There are a variety of formats for agricultural design, and a variety of materials for visual art. At the intersection of the two is farm art, environmentally based creations that allow farmers, viewers and visitors to interact with farmland in new ways.
Site and crop selection are often driving forces behind agricultural designs, but along with functionality, the organisation of farm crops has an aesthetic craftsmanship. The organic, flowing design of rice paddies in China, Japan and Indonesia, and the geometric symmetry of corn rows in the United States are just two examples of visual layouts on farms.
When a farmer or organisation actively plants, tends to and alters the land in a way that is intentionally visual, or invites artists to do so, the results can be monumental.
Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., created the piece Eleven Minute Line at the Wanås Art Farm in Sweden. Modern Farmer tells us that Eleven Minute Line is ‘a piece that she placed purposefully out of public view, but is accessible to the cows’.
Wanås is an organisation that includes farmlands, forests, a castle, and community art initiatives that invite children and engage thousands. Their site explains that their estate ‘is involved in forestry and agriculture, hunting, and property management. The estate is Skåne’s largest producer of organic milk. The forest land of about 3000 hectares has been managed according to sustainable principles for more than 100 years and is today certified as organic by FSC’.
The massive art that farmers create with the plants they cultivate is often best viewed aerially. In Japan, there is a tradition of modifying rice paddies to create images, whereby rice saplings are used to create a three-dimensional effect. There are numerous field artworks in the Inakadate Village in Japan. The 2015 theme for their rice art was Star Wars, and the works are viewable by shuttle car tours.
Woodland Farm, in Kentucky, contains several art installations, too. Stan Herd’s work with Minneapolis Institute of Art is a colourful recreation of Van Gogh’s Olive Trees. The Colossal art site tells us that he ‘plans to mow it down in concentric circles similar to the Dutch artist’s iconic painting style’. Herd’s current project, in Sao Paulo, is in cooperation with Green My Favela, which strives to create more green spaces in Brazil’s slums.
Herd’s site shares that this project ‘would create an image consisting of dozens of garden and planting beds, connected by pathways, created out of recycled materials, with the help of local artists, school children, gardeners and students from nearby universities’.
Vertical gardening projects, like those by creative botanist Patrick Blanc, often have an artistic sensibility.
Art encourages people to interact with and perceive their environment in new and sometimes more appreciative ways. Charles Wachtmeister, CEO of the Wanås Estate, credits collaborating with artists as a primary factor that inspired the farm to go organic.
While shining a new light on artistically designed and farmed land, these projects draw attention to the magnitude of the undertaking of agriculture, and its potential for beauty as well as invaluable service.