system and I don't know anything about it, yet.

It was quite a lively place.


April 5, 2008

I am tired. Today was my first day working in the garden. I prepared some windows for a small nursery green house that will be built. Then I turned some ground. That is back breaking work. Wow. It is the process of digging up the soil to loosen it up and I think also to aerate the soil. Before getting to work we eat breakfast together, then later we also eat lunch together.

There was basically only two people working from the Obdachlosenheim in the garden. Heike and Peter. Peter is the clown/jester and Heike is the boss. The interesting thing about Heike is that I couldn't tell if she was an employee or a resident. I kept going back and forth all day. She seamed to be busy with lots of tasks and responsibilities, but she has also been there all the time every time I'm there. She seems to be responsible and motivated but she didn't talk with me the way the other employees did. I kind of wanted to keep it a mystery the whole summer. But my plan was spoiled when one of the employees said something to tip me off.

I am feeling like I will fall asleep at the computer so I am going to keep it short for now. Maybe I'll write more later about the 6 teenagers who came to work in the garden as a charity work as part of their confirmation at church. I am really critical of this kind of thing. They are not there to help the homeless, the homeless are not helpless. They are really there to help themselves, but I don't think they really get it. There was no critical thinking about their relationship with the homeless and what they (the students) were doing there. I think this kind of community service/charity work has the potential to change people's perceptions and prejudices and preconceptions but it has to be done right. I think there has to be some sort of sustained engagement and critical dialogue. Otherwise they are just reinforcing the social hierarchy that the homeless know all to well.

They know they are at the bottom of the social ladder. They know they are marginalized by society. I don't need to tell them that. What I am here to do is work in solidarity with them. The very fact that people come to homeless shelters with the attitude of helping them is at the core of the marginalization and oppression of the homeless.

help·less : marked by an inability to act or react []

That is not what they inherently are, it is what society labels them as, the box (which implies limiting) that society puts them in, the limited role that they are cast into. As long as they are in this box they will be oppressed. I am here to work in solidarity with these people to change perceptions (mine, theirs, and society's) and therefore realities in order to see them not as homeless but as human. But at the same time I am not doing this for them I am doing this for myself, because in seeing them as something less than human, I lose a piece of my humanity. I am here to regain my full humanity. But the biggest thing that will get in the way will be my own prejudices and preconceptions.

I would like to end with a quote I saw on a poster once, that is only credited to Lila Watson [source].

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."


April 9, 2008

Today I went to the Obdachlosenheim for lunch. Actually I brought my own lunch with me, but I did end up eating some of their bread rolls. I even took some bread home with me. I got interesting reactions from my roommates when I told them I got bread from the homeless shelter.

What assumptions is someone making about homeless people when they think it is wrong to take bread from the homeless?
That the homeless don't have enough to eat. That they are starving. That the homeless don't have anything.
Is this always true?

What assumptions is someone making about homeless people when they feel it is wrong to take bread from the homeless? I'm talking about that gut reaction that happens in the first fraction of a second before our rational brain kicks in and has time to process the information. The response of the elephant as Jonathan Haidt calls it in his book "The Happiness Hypothesis."

pg 64 "In my studies of moral judgment, I have found that people are skilled at finding reasons to support their gut feelings."
pg 65 "Studies of "motivated reasoning" show that people who are motivated to reach a particular conclusion are even worse reasoners than those in Kuhn's and Perkins's studies, but the mechanism is basically the same: a one-sided search for supporting evidence only."
I think that people use "motivated reasoning" to rationalize their gut feeling against eating bread from the homeless. The motivation is that they don't want to look bad.

I think the assumption (conditioned response) that people make is that there is something wrong with the bread. That was my response when they first offered me some bread at the Obdachlosenheim, but there was nothing wrong with it, it tasted good.

I wish I would have challenged my roommate and her friends to eat the bread. That would have really made them uncomfortable I think. And really show them that it is not a rational reason that they are shocked that I took bread from the homeless. My roommate rationalized it by saying that they have less than us so we shouldn't take from them. But I respectfully disagree because after I explained that there was more bread than they could eat and the extra would be fed to animals, they still didn't seem to keen on the idea. I think they have this gut reaction that tells them there is something wrong with the bread, it is somehow contaminated. And I don't think this makes them bad people. It is not "wrong" that they have this gut reaction. They have simply been conditioned to have such a gut reaction to homeless people, so much so that even just having their name attached to something will bring up the reaction.

