A piece to make you close your eyes and think of the warm breeze of summer and the sound of flattering leaves: Wheatfield – A Confrontation, by Agnes Denes, is now more relevant than ever, in the wake of climate change and the dramatic depravation of the Ukranian soil. The landfill Denes planted in front of the Twin Towers – fascinating and glooming to remember – simultaneously comment on the world’s economy and the state of the earth itself. Surreal and universal, this emblematic piece of concept-based art makes as well a statement about power, and how it produces not only goods, but also starvation and suffering, both of humans and nature. Wheatfield – A Confrontation, which the scholar and curator Jeffrey Weiss has called “perpetually astonishing . . . one of Land Art's great transgressive masterpieces” (Artforum, September 2008), is perhaps Denes’s best-known work. It was created during a four-month period in the spring and summer of 1982, in the late period of the Cold War. Born in Hungary and educated in the United States, Denes uncategorizable artwork and act of reclamation gives back, perpetually, space to nature.
Raj Patel on Food Rebellions
Where do we stand in terms of world hunger?
We stand in a dire place. It could be that 2019 was as close as humanity ever got to ending hunger under capitalism. In 2019, 650 million people were undernourished, which means 2100 calories per person per day for a year – about 8.4% of the global population. This number has gone up and made worse by Covid and the connected recessions. Because of the situation in Ukraine, things are set to be getting worse. In 2022, we will be up to 830 million people who are undernourished.
What is the short-term influence of the war in Ukraine on that situation?
There are several aspects to this. Whenever there is a massive refugee population, you are having people in the immediate vicinity running out of food. Then, there are reports of Russians mining the fields, so that new planting of food can't happen. And there are reports of the Black Sea also being mined, so that food shipments can't come out – Mariupol for example is a major port for the export of grain.
What is the global ripple-effect?
It’s pretty bad. Forty percent of the grain that the world food program buys comes from Ukraine. The very organization that in ordinary times might be called upon to provide for the Ukraine populations itself, now is hostage to world food prices in a way where it cannot access its usual suppliers for this kind of grain. The consequences are manifold: North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and bits of Asia will have massive problems because their supply lines are being disrupted.