On Sunday, a lot of people with kids, cigarettes and fantastic outfits
paid between $2 and $5 to check of the Summer Opening Celebration of
Public Farm 1 at PS1 in Brooklyn. Two bands, Hex Message from NYC and Ecstatic Sunshine
via Baltimore, played sets of melodic drone under a tarp, and a
beer-pavilion served up bottled water and brews in plastic cups.
Public Farm 1 (PF1) by WORK Architecture Company,
the winners of this year’s MoMA/PS1 Young Architect’s Program, is a
pretty excellent idea whose execution lands somewhere in the middle of
sustainable urban agriculture and a Discovery Zone. Essentially a
lattice of raised beds in circular containers, the network houses all
kinds of crops, has a red periscope attached to its underside and a
rainwater pool at its center. Lots of handy information concerning
herbs and irrigation techniques can be found in the soggy manuals
inexplicably placed in pouches under the water-collection apparatus.
The whole thing smells delicious, except for a spacious coop where a
collection of fat chickens is housed. At intervals during Sunday’s
gala, museum employees would grab a bird and carry it around the
courtyard to show to patrons.
It’s an unsettling companion image for a project so
precariously perched on the threshold between conscientious
progressivism and bourgie solecism. PF1 felt uncomfortably similar to
that sizable, healthy, immanently parade-able hen in the sense that
both seem like plump symbols of Green reinvention without actually
constituting effects commensurate with their sunny affectation.
I don’t mean to dis the project, which I’m sure will pump out
legitimate boons—farmer’s markets, educational programs,
etc.—independent of its institutional gloss. It’s not like this incline
of soil barrels is intending to topple the agribusiness moloch in the
course of its showing, and, in this modest sense, it’s inevitably
symbolic and catalytic status is OK. If the design makes us want to buy
veggies from it, perhaps we’ll see more architects adopt or develop the
concept to a point where its ubiquity might actually warrant a round of
drinks. Let’s get some bands to play that party!
Perhaps the problem is PF1’s leech of art-market privilege. These kind
of celebrations, ripe with cool shit, undoubtedly will attract a mostly
affluent, mostly White, mostly post-collegiate crowd well-versed in the
anticipation of our species’ looming extinction at the hands of all
manner of environmental and economic fuck-ups. Even if it’s not
explicitly elitist, it is elitist by implication. The cultural snobbery
that demands microbrews on tap, noise collages on the PA, and
half-winking chicken demos for the ethical and gastrointestinal sating
of its self-selecting demographic, is an unfortunate caveat to the
Farm’s wholly legitimate appeal, one that, by all means, should be as
universal as its aims and initiatives are needed. It’s a tall order,
but no niche should have prerogative over these plots. Of course, in
the meantime, I’ll try and become a vegetarian.