Yesterday I met with André to talk about how to introduce the project to the residents. Or how to approach the residents. I came away from the meeting feeling strange, something just didn't sit right. I'm not sure exactly what. Maybe because we were talking about them instead of with them. Plotting how to win them over. Deciding what should we tell them and what shouldn't we tell them about the project. How do we get them to be involved. Should we present it as an "art project" or just as a "project" because the word "art" might scare people off. I just felt like I was somehow talking down to them, or belittling them, or patronizing or something.

So, today I realized this project isn't about them (at least not how I thought it was). As with most of my art it starts with reminding/teaching myself something, in this case our shared humanity. And then to share with others. The people who I think need to be shown the most are other people like me. People who think they are not biased or prejudiced. People who think they can see beyond the social hierarchy. People who think it doesn't effect them. People who think they are changing the world, who think they are different. Not the Obdachlosenheim residents.

So, I think I will relax about the Obdachlosenheim residents and just treat them like normal people. I will just ask them if I can plant a small patch of wheat in their garden. No pressure for them to "participate" or do anything in particular. It is enough that they are their and we get to interact with them. I will navigate and negotiate the relationship as we go.

And I will organize people from the Weimar bio-community to be "participants" in my project. And with these people I will focus more on how, why, when, where they participate. These are the people who are really learning something from this project. The same thing that I am trying to teach myself. I don't think I have a lot to teach the Obdachlosen, but I think I can learn a lot from them.


April 14, 2008
We did it! We planted the wheat!

And then the anxiety came. I think it is anxiety about writing the text for my thesis. But it is mixed in with a bunch of other thoughts as well. My immediate feeling on Saturday while we were getting started with the planting was an uneasiness and concern that I was doing something wrong. There was no one from the Obdachlosenheim working in the garden on Saturday. Apparently one of the main participants has been unreachable since earlier in the week. The social workers said from time to time people at the Obdachlosenheim drink heavily and lose touch or disappear for days. So, André and I just went ahead and planted the wheat ourselves. We picked a spot in the garden and planted it. But I felt uneasy because it feels like it should be a group decision. And then at lunch we looked at the garden plan that had been drawn up last year and saw that the plot we had chosen was suppose to have spinach. I felt really uneasy. André reassured me that everyone knows that the garden project is on Saturday mornings and if they want to participate they will show up, we just have to go with what we have, which was just the two of us.

Later a nice thing happened, a friend of André's came by to visit him. We talked about the project and she ended up helping in the garden quite a bit. We got to discuss social issues and psychology and just get to know each other. The enthusiasm and interest in the project and the ideas/issues of the project reinforced my already developing feeling that the main audience for the symbolism of the wheat is the people outside the Obdachlosenheim.

I mean, the Obdachlosen (homeless) don't need a reminder that the system is fucked up, they experience it everyday of their lives. It is the rest of us who need a reminder that the social hierarchy is just an illusion, a construction, and that no one is inherently better than or worse than anyone else. Social hierarchy comes from the division of labor and civilization, which comes from agriculture, which comes from the domestication of wheat and other gains and crops. We are not better than them. In fact, us and them is just a social construction. I am no better or worse than anyone else.

Buddhism takes it even further and shows how I or self and other are just an illusion created by the mind/consciousness. I was just in Thailand over the semester pause visiting my girlfriend so I have been reading a little about Buddhism. It is one of the things that has been influencing my thinking while working on this project.

So, back to the anxiety. I had some concerns about how things went on Saturday but the anxiety didn't really hit me until I got on my bike to head home. My plan was to spend the rest of the weekend working on my text for the written theoretical part of my masters thesis work. Well, I did no such thing. I couldn't even write on this blog Saturday evening like I had intended. So I am writing it now.

The thing is I have this huge anxiety about writing. It is totally irrational because if I look at the evidence, which I have done, I am actually quite a good writer. I think I even enjoy writing!?!

