Wheat Project / Weizen Projekt
This is my thesis project for my MFA in Public Art at the Bauhaus University Weimar. Here is the thesis proposal which I submitted. As with any project it is subject to change. For the current concept keep an eye on the overview and for my activities at the garden check out the blog.
The Art of Community:
Finding common ground through organic gardening
It is my intention to work with two diverse communities that are involved with gardening and through an artistic manifestation point out how they are related to one another. The two communities are, the gardening community at Obdachlosenheim Weimar and the community around the Bio-Hof Burgwenden.
The homeless people in Weimar are literally marginalized. The homeless shelter is located on the edge of town. Out of sight out of mind. I will research a solution to this problem of marginalization through finding common ground between the homeless shelter residents and citizens in Weimar. Not all of the citizens, but a group of them who share a common interest in vegetable gardening. I propose to create a bridge from the Obdachlosenheim Weimar back to a part of the larger community.
Every Tuesday and Friday on the Marktplatz in Weimar the Bio-Hof Burgwenden stand can be found selling a variety of vegetables and other organic products. Over the past year I have gotten to know the owner Eckhard and some of the community that surrounds the Bio-Hof. I have noticed that a lot of people are very loyal to the Bio-Hof, both customers and volunteers helping out at the stand. Most customers know Eckhard by name and engage him in personal conversation. Even though they could get organic vegetables cheaper elsewhere, they come back week after week. The volunteers receive a few free vegetables, but they are obviously also there week after week for some non-monetary reason. The volunteers and customers have a shared value in having a direct connection to the production of their food and value that the production is done in a natural, organic, and sustainable way.
For these reasons (my connection to the Bio-Hof community and these shared values) I will focus on this community to relate to the homeless shelter community through gardening. I will organize with the Homeless shelter a garden workday. I have already spoken with the homeless shelter about this possibility and Saturdays starting at the beginning of April would be possible. I will invite and facilitate the participation of people from the community around the Bio-Hof. After working together in the morning everyone will be invited to prepare and eat lunch together. Later in the season we will be able to eat food from the garden itself, further increasing the feelings of sharing and common interest.
My topic is generally speaking "Public Art." For me that means working with a group of people to create some kind of representation of that group, an aspect of the group or something related to it, and presenting that representation back to that group so that they can better understand themselves and the world around them through a process of critical self reflection. I did this in my previous work such as the Snow Globe project, in which the group was the students at each school, the thing being represented was the process of internalization, the representation was the camera obscura like object, and the critical self-reflection took place in discussions, activities and exchanges with the students.
In this project the group is the combination of the Obdachlosenheim and Bio-Hof communities, the thing represented is their connection (common ground), the representation is in the gardening together, and the critical self-reflection takes place in the activities, interactions and discussions. The process of communication, planting, growing and harvesting, exchange of experience is the artwork.
In talking about this process of self reflection I will make references to The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck and his ideas about "maps" that we create in our minds which need to be continually checked, tested, and updated. I will also reference the works of James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson as examples of works that bring the viewer to a point of contradiction which leads to self reflection and updating ones map in order to alleviate the contradiction. James Turrell references will include his interviews as well as the text on the PBS Art:21 special, Richard Andrews book James Turrell, and Craig Adcock's book James Turrell, the art of light and space. I will also research the works of Thomas Hirschorn (especially his work in Kassel, documenta 11), Martha Rossler, Mario Leiner.
Other theoretical texts will include:
- Mika Hannula, Everything or Nothing, and The Polotics of Small Gestures
- Kunstforum 145, Künstler als Gärtner
- Barbara Nemitz, Der Künstlergärten
- Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces
- Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope, and Pedagogy of the Oppressed
My methodology will include interacting with the people of the Bio-Hof community by getting involved through volunteering, working, and hanging out around the vegetable stand on the Market Plaza and the Bio-Hof in Burgwenden (this has to a large extent already begun). I will also ask Eckhard to introduce me to people in the community. Once I have developed some trust I will ask people to meet me for coffee/tea, and maybe with enough trust organize a community potluck dinner. In these more intimate encounters I will discuss what I am doing, why I am doing it, which I hope will lead into a discussion of values, morals, and beliefs in relation to the Bio-Hof and what it represents for people.
My strategy for interacting with the Obdachlosenheim is to get involved by volunteering and working at the Obdachlosenheim, particularly in the garden. I will set up a regular schedule for when I go to the Obdachlosenheim. I think the structure of a regular schedule is important. I will also ask the staff to introduce me to some of the residents. I will build trust and I will develop an understanding of the community.
After developing trust and understanding for these communities I will bring them together through the Obdachlosenheim garden activities.