AgriCULTURE: Art Inspired by the Land looks at the many intersections between art and agriculture, helping viewers create new connections to farms and farming in Boulder County, Colorado.
Colorado-based sculptor Nicole Banowetz is a perfect example of what happens when you pair an artist with a farmer and ask them to exchange ideas on visually expressing the importance of agriculture in our daily lives. Banowetz teamed with Esoterra Culinary Garden and took a deep dive into soil microbiomes and regeneration. The result is her ceiling-high and room-wide inflatable “creatures” made of white and gold fabric that shimmy and squirm, whimsically summoning ideas on underground ecosystems.
Biophilic Regeneration Series: Terra Module is featured through January 7, 2024, at the Longmont Museum in Longmont, Colorado, one of two Boulder County museums participating in an impressive collaborative project called agriCULTURE: Art Inspired by the Land. The exhibitions in Longmont and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (through October 1, 2023) offer a bounty of multimedia installations, sculptures, paintings, video art, and ceramics—from the serious to the lighthearted, and from eighteen regional and national artists. At the same time, the works bring into focus the many issues facing farmers today, including sustainability, soil erosion, land and water rights, cultural heritage, and climate change.
About four years in the making and involving three curators, agriCULTURE encompasses not only the two museums, but also exhibitions at two Boulder County working farms, at a local library, and at Longmont’s Agricultural Heritage Center.
The idea of bringing artists and farmers together comes partly from the realization that a lot of nostalgia and familiarity surrounds farmers and farming, says lead curator Jaime Kopke, who is known in the Denver area for her independent curatorial work.
“Not only is there a lot of interest in the local food movement and a resurgence in home gardening, but also farming is really accessible through the senses,” Kopke says. “I think that any artwork that can evoke the senses is something that people are really drawn to and appreciate.”
AgriCULTURE needed a long timeline to come to fruition; the concept originated in 2019 but the pandemic halted the project. On the plus side, the artists had plenty of time to get to know the farmers and to follow them through growing seasons. Also, the curatorial team—which includes Jane Burke at BMoCA and Jared Thompson at the Longmont Museum—made it a mission to ditch restrictions on materials the artists could use. Given all these factors, it’s no surprise the project hit a few snags.
“No one expected the goats to eat the artwork,” Kopke says with a laugh, referring to a project featuring Sam Van Aken, who grafted heritage apple varieties onto trees that he planted and then recorded the process with cyanotypes. Van Aken’s work is on display at the Boulder Jewish Community Center’s Milk and Honey Farm, Ollin Farms in Longmont, and the Longmont Museum.
In another instance, BMoCA noticed a worm emerging from Patricia Rangel’s dirt-totem installation, Circuition, on the museum’s first floor. Working with Ollin Farms, Rangel laboriously recompacted soil into a monolith to reflect the arduous work of farmers as well as their reliance on life cycles and regeneration. As with the Van Aken project, the glitches were resolved before agriCULTURE debuted in June 2023.
“Just like in farming, you can’t control if there’s going to be a freeze or if one year a certain pest emerges,” says Kopke, who praises the flexibility of all the participants. “This project is a testament to working through unknown problems and being resilient.”
Matching artists with farmers at times resembled a dating app, Kopke says, recalling how the curation team tried to find common interests. But soon enough “magic things occurred,” as when the curators discovered the mutual passion about microorganisms shared by Banowetz and Esoterra Culinary Garden. Meanwhile, the teaming of Ollin Farms and nationally known artist Margarita Cabrera naturally fell into place, as Cabrera is a cousin of the farm’s co-owner.
Cabrera’s installation, CARE Longmont: Feast and Dialogue, is a highlight at the Longmont Museum, with its two giant wheels sitting on wood supports and incorporating circles of ceramic bricks and wooden spoons. The bricks were carved and decorated by more than sixty community members, and the long spoons symbolize the act of feeding one another.
Kopke emphasizes not only the participants’ ability to go with the flow but also their willingness to collaborate as crucial to the success of agriCULTURE.
“There wasn’t a checklist of already created works as a curator would normally have,” says Kopke. “These are works built around a theme, where there is creative freedom between artist and farmer, where they could decide what storyline to illuminate and how to present it.”
As a result, each artwork offers something apart from the others, making the expansive exhibition enticing for viewers to stop by all six venues. The three farm-specific components of the project are scheduled to be on view through September 4, 2023.