So, here is what happened. When I was in 5th or 6th grade we had a big assignment in geography. We were suppose to write a report about a country or state or something. Well, I didn't know how to write a report, how to plan it, how to structure it, I just didn't know were to begin. And I was afraid of doing something wrong (probably something to do with my father, sorry dad no offense) so I didn't begin. Not entirely true, I did make a beautiful cover page and wonderful illustrations, maps and pictures of state birds, flowers, and flags.

And I was afraid to ask for help, typical male patterns start young. At any rate, the time came to present our reports to the class. I hadn't finished mine and I think the teacher knew that. But I had to stand up in front of the class anyway and say I didn't do the report. It was utterly humiliating.

Something else I remember that is interesting. There was one other student who did not do the report and had to stand up and be humiliated. His name was Sean, and he came from a broken family. He lived with his grandfather and often came to school in old tattered cloths, dirty and smelling funny, and I wanted nothing to do with him. Even as I was being teased, rejected, and oppressed by the other kids, I refused to be associated with Sean, I treated him like the others treated me.

So I guess the point of this story from my childhood is that this project comes out of my need to be reminded that I am no better and no worse than anyone else, and then an attempt to share that with others. It is for me personally a process of coming to terms with my past, of saying I'm sorry to Sean, of forgiving myself, and of regaining a piece of my humanity that was lost a long time ago.

The way out of oppression is not to oppress others. As I have said before, when we oppress other we to suffer, for we lose a piece of our humanity. And as Lila Watson said,

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

I hope that this project will help people (myself included) to see the humanity in every human.

  April 19, 2008
What I just realized as I was getting ready to go to the garden is that I am a participant in this project, this Obdachlosenheim Garden Project. It has been going on for several years and will continue going on. I am just one person in this group. And maybe I should think of it as me inviting people (from bio community) to this Garden Project that I am also just a participant in (not an organizer). And then as they are just doing what they do in their live, participating in the garden project, they come across my art. That fits with my idea of what public art it.
  April 20, 2008
I had a great day at the Garden on Saturday. We planted a bunch of potatoes. It was really hard work but André and the social workers organized a lot of people to work. First we turned the soil, then we pushed the potatoes a little bit into the ground, and last we piled dirt on top of them. You end up with nice rows of mounds with paths between them. We organized our rows in a radial pattern like the rays of the sun. Lunch was good. The Hausmeister grilled Thüringen Rostbratwurst on the stone grill that they built in previous years. And the potato salad was interesting and really delicious with apple and oranges in it.

Again I had this experience where I could not quite tell if someone was one of the residents or an outside person. It turned out he was somewhere in the middle. His name was Marcel I think, and we talked for a really long time. He lived in Thailand for 7 or 8 years. He came back recently to make some money in Germany and save up so he could go back to Thailand. Currently he is jobless so the state is paying his rent, but he doesn't live in the Obdachlosenheim. He does work however at a 1€ job.

We immediately connected because I was just in Thailand for 6 weeks visiting my girlfriend. But he actually lived and worked in Thailand. He did everything from working in rice fields and picking fruit to owning and operating a bar. He even lived of the land for a while, growing most of his own food. He said in Thailand they just have a different way of understanding the world. He said they don't have so many rules and restrictions, they know other things are more important. And if you want to start a business you just do. It was interesting to hear him talk about it.

We also talked about my intervention in the garden project. I think these kinds of conversations are really important. It is like my previous work Snow Globe (the camera obscura) that was installed in schools. Sure people could just interact with the installation, but I don't think it was complete without the conversations.

We were the last two to leave.


May 6, 2008
The last couple of weeks I lost my focus. I have the opportunity to do some more wheat field interventions through the Entante Floral which is taking place in Weimar this year. I tried to make it into a big thing and it blew up in my face. It has been consuming to much of my time and energy. But more importantly what I am doing is a simple gesture and I forgot that. The good thing is I set up things at the Obdachlosenheim well and spent a lot of time developing good relationships so things are still going good there.

It has been a few weeks since I wrote in the journal, so I will try to recap what has happened. Saturday 26 April was another good day in the garden. We continued planting potatoes. I was really glad to see Marcel there again. I think we got about 2/3 of the potatoes planted now. Maybe we will finish this coming weekend. I wasn't there on 3 May, it was a long weekend and I went out of town.

