In Chicago, 10,000 Cabbages Blend Danish Perspectives on Sustainability and Art with Local Flavor

Photo / Brian Kinyon

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

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.

Resilient, adaptable and nutritious, the cabbage combines elements of social commentary and sustainable planning. Photo / Brian Kinyon

Ahead of the Cabbage Patch opening in late September, Denmark In New York caught up with Mary Eysenbach, Director of Conservatories at the Chicago Park District, and Jennifer Van Valkenburg, President and CEO of the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, to talk about how the installation is catalyzing conversations on culture, social equity and climate change.

Denmark In New York: The Cabbage Patch is the first Danish contribution to the Chicago Architecture Biennial and is a powerful addition to the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial line-up. Tell us how this “living exhibit” came to land in the middle of Garfield Park and how it will be unveiled to the public.

Mary Eysenbach and Jennifer Van Valkenburg: We were approached by the Danish Architecture Center about hosting an exhibit, given Jens Jensen’s role in designing and leading the Garfield Park Conservatory. We initially expected a static exhibit proposal, but when the Cabbage Patch was described as a living exhibit, we were excited. We are a place that grows plants, so it made sense!

This year’s Biennial touches upon the spatial, historical, and socio-economic conditions of Chicago, including questions of land, memory, rights, and civic participation. How does the Cabbage Patch tap into these conversations and what can a cabbage patch communicate about issues ranging from social inclusivity to sustainability?

ME & JVV: Land use is a choice made by people. Decisions regarding land use are affected by the historical, political, and economic forces affecting the property. A park is a choice about land use. Agricultural fields are a choice about land use. Housing is a choice about land use. And because they are choices, people can make different decisions about how the land is used at any given time, based upon the above mentioned factors. In Chicago, what was once a lakefront airport is now a lakefront park and concert venue because a choice was made to change it. The Cabbage Patch represents urban farming and using the land for all people to sustain nourishment. What was a space that sustained people one way is now a field that sustains people a different way. Because we made a choice to change it.

For Danish artists Karen Gamborg Knudsen and Kasper Magnussen, the Cabbage Patch is an exploration into society and culture.

The Cabbage Patch is located in Garfield Park Conservatory which was designed by a Dane over 100 years ago. But beyond this Danish connection, tell us a little bit how Garfield Park is a relevant venue for an engagement with the scope and scale of the Cabbage Patch.

ME & JVV:The Conservatory is relevant because of Jens Jensen, but in a broader way than just ancestry. Jens Jensen was an innovator regarding people’s connection to the land and nature. He helped create the Forest Preserve statute, to preserve green spaces and ecosystems around Illinois. He saw opportunities join land uses. For instance, Jens Jensen proposed converting highway right of ways into linear plantings of native prairie. Everything he did spoke to choices about land use.

The Garfield Park Conservatory as cabbage patch. Photo / Brian Kinyon

The transformation of Garfield Park into a cabbage field is part of the engagement’s mission to “connect communities through shared visions.” How do you envision engaging visitors and in what way do you expect the project to contribute to the surrounding community of Garfield Park and Chicago in general?

ME & JVV: The sharing of food is a tradition across all cultures throughout history. Programming for the cabbage patch will include cooking demonstrations to entice those who may not be familiar with cabbage to try different ways of cooking with it. People will share not only the food, but the traditions and stories that accompany it. The Garfield Park Community Gardens and surrounding gardening networks will harvest cabbage for their participants. In addition, a neighbourhood restaurant that does job training will feature cabbage on their menu. We expect the exhibit to encourage visitors to think about where their food comes from, who has access to food and why, and what choices we and our leaders make about land uses and the impact those choices have on the lives of Chicagoans.

The Cabbage Patch is also a culinary activation aimed at inspiring healthy and sustainable eating. That said, cabbage also does get a bad rap. How do you think Chicagoans will respond to the gastronomic element of the exhibit?

ME & JVV: Chicagoans have diverse ethnic backgrounds, many of which include cultures that embrace cabbage. In fact, the Chicago Cultural Alliance, in conjunction with the exhibit, is compiling a cookbook of recipes that revolve around cabbage.

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