Climate, energy, agriculture, national security. These issues of critical contemporary concern are embodied in one ubiquitous plant: the soybean. Yet, despite its growing significance, the soybean remains largely invisible to consumers. The National Security Garden is a public art installation in a hybrid form combining elements of agricultural fields and representational gardens. It is based on critical gardening strategies which mobilize soybeans to address global implications of food production and national security in a post-surplus world. With this project McMullen_Winkler aimed to place soybeans more vividly in the cultural imaginary of visitors by providing a form and experience that can question how biotechnological and monocultural agriculture shape, reject or revise ideas of national/homelands security and farming in globally networked context.
From May to October 2012, with the curatorial assistance of artist Harald F. Müller and the support of mayor Bernd Häusler the National Security Garden was installed in form of a 200 square foot designed field of soybean plants in front of the City Hall of Singen/Htwl. in southern Germany. At night 1500 solar-powered magenta LED grow lights illuminated the soybean plants from the ground up with energy harvested during the day. McMullen_Winkler see this lighting design as both a utopian contribution to Michael Pollan’s idea of "sun farming"1) and as a critical reflection on the limits and possible pitfalls of technological interventions in the natural environment.
Singen/Htwl. is located in Baden Württemberg, one of only two German states (Bavaria being the other one) where soybeans are grown commercially, mainly for Tofu production. McMullen_Winkler thus organized a series of events that engaged the public and supported the discursive nature of the National Security Garden public artwork and its goal to address issues at the intersection of art, science and technology. These included: a public exhibition opening with an artist talk; a symposium at the Städtische Kunstmuseum Singen with the participation of Dr. agr. Thomas H. Hilger, University of Hohenheim, Plant Production in the Tropics and Subtropics, (Germany); PD Dr. Sabine Gruber, University of Hohenheim, Institute of Crop Science, (Germany); Sabine Himmelsbach M.A., Director, House of Electronic Arts Basel (Switzerland); Frank-Thorsten Moll M.A., Head of the art department, Zeppelinmuseum Friedrichshafen (Germany); an artist talk at Friedrich Wöhler Gymnasium, one of the Singen high schools; tours by Friedrich Wöhler Gymnasium high school students Fabian König and Valentin Franke during the regional "Museumsnacht" (night of the museums) and a public closing reception with a harvest event and distribution of free project kits that contained the seeds of the soybean plants from the garden. Even though the public artwork was a temporary installation for the duration of only one summer, the idea of the project kit with the included seed package was to have the National Security Garden continue in the next season in the backyards and gardens of Singen and the Lake Constance region with a new generation of soybean plants.
A detailed project chronology can be found on the National Security Garden blog.
1) Journalist and food activist Michael Pollan proposes new sunlight-based farming strategies (sun farming) as an alternative to traditional oil-based farming practices. Pollan, Michael. "Farmer in Chief", New York Times Magazine, Oct. 9, 2008.
National Security Garden Singen