On 26 April I took some dirt and seeds with me, and on the way home I stopped at Galerie Eigenheim (one of the place I hope to do another wheat field intervention). There I met a couple of really cool artists, Thomas and Elad. Thomas is German and he works at the Gallery and Elad is Israeli and is a painter and an exchange student at the Bauhaus. We had a really great conversation about art and society. Thomas talked about an artist/activist in the Netherlands that he interned with. The artist created a foundation that is set up in its charter to last until the year 3000. We found it fascinating that people are thinking and working on that kind of time scale. I had this interesting thought, maybe someday it will be common place to think on such a time scale. I made the analogy that 3000 years ago only a few people were thinking with numbers, but today it is common place.

The concepts and metaphors that we use to understand the world are mental tools, and they evolve with time, they adapt to our environment and our needs. Our way of understanding the world is always changing, and I hope with this project to influence that change by creating a new metaphor with which to understand the world, one that focuses on connections instead of competition, and reminds us of our shared humanity. I don't think I can change the whole world with my one little project, but I do think it is important because it is the sum of many small acts that creates a movement. And I am not the only one, check out this link that Daniel Thompson from Galerie Eigenheim sent me today...

...and then the two links I found from there... ;

So anyway, after our deep philosophical discusion about art and society, I went home and planted some wheat. I used egg crates that I got from Galerie Eigenheim as planters. Because the soil was so shallow it dries our really quickly, so I had to water it a couple times a day. I put it outside on the balcony but then it dried out quicker. After about a week I was getting worried because I hadn't seen any sprouts yet. On Friday morning when I left for the weekend there was still nothing. But when I got back Sunday night I was surprised by lots of little green! Some of the plants were over 5 cm tall. And today only three days later some are over 15 cm tall!

The roots are coming out the bottom of the egg crates so I started transplanting the wheat into slightly bigger pots. I'm not exactly sure what I will do with these things. Maybe leave them in small pots and exhibit them in the gallery or on the Marktplatz for this possible exhibition. Maybe I'll plant them somewhere. Or maybe I'll sell them as art! Only 5€ each. Get them while supplies last!

The other big news is that I started working at the Bio-Hof stand on the Marktplatz. This is the other half of my thesis work. The other community that I am bringing together through the shared interest in gardening. I will work at the stand every Tuesday morning until July. I was going to hand out fliers asking for participants in the community garden, but I decided it was to soon to do it on my first day. I need to spend time with the community, get to know them, build trust, like I have for the past 2 months with the Obdachlosenheim.

Besides over sleeping and being late it was a good day. I didn't really do much but I did learn how to run the register. And everybody playfully teased me about being late, asked if I need an alarm clock, etc. So I think I am off to a good start because they say people only tease you if they like you.


May 7, 2008
I went to the Obdachlosenheim today for the weekly team meeting of the employees. Antonio was great. Kevin didn't tell him I was coming but I was still welcomed and they were glad to see me. Then later during the meeting he made a comment about how well I have integrated into the community there. He said he could tell because I have a nickname, "der Amerikaner." It really reminded me how important relationships are. And it really made me happy that I have developed a good relationship with the people at the Obdachlosenheim over the past couple of months. Now I have my focus back.

  May 18, 2008
Yesterday I finally got back in the garden after two weeks off because of holiday weekends. I noticed how many things had happened while I was gone. The residents work in the garden when ever they want, not just on Saturdays during the community work days. It reminded me that this is a bigger project than just me and what I am doing.

I feel really humbled this weekend. Today we met for breakfast and went to the garden market on the Marktplatz. Something about seeing so many people crowded on the market who are all buying plants and growing gardens at home, and so many businesses selling plants from their farm or greenhouse. I don't know what it was... I think maybe sort of realizing that the world doesn't revolve around me, which sounds kind stupid, like duh most people realize that at about 6 years old, but being so busy all the time with my own stuff I guess I tend to slip back into this self-centered frame of mind. I think I have been in that self-centered frame of mind for years. Or maybe I never really learned how to be a part of a group. That is something that I am learning from doing this project. That is something I am learning from the Homeless Home residents. The things don't revolve around me but they are glad to have me be a part of it.

This project really isn't easy for me, but it is maybe just what I need.

