American artist Agnes Denes flags a fragile world with her art - GulfToday

American artist Agnes Denes flags a fragile world with her art


Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

American environmental artist Agnes Denes has chosen the waters around the resilient city of Venice as the second site of her site-specific flag installation, “The Future is Fragile, Handle with Care”.

The flag was installed on a simple wooden pole by local fishermen during the Cinema Calleggiante (Floating Cinema, Aug 20 - Sept. 4) Festival in the Venice lagoon.

A film of the installation, produced by CULTURUNNERS and Vivobarefoot and narrated by Christopher Bailey, Arts and Health Lead at the World Health Organization, was released to mark UN Day (Oct. 24) and to coincide with the COP26 (Conference Of Parties) climate summit, offering world leaders a forum to tackle the pressing challenge of climate change.

The installation follows a previous installation of the Flag at Tate Britain in London to mark the launch of a global Healing Arts campaign, under the auspices of the World Health Organization, to support improved mental, social and environmental health in the wake of the pandemic.


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CULTURUNNERS is an independent UK Company delivering international cultural exchange and production. Vivobarefoot is a minimalist and natural footwear company.

Denes’s flag calls out for an urgent response, not only to COVID-19 but also to climate change (as she has been doing through her art over the past fifty years).

With UN environmental agencies describing the virus as nature’s first “warning shot” to civilisations playing with fire, it is a stark reminder of the need for cooperation.

American artist Agnes Denes

The flag symbolises the need for a collective response to these crises and how that can be transformed into a paradigm shift for a new vision of the world before it is too late. According to the artist, “Global dialogue and action are more crucial now than ever.”

The installation also marks the close of Healing Arts Venice, a six-month programme in partnership with Ark Re-Imagined, the first ever pavilion of Iraq at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

The pavilion explored the vernacular architecture, watercraft, and ecology of the Tigris-Euphrates river system – on the brink of extinction after decades of conflict, climate change and most recently, COVID-19.

Healing Arts was established in 2020 by CULTURUNNERS and the WHO’s Arts & Health Program as part of the UN’s 75th Anniversary Program.

It brings together a cultural coalition of partners, including Community Jameel, the WHO Foundation, Tate, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, NYU, UCL, Christie’s, The Art Newspaper and Vivobarefoot, alongside a growing community of UN agencies, museums, universities, hospitals, foundations and private companies, to champion the role of art and culture in community healing and improved mental wellbeing.

Denes’s flag is available for sale through the Leslie Tonkonow Gallery, New York, with a proportion of proceeds going to support artist-led projects which address the global health crisis.

Among the projects being supported are cultural archiving programmes with the Marsh Arab and Yazidi communities in Iraq, in partnership with Community Jameel; the London-based Hospital Rooms charity which commissions artworks in secure psychiatric units; and a public arts programme in the Navajo Nation, Arizona.

Denes was born in 1931 in Budapest and lives and works New York, NY. A primary figure among the concept-based artists who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, she is internationally known for works created in a wide range of mediums.

Investigating science, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, poetry, history and music, her artistic practice is distinctive in terms of its aesthetics and engagement with socio-political ideas.

As a pioneer of environmental art, she created Rice/Tree/Burial in 1968 in Sullivan County, New York, acknowledged as the first site-specific piece with ecological concerns.

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 when Denes, with the support of the Public Art Fund, planted a field of golden wheat on two acres of rubble-strewn landfill near Wall  Street and the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan (now the site of Battery Park City and the World Financial Center).

With the support of the Trussardi Foundation, the Wheatfield was replanted in 2015 on twelve acres of land in central Milan, Italy.

Among her many other artistic achievements is Tree Mountain – A Living Time Capsule, a monumental earthwork, reclamation project and the first man-made virgin forest, situated in Ylöjärvi, in western Finland. The site was dedicated by the President of Finland upon its completion in 1996 and is legally protected for the next four hundred years.

The Living Pyramid, a monumental sculptural work comprised of earth, wood, and plants, commissioned in 2015 by the Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island, City, New York, was recreated in 2017 for Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany.

Denes is also known for her innovative use of metallic inks and other non-traditional materials in creating a prodigious body of exquisitely rendered drawings and prints that delineate her explorations in mathematics, philosophy, geography, science and other disciplines.

Her works are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Art Institute of Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Kunsthalle Nürnberg, and many other major institutions worldwide.


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