Exploring Chicago’s Cabbage Patch: An Interview with Ellen Braae

Photo / Brian Kinyon

At the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, Danish artists Gamborg and Magnussen unveil their ambitious social commentary

As architects from across the world showcase their creations at the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, Danish landscape architects Karen Gamborg Knudsen and Kasper Magnussen have unveiled their Cabbage Patch — a living exhibit composed of 10,000 cabbages and a tribute to one of society’s most enduring and sustainable crops. Installed at Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, the Cabbage Patch is both an exploration in green urban design and a culinary experiment as it seeks to introduce the hardy winter vegetable to new consumers by engaging visitors in activities in and around the patch.

On display until January 2020, the Cabbage Patch will feature cooking demonstrations and the creation of a cultural cookbook, paying particularly close attention to the cultural relevance of Chicago’s West Side and topics of accessibility to affordable, healthy and nutritious food sources and greenspaces.

Denmark In New York caught up with landscape architect and chairperson of Danish Arts Foundation — Committee for Architecture, Ellen Braae, to talk about how the Cabbage Patch is catalysing conversations on culture, social equity and climate change.

Denmark In New York: The Cabbage Patch is a field in the Garfield Park Conservatory consisting of 10,000 cabbages. Can you elaborate on the outlines of the project and how the idea of a collaboration between the artists and Garfield Park came about?

The Cabbage Patch: resilient, adaptable and nutritious, the cabbage combines elements of social commentary and sustainable planning. Photo / Brian Kinyon

Ellen Braae: The Danish Art Foundation’s Committee for Architecture wanted to contribute to the Chicago Architecture Biennale yet we had an operating theme of our own and we wanted to use Chicago as a testbed. We had identified the Garfield Park Conservatory as a collaboration partner so we had an open call for contributions under the headline of ‘Commons and communities’. We had more than 40 entries coming from universities, engineering firms, large and well-established architecture firms as well as from singular artists, each of them outlining their ideas for a contribution. One of the entries came up with the idea of the 10,000 cabbages and the social installation: the outdoor kitchen. It was very powerful and appropriate and it was done by an artist duo, Gamborg & Magnussen.

This year’s Biennial in Chicago is working around themes related to Chicago and ’the spatial, historical, and socio-economic conditions of the city, including questions of land, memory, rights, and civic participation’. How does the project tap into this vision?

Ellen Braae: The Cabbage Patch invites us to reflect on how we use the land that we have in common, on who uses the land and for what purposes — and it invites us to practice and explore the possibilities that the project offers in those regards. Cabbages used to be a ‘poor man’s food.’ Yet, in contemporary Nordic cuisine it occupies a special position as a healthy and local food with a long history traceable across the centuries through art and artistic representation. Moreover, cabbages are also grown in Chicago, and Chicago has its story about their ‘cabbage war’ with lower social classes raising their voice over their lack of public space. In that sense, cabbages also hold a message about right to space. As anyone can go a pick up a cabbage [at the Cabbage Patch] the Danish contribution is also delivering a message about social empowerment and the right to healthy food.

The vision with the Cabbage Patch is explained as “connecting communities through shared visions”. How do you think the Cabbage Patch engages the visitors and in what way do you expect the project to contribute to the surrounding community of Garfield Park and Chicago in general?

Ellen Braae: Along with the Cabbage Patch is a social installation that is an outdoor kitchen and a quite elaborate program for various groups of people and associations to actually use the cabbages and the kitchen.

What are your long term visions and expectations for the future of the Cabbage Patch in the local area?

Ellen Braae: We hope that when the exhibition ends in the beginning of the new year all the cabbages will have been harvested and served across many various locations and on many various plates in the neighbourhood. And, that the initiative remains in the minds of the people who have either experienced, seen pictures of, or heard of the Cabbage Patch. The Cabbage Patch concept is so easy to communicate and it carries some of the qualities reminiscent of the good land art projects of the 1970s. Yet this initiative certainly has many additional societal and social layers.

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Denmark in New York

Denmark in New York

The Official Medium Blog for the Consulate General of Denmark in New York. For all things Danish, #DenmarkInNY.