Saturday I told the group about the idea of my art project and my intentions to harvest the wheat and bake bread together with them at the end of my project. I had talked with people casually already but this was the first time announcing it in front of the group. I also asked the group if it would be okay if I invite people to come to the garden with me. They was okay with the ideas. So it seems like the next phase of my project will begin. Making the bridge.

  May 19, 2008
I've been thinking lately about if and how to translate/present this project in the space of a gallery. Or more just how other mediums might be useful in reaching people. I'm thinking more and more that it makes sense to use something like painting or photography to create a representation of the whole project, to remind people of what we did long after it is all over. I think that form, a two dimensional visual medium, is one that people are very accustomed to can more easily understand.

So my idea, since we are going to bake bread at the end, is to make paintings or photographs of loafs of bread. So I started taking photos of the bread that I buy. I plan to take pictures of every loaf I eat until the project is over. But it is just the beginning of an idea now. We will see.

When thinking about bread I remembered that one of the past MFA students did a project with loafs of bread spelling a word. I will have to look it up and see if it relates on more than just a superficial level. That also reminds me, recently I did an internet search for "wheat field art project" and found out that Agnes Denes planted a wheat field in New York City in 1982. I was pretty excited because one text I read talked about how it was a contradiction for people to see a wheat field in New York. It is like what I am saying about my wheat field, it makes you do a double take, and start to ask why, what is the meaning. For Denes it was about "human values and misplaced priorities" [source] . For me it is about valuing humans and the humanity in every human and the illusion of social hierarchy.

The text even talked about how the wheat field doesn't make economic sense because the land is so valuable. That is interesting because I have said before that growing such a small plot of wheat doesn't make economic sense. It is this contradiction, this recontextualization of the wheat that gives it meaning as a symbol and on a metaphorical level.

  May 25, 2008
Yesterday was interesting at the Obdachlosenheim. The morning started out great with a discusion about the meaning of my wheat field and of art in general. What I tried to tell them was that all art creates symbolism and metaphor and meaning which allows us to understand the world. And even the abstract art that they don't "understand" is shaping the way they understand the world because it reinforces elitism, classism, and the social hierarchy that puts them at the bottom. It doesn't matter if that is the actually text of the work, the subtext of an artwork always reflects a particular world view, and in that sense all art is political.

Because the dominant culture and predominate context is one of oppression, we live in an oppressive society, for me it is always important to deal with these issues. If my political stance as an artist was in support of the current oppressive system then I could just tacitly support the current system by not addressing the issues and instead engage in aesthetic masturbation (a.k.a. modernism, abstract expressionism, post-modernism, etc).

Only in the past couple of years have I consciously worked with this theme in my art. The first time where I was really conscious of it was the Snow Globe project. But what really caught me off guard was when I presented the project back to my colleagues. Their reaction was, as one classmate bluntly put it afterwards, "They didn't think it was art."

It is funny because I am always harping on my classmates in the Public Art Masters Program about who is your audience, WHO IS YOUR PUBLIC? But when it comes time to present my work to the "Art World" I forget to ask myself who my audience is in that context. So I present to them as if they were the same audience as the public for whom my work is intended. I fail to translate the work into the "Art World" context.

So the places that I choose to exhibit my work as I develop my career as an artist will be very important if I want to continue to model a different world view. Not that I have to avoid mainstream institutions, but I need to be aware of the context because that context could overpower the intended meaning of my work. So I have to be aware of the context and figure out ways to contradict it so that I don't just become a tacit supporter of the status quo.

I had this idea yesterday to create something at the end of this project to hang on the walls of the Kontaktstube (the community room), but not for me to pick out what I think are some nice photos from the summer and print them and hang them on the wall, instead I want to decide democratically through dialogue and consensus with those who are involved which pictures they like. I would also like to pick some quote or saying about wheat or bread or humanity etc. (or write my own) and have it printed on a plaque or something. They already have one such plaque hanging on the wall next to some photos, so I thought it seems to fit really well aesthetically into this context.

After breakfast things when a little differently. Kevin and I ended up being the only ones in the garden. We talked about how to motivate people. I think you need a clearly defined goal, and you need to know how you will reach that goal and know/feel that it is possible to reach the goal, and then with these two things people will have the motivation to execute what needs to be done they will have to discipline. discipline is delayed gratification and the best way to delay gratification is to know that in the end you will get something even better (clearly defined goal) and know that it is possible to get there and how it is possible to do it, and then discipline is no longer some kind of painful thing.

