Fritz Haeg: Attack on the Front Lawn
Closed March 16, 2008
by Amanda Douberley
Fritz Haeg calls Edible Estates “An independent art project that is becoming a movement.” The ongoing series of gardens designed by Haeg, a landscape architect by training, occupy those outdoor spaces typically given over to carefully tended grass—namely, front lawns. For each project, the artist puts out a call for participants, selects a site, and designs a garden that will produce food for those who maintain it. He plans to initiate nine gardens in cities located in different regions of the United States—Salina, Kansas; Lakewood, California; Maplewood, New Jersey; Austin, Texas; and Baltimore, Maryland thus far—each of which is sponsored by a local art institution. (Haeg has also planted an Edible Estate in London, England.)
Edible Estates Regional Prototype Garden #5 was planted at Sierra Ridge Apartments, 201 West St. Elmo near South Congress Avenue, March 14 through 16 in conjunction with the exhibition Fritz Haeg: Attack on the Front Lawn at Arthouse. During the weeks leading up to this event, Haeg organized “How to Eat Austin,” a series of Saturday workshops focused on planting, growing, cooking, and even selling home-grown food. Along the same lines, he transformed the main space at Arthouse into a community center, with flyer-covered bulletin boards, a huge book-filled tent, and racks laden with seedlings destined for Sierra Ridge. Video and photographic documentation of completed Edible Estates and accompanying hand-written wall labels were tucked away in side galleries as if to underline the fact that action, rather than contemplation, is Haeg’s main goal.
As is the case with many community-oriented projects, it is nearly impossible to evaluate Edible Estates or, by extension, Attack on the Front Lawn. If part of the critic’s role is to assess a work of art or an exhibition based on the artist or curator’s stated goals, what does success mean in this case? Is the project a failure if the people of Sierra Ridge Apartments neglect their garden? Is the project a success if even one person who attended a workshop establishes his or her own Edible Estate?
Surprisingly, in discussing Edible Estates, Haeg puts less emphasis on community and more on the concept of the monument:
"We all crave permanent monuments that will give a sense of place and survive as a lasting testament to ourselves and our time… but their capacity to bring about meaningful change in the way we live is quite limited. A small garden of very modest means, humble materials, and a little effort can have a radical effect…This singular local response to global issues can… be enacted by anyone in the world and can have a monumental impact."
In light of his statements, Haeg's project certainly succeeds in one respect: channeling the current vogue for do-it-yourself home improvement and locally grown food into a public art project sponsored by Whole Foods, Home Depot and Lowe’s (among others). Whether Edible Estates becomes a movement remains to be seen. In the meantime, the questions Haeg raises about the way we represent ourselves for the future—either through figurative bronze Frankensteins or alternative means—are worth contemplating, and definitely worth acting upon.
*All quotes taken from Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn (New York: Metropolis Books, 2008).
Amanda Douberley is currently researching a dissertation on the relationships between art, industry, urban planning and federal policy at mid-century in the United States as a Ph.D. candidate in art history at the University of Texas at Austin.