This is from an article I have in this morningâ€™s Observer magazine:
Flicking through a history of community gardening in America, Amy Franceschini discovered that between 1941 and 1943, 20 million Americans took part in the Victory Gardens programme, an initiative created to feed the nation during wartime.
â€œI was thinking, when have 20 million Americans ever participated on that scale besides sports – or shopping?â€ says Amy, nursing a cup of green tea in her studio, an expansive floor of a former warehouse. â€œAnd San Francisco was the most successful place for Victory Gardens. They took it on massively here.â€
In a local newspaper she found a photo dated 18 April 1943. There, in front of the august neo-classical pillars and dome of the San Francisco City Hall, were row upon row of vegetables. â€œAnd I thought, â€˜We have to have a garden in front of city hall again.â€™â€[…]
â€œWhat artists do is seed things. They plant ideas,â€ says Michaela Crimmin, head of the RSA Arts and Ecology Centre. Which maybe explains why these cheap, relatively small-scale projects like Franceschiniâ€™s can have such an influence.
Harvesting food as art is growing in the UK, too. Patrick Brill – otherwise known as the artist Bob and Roberta Smith – currently features as one of the new generation of â€œAltermodernâ€ artists at Tate Britain. In 2007, he created a work called The Really Super Market in Middlesbrough. Encouraging local gardeners, schoolchildren and farmers to grow vegetables, they turned the town centre into a giant farmerâ€™s market for a day, an event that culminated in a community cook-in.
The idea took root. This summer, in east Londonâ€™s Gunpowder Park, artists Amy Plant and Ella Gibbs are running a ramshackle Energy CafÃ©, using only renewable resources to cook organic food foraged locally, or supplied from within a six-mile radius.
Turner prize-winner Jeremy Deller initiated a 10-year project in Munster, in Germany, in 2007, giving all the gardeners on a community plot a large leather-bound diary in which to record their notes – whatever they wanted to write. In exchange for their participation, Deller handed each an envelope containing seeds of the dove tree. When planted, the trees should flower for the first time at around the point the project comes to fruition, at which time Deller will collect the diaries and put them in a library. â€œThe gardens are a vernacular art work in their own right,â€ says Deller. â€œTheyâ€™re homemade and made up as they go along. The people that tend them are thinking about colour and form.â€
Meanwhile, for the past nine years, the artists Heather and Ivan Morison have been working on a garden and woodland in Wales – originally a community garden plot developed as a conscious echo of Derek Jarmanâ€™s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness. (Jarman, of course, was another artist who helped change the way we think about gardens.)
The rest is here.
Go to RSA Arts & Ecology