If it's not fun, I don't want to do it.

Even though there wasn't much help in the garden I did have some great interactions with Peter and Minos. I feel a lot more comfortable around them than in the beginning. I feel like I can just interact with them like normal people and I don't get weird. And I realized what my nickname is. They call me "Made in the USA."

on the bio hof... I need to write about what I have been doing with the bio hof and about the wheat on the markt platz...

and maybe about the parallel wheat installations as an answer to the eternal question from Schevelka, and how will you make money, what will you put in the gallery etc. The parallel projects as a epilogue text to my thesis about how to take the ideas developed in my thesis and translate them into other contexts etc.

So, there is something I haven't really written about until now because it is outside of the scope of my thesis proposal... I've been moonlighting my wheat field installation idea as a project for the Entente Florale. To be honest that is where I've been spending most of my time lately. I didn't want to write about it because it is actually a second project, but now I figured out how I want to weave it into my thesis. I think of it as a kind of epilogue or appendix to my thesis, as an answer to the eternal question from Karl Shavelka: and how will you make money, what will you put in the gallery or art show? This is how. I have done it already.

Sehr geehrter Herr Kernatsch,

Gerne informiere ich Sie hiermit über mein geplantes Projekt. In diesem beabsichtige ich Weizen auf dem Marktplatz und andere Ort in Weimar zu pflanzen, danach zu ernten und daraus Brot zu backen. Einerseits ergibt dies natürlich keinen Sinn, da Brot billig zu kaufen ist. Andererseits ist dies ein symbolischer Akt, den ich zum Ausdruck bringen möchte.

Brot ist ein Grundnahrungsmittel. Der Weizen ist dadurch ein Symbol der Verbindung zwischen jedem Menschen, da wir alle Nahrung benötigen. Weizen ist aber auch ein Symbol von sozialer Hierarchie. Soziale Hierarchie kommt von Zivilisation und Arbeitsteilung, dies wiederum kommt von Landwirtschaft - Landwirtschaft entstand durch Kultivierung des Weizens. Mein Ziel ist es nun Weizen als Symbol zu benutzen. Ich versuche uns daran zu erinnern wie soziale Hierarchie aufgebaut ist, dass sie nur eine Illusion ist und niemand von Natur aus besser oder schlechter ist als andere.

Nicht nur soziale Hierarchie steht in Verbindung mit der Kultivierung des Weizens, sondern auch der Marktplatz. Durch die Landwirtschaft entsteht Mehrwert und mit dem Mehrwert kommt der Handel auf den Marktplatz. Aus diesen Gründen habe ich mich für diesen Ort entschieden. Im Weiteren sehe ich eine ideale Verbindung zum Weizenfeld, welches ich zurzeit im Obdachlosenheim, im Schulgarten der Wielandschule, und hoffentlich auch bald im Hotel Elephant realisiere. Damit wären in das Projekt Menschen verschiedenster Gesellschaftsgruppen einbezogen.

Ich würde auf dem Gelände des Hotel Elephant nur ein kleines Beet Weizen oder Töpfe mit Weizen, beispielsweise auf der Terrasse, pflanzen – als Kunstinstallation. Ich habe gehört, dass Herr Fabbri Anhänger der Slow Food Bewegung ist und denke daher, dass eine Zusammenarbeit sowohl für ihn, als auch für mich spannend sein könnte.

Für Ihre Bemühungen und Ihre positive Rückmeldung bedanke ich mich sehr und verbleibe

Mit freundlichen Grüßen


Jesse Hemminger

A wheat field can be recontextualized into a variety of contexts.

  May 31, 2008
Today was another difficult day at the Obdachlosenheim garden. It ended up being just me and one of the student interns in the garden. A lot of the residents were totally unmotivated to work in the garden, and extremely drunk. But I did notice one thing that some people were motivated to do. A couple of guys worked hard spreading out dirt in the flower field. And I think I understand why. They were motivated because they had a very clearly defined goal (move this dirt from here to there and spread it out) and it was clear how to reach the goal (with a shovel and rake, one wheel barrel at a time) and it was clear that the goal was reachable (there wasn't an overwhelming amount of dirt).

