Aesthetics of care

by hannesfrykholmuma



I am deeply fascinated by Agnes Denes project Wheatfield, a Confrontation, as presented in Peg Rawes text “Architectural ecologies of care”.[1] Having said so, it is impossible to deny that it is the images of the project that fascinates me. Everything else is gone by now. The wheat is harvested, the tools returned to a farm somewhere in upstate New York, the volunteers have gone back to art school and most likely graduated by now, the adjacent World Trade Center buildings have tragically collapsed, and the landfill has been turned into real estate projects with sheets of asphalt or astroturf rolled out over the interstitial spaces between all the new stuff. What remains are the digitalized images. Yet, as Pew Rawes notes, the resonance that the project had “is evidence that aesthetic ecologies are oscillating social, environmental and mental relations.”[2] There is an immediate compelling power in the images of the project, as Agnes Denes stands in a field of wheat with the World Trade Center as a backdrop. Wheatfield can be seen as an ephemeral, full-scale montage that questions the spatiotemporal partitions between food distribution and the global economy through the production of an immediate juxtaposition between these different worlds.

There is aesthetics at work here. It is interesting to consider Peg Rawes reading of the aesthetics of care in this project, perhaps more so than in the artist’s own statement of the work operating on a symbolic level as an obstruction of real estate value or as an attempt to highlight global issues concerning hunger or inequalities.[3] Rawes convincingly argues how Bateson, Guattari and Spinoza all consider aesthetics as deeply intertwined with the care and wellbeing of others, both human and non-human substances.

Following Rawes reading of Guattari’s transversal thinking, Wheatfield can be seen as an “ethical re-integration of repressed other natures (both anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric) into traditional and advanced technologies and scientific realms.”[4] Central in this understanding of aesthetics is the production of difference in an ongoing process of re-singularization. We recognize here Guattari’s call for heterogeneous struggle as something that does not require the constant homogenization of different scales and practices, but instead urges for us to become at the same time “more united and increasingly different”.[5] The aesthetics of Denes work is therefore not only a visual juxtaposition of different objects and things, but also aesthetical in the meaning that it introduces a set of sensorial and temporal conditions that are usually kept apart. For example there is the sound of the wind blowing in the wheat field next to the noise of the traffic, the slow growth cycle of the crop next to the high pace trading of the stock exchange, the amber color of the wheat next to the concrete and glass nuances of the high rises, etc. All of these aspects are part of the aesthetics of care in the sense that they introduce a specific sensorium with a number of “voices” new to a particular milieu. In other words, the aesthetics opens up for difference.

Hannes Frykholm

[1] Peg Rawes, “Architectural Ecologies of Care,” in Relational Architectural Ecologies: Architecture, Nature and Subjectivity, ed. Peg Rawes (London: Taylor & Francis, 2013).

[2] Ibid., 46.

[3] Ibid., 41.

[4] Ibid., 49.

[5] Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (London: Athlone Press, 2000), 45.