Agnes Denes, a woman’s touch: confrontation, land and resources

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By Asmita Sarkar

Agnes Denes is an artist of legendary status, who first married together conceptual and environmental art. She is a Hungarian born and New York based artist, who is the forerunner of environmental art movement.

Let’s see what conceptual art means. Conceptual artist does not emphasize on one single object of art, but their main concern is the message that their work carries. Sometimes they do not even make a work, but create a situation that forces the audience to think deeply. The experience that conceptual artists create can be unnerving and threatening. Easy to see why themes of environment and ecology is a  favourite among conceptual artists.

Among the many interesting things that surround Denes, is that  many observers point out the fact that she is a woman and she explores the environment from the point of view which is very different than the relationship between ‘men’ and environment. It has been speculated that women perceive and utilize the environment differently than men. For women the relationship is more symbiotic and nurturing, while for the later the relationship is that of exploration or conquest.

FOCUS: what is Land Art and why is it so eco-friendly?

Gross over simplification: not everyone will agree. But some of these ideas do ring true in Agnes Denes works.

She is a pioneer of land art and her practice involves planting seeds in derelict wasteland of cities and towns, writing poems and placing it underground as a way of communicating with nature, making living sculptures with trees that she plants. Making sculptures and drawings that comment on themes of ecology and environment are also part of the practice of this visionary artist.

Let us see some of her land art closely. Wheatfield, a Confrontation (1982) is the most known transitory piece of land art. This project took place in Manhattan, Battery Park City landfill. In this urban wasteland surrounded by Industrial building, she planted wheat. Upon their maturity the field turned golden, creating a spectacular visual appeal. You can see the pictures documented in several galleries and on her website. But eye witness accounts of this project tell us about the sublime effect of the contrast between concrete infrastructure and the golden field.

The sculptures that she displays in gallery spaces are also evocative of environmental themes. In her pyramid of conscience she installed elegant glass cubes, each containing polluted water, purified water and crude oils. The rising problems of scarcity of clean water, global politics around oil and basic human needs are reflected in them. Drinking water and oil, two resources that will determine the future of our civilization, has been displayed in a series of mystic sculpture.

Tree Mountain–A Living Time Capsule is another highly symbolic project conceived by Agnes Denes.

In 1982, 11,000 people planted 11,000 trees on an artificial mountain near Ylöjärvi, in western Finland forming a mathematical pattern based on the golden section. A man-made virgin forest, which is legally protected for the next 400 years.

Agnes Denes’s works are elegant and thought provoking. Looking at her work will make you think seriously about the relationship between humans and nature.

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