But the goal of the garden is not so clear. And the garden is really large, a bit overwhelming to think about how we are going to keep it all weeded, how will we harvest it all, and what will we do with it when we harvest it? Who is going to eat all those potatoes? We already have tons of Schnittlauch (chives) that have flowered and gone to seed because no one harvested them. And they have been ripe for weeks or more and we have not once had them to eat at lunch at the garden project.

Okay, enough bitching, my point is we can organize this in a way so that people are more motivated to be involved in the garden. I think this is a great opportunity for me to learn how to work with groups. My thinking is that when people meet, for it to be successful, it is really important that we define a clear goal. Maybe that gets redefined many times in the life of a group, but if the clear goal is lost the group loses direction, people lose motivation and the group falls apart.

  June 3, 2008
I'm really exhausted. I feel like I don't want to do this anymore. I think I am really afraid. Afraid to make noise, to be heard, to speak up. I'm afraid no one will listen, no one will show up if I try to organize a meeting or discusion. But if I don't speak up then it is sure that no one will hear me and if I don't tell anyone no one will show up.

I think that even if I don't get anyone from the bio-community to come up to the Obdachlosenheim I think that the installation at the Obdachlosenheim is still largely for the non residents, the people like me. Because even if they never see it they hear about it when I discuss the project with them. They experience the installation on the Marktplatz and then imagine the Obdachlosenheim installation and in their minds relate the two.

But I will still try to bring people to the Obdachlosenheim garden. I think just like in the Obdachlosenheim it is taking time to build trust within the community and I have only been at the bio-stand 4 or times.

  June 7, 2008
In the shower I just had what might be a breakthrough idea for my project. I'm sure that I've heard this idea somewhere but I'm not sure where. Anyway, I thought why not use the metaphor of theater to structure and organize the participatory aspect of the project? It is perfect! I have for the last several years talked about how in my work I take on these different roles. For example in my Robot Ice Carver for the Art Shanty projects I played the role of crazy inventor. In that project there was definitely a theatrical sense to it. In Snow Globe I took on many roles as different teachers of different subjects. And in this project I seem to be taking on the role of farmer or gardener. The departure that this project makes from my past work is that unlike my past work it requires the active participation of others. The big question that came up at the presentation of the work in progress last week was that it wasn't at all clear how people were expected to participate, what was the participants' role?

participatory performance art. on monday we perform the cutting, for that act we need the following roles... on tuesday we perform... etc...

Until now I have been thinking of it in terms of what needs to get done and how can I get people to participate and do those things. But that just didn't seem right. I makes much more sense to come at it from the other side. Who are the actors in this drama. What are the parts that need to be filled. To come at it from the human side. Figure out the roles that play in this drama, and then think about how do each of these roles act, what do they do.

So instead of say okay we need to harvest the wheat, who will do that? we need to mill the flour, who will do that? we need to bake the bread, who will do that? instead I say okay, we need a farmer, who wants to play that role? we need a miller, who wants to play that role? we need a baker, who wants play that role? we need towns folk/citizens, merchants, pesants, who wants to play those roles? we need a king, who wants to play that role?

The great thing about thinking in terms of roles that need to be filled is that someone has to play the role of the king just like all the other roles. It is simply a role that needs to be filled in order for the whole system to work. It doesn't mean that the person who plays the king is any better than anyone else, or more valuable than anyone else. Social hierarchy is also a set of different roles that people play, it has nothing to do with how good of a human we are, but it always obscures our humanity.

But I don't think that hierarchy's are inherently bad. I think that using them to say that one class of people is better than another or worth more than another is bad. Without hierarchies we would not be able to organize and manage anything that involved more than a few people. The problem comes in when we forget that the role of leader is just another role no better no worse, not more or less important than the role of the lowest worker or any other role.

  June 21, 2008
I didn't go to the garden today because I am in the USA for my cousin's wedding. But I am kind of relieved. The last month has been extremely difficult. Last Saturday, June 14th, was just more of the same. Me in the garden mostly alone, other people coming and going but not really sticking to it or seeming that interested. But the worst part was the fighting. I literally had to physically restrain somebody who attacked someone else. There was shouting, shoving, hitting and hair pulling. It feels like things are just getting worse and worse.

