'Fritz Haeg: Attack on the Front Lawn': Activism disguised as art

Arthouse's exhibition turns a lawn into a garden to get us thinking about where our food comes from

'Fritz Haeg: Attack on the Front Lawn': Activism disguised as art

Unless you're a moron, morally blind, or possibly a Republican, it's easy to see, in both the microcosm and the macrocosm, that as a nation and a people we are becoming more and more isolated from one another and from the world. While the party line focuses on diversity and acceptance, anyone who has ever hung around the halls of a high school can tell you that those who differ from the norm are ridiculed and shut out. We don't know our neighbors, and if we do, we probably don't like them. And despite the sniggling innuendos of conservative editorialists, anyone with half a brain and the ability to sense changes in the weather knew the world was getting a lot hotter 10 and even 15 years ago. We're in denial, folks. We have been for a long time, and no landscape is more barren than the landscape of denial.

Thank the powers that be, then, for individuals like Fritz Haeg. An architect/artist/teacher, Haeg began his attack on denial July 4, 2005, by launching his Edible Estates project, replacing a residential front lawn in Salina, Kan., the geographical center of the U.S., with a vegetable garden. Since then, Haeg has done the same in Los Angeles, New Jersey, and London, and this coming March, in conjunction with an exhibition at Arthouse opening this week, Haeg will plant his fifth such garden in front of a residence in the Austin area.

"Why are we attacking lawns?" asks Arthouse curator Elizabeth Dunbar. "Why not? They suck up lots of water, and there's chemical runoff. And there are a host of other issues associated with having a front lawn. For the most part, the lawn is nothing more than a decorative space with no real function other than just sitting there and sometimes being pretty. A lot of times it isn't even that.

"Edible gardens weren't really considered something to hide until fairly recently. Fritz is reversing that trend by putting them in the front yard, making them functional, making them aesthetic, and also making them sites of conversation and social interaction. At the same time, he's asking us to think about where our food comes from. Most of our produce is shipped something like 1,500 miles before it gets to us in stores. Fritz wants to inspire people to become more involved in thinking about where their food comes from and considering what kind of environmental and sociological impacts food production has on our world today.

"In a way, Fritz's project is social activism wrapped in the guise of art. I think he really expands the definition of what art can be. Fritz also fits in with many other artists who are working today in what is called relational aesthetics, whose artworks consist of working within communities and involving themselves in facilitating social interactions."

In addition to the Arthouse exhibition, which will feature photographic and video documentation from the Edible Estates project, a series of workshops titled How to Eat Austin will be held every Saturday, 3-5pm, in a large geodesic tent inside Arthouse's main gallery space. The workshops will focus on subjects such as composting, planting, and caring for a garden; cooking the food you grow; and possibilities for selling what you grow. Haeg will attend the workshop on Jan. 26, as well as return to Austin for another of the workshops and, of course, the planting of the garden itself.

"Friz Haeg: Attack on the Front Lawn" runs Jan. 26-March 16 at Arthouse, 700 Congress. For more information, call 453-5312 or visit www.arthousetexas.org.

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Fritz Haeg, Arthouse

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