Agnes Denes

(b. 1938)

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(1938– )

American Land artist, born in Budapest. Her family moved to Stockholm and she settled in New York in 1954. Her studies were in science and philosophy as well as art. After working in a variety of styles, she abandoned painting altogether in 1968 and embarked on interventions in the environment which combine mathematics and philosophy. The first of these was entitled Rice/Tree/Burial (1968). First Denes cleared a space in Sullivan County, near New York. This was planted with rice. In adjoining forest, trees were enchained so that they would grow towards each other. In the third part of the work Denes buried a time capsule containing her poetry. Denes kept no copies herself, permanently confiding them to the soil. She has written that ‘The act of burial…marks our intimate relationship to the earth.’ Like much of the artist's work, this was a piece which unfolded in time. The critic Thomas McEvilley has proposed that the meaning of the work can be understood in relation to mythology. The rice crop represents Demeter, the earth mother. The confinement of the trees stands for Artemis the huntress. Athena the goddess both virginal and maternal reconciles the two (Art in America, November 2004). In 1982 Denes planted a wheat field at the base of the World Trade Center, New York, in order to call attention to our ‘misplaced priorities and deteriorating human values’. After the harvest the site was returned to construction. The work of Denes is deliberately planned to involve a high degree of participation by others. Tree Mountain—A Living Time Capsule—11,000 People, 11,000 Trees, 400 Years (1982–6) is a mountain of 11,000 trees planted in a spiral pattern (Ylöjärvi, Finland). It is intended to hold back the erosion of the land, to provide an environment for wildlife. It also had a symbolic function in representing the work and interaction of all the individuals involved who would, it was intended, continue to look after the environment after Denes had gone.

Subjects: Art.

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