The thing about community art is that it requires interacting with a community. I have lost my self confidence and I am in no state to do that. I just want to shrink away and hide from everyone. I feel small. It is hard enough for me to deal with one community at the Obdachlosenheim, let alone a second at the bio-stand especially since the bio-stand is not an organized community and working with them would require me to lead and organize and bring them together. I don't have the strength or self confidence for that right now. I came into this semester in a bad way, feeling completely depressed and unconfident and unsure of myself, and I never really found the help I needed to get over that.

I feel like I just want to cut my loses and reduce things to something that I can handle. I don't know what that means. Maybe just doing something simple? Working with people I already know? I can't imagine bringing these two communities together. I am paralyzed with fear. I feel like I can't do it.

But I already said I would, so I guess I have to finish what I started.

  June 26, 2008
Well the meeting with the Obdachlosen today went well. The food was great. I made dinner for them. I had some problems getting them to be quite and listen to my project proposal, but I just waited quietly and some of the other people who were interested told those who were talked to be quite. Well that is putting it nicely, they shouted at them to shut the hell up or get the hell out and if they didn't leave they would literally kick them out. And I believe them, the last Saturday that I was at the Obdachlosenheim garten someone was drunk in the Kontaktstube and they told her to leave. When she kept coming back and refused to leave a fight broke out, complete with hitting and hair pulling. I had to help one of the social workers hold someone back. It was pretty terrifying. It was so hard for me to see I just about gave up on the whole thing. My parents never hit each other but they had really bad shouting matches. I could never get them to stop, and eventually they split up when I was 8. Now I have a huge fear of conflict. I guess my 8 year old brain figured it was his fault that my parents separated. And even though I know now rationally as an adult that it had nothing to do with me, I still react to these kinds of situations with my 8 year old self. I become powerless.

This sounds familiar. I wrote basically the same thing in a paper for class last semester. This is a general theme in my life, I am stuck in the past. There are so many tramas that happened to me that I never fully processed. I never had the tools or resources or support to do so before. I think I am starting to work through stuff since a few years now, but I guess growing up or just growing is a slow processes.

Anyway, as I was saying the meeting went well. While everybody was actually sitting at the table eating I took the opportunity to talk about my project. I prepared a little summary answering the "6 W-Questions." In English it is the 5 W's plus How, but in German "how" is "wie" so it is the 6 W's.

What: Wheat Wisdom community art project
Who: You
Where: Homeless home
When: August
How: Together
Why: The humanity in every human to see and remember.

Then I went into more details, and explained the different rolls that I needed people to play in the project.

But what does Wheat Wisdom community art project mean? It means harvesting, backing, and eating together.

And which roles do I want you to play?
Sensenmann [scythe man, a.k.a. Grim Reaper, that got a big laugh]
Drescher [thrasher]
Müller [miller, the person who grinds flour]
Bäcker [backer]

That went over great and people volunteered for most of the positions. I reminded them that even though we have one or two people taking the lead in each role, we will all help out. The organizing into roles is just to help us work more efficiently as a group and no one is more important than anyone else.

Then I told them there is one more role, the leader, and that since it is my thesis project it makes sense for me to be the leader. Then I talked a little bit about what I think it means to be the leader. I said that my experience with the social hierarchy in our society was always that those who are above oppress those who are below, and I grew up at the bottom of the hierarchy. And that always made me feel bad about myself. Now I am going to University and I am probably more in the middle, but I still feel bad because I don't want to oppress other people. I am afraid to be a leader because my experience has always been that leaders oppress the followers, and I don't want to do that.

But, I told them, I know it doesn't have to be like that. In order to work efficiently as a group it helps to have someone organizing things and making decisions, it helps to have a leader. But being a leader is simply another role that someone can play in a group. It has nothing to do with how good we are as people. We are all equal, we are all human beings, and that is the theme of my project, to remember to see the humanity in every human.

So, they agreed that I would be the leader, but that it doesn't mean that anyone is more or less valuable than anyone else. And then something really sweet happened. They said thank you, but not just the usually thank you that you automatically say to people all the time. They really stop and said how much they appreciated that I cooked for them, and how good the food was. And they said they want to cook a real German meal for me since I cook an American meal for them. So we agreed that in October after my Thesis Defense we will have a German dinner to celebrate being finished with my studies.


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