Using Art to Promote Permaculture Ethics - 'Common Senses' at MoMA

Sebastian von Holstein
Tuesday, 2nd October 2012

Public art’s ability to reach out to many people makes it one of the best mediums for communication, and this is heavily amplified and influential in the world’s biggest and most cramped cities.

Unveiling her ‘Climate Revolution’ banner at the London 2012 Paralympics closing ceremony, Vivienne Westwood proclaimed that anyone wanting to make a significant difference should engage with art and culture.

The notion that art has the ability to powerfully comment on the semantics of our society gives it a prominent and important role in societal education.

Promoting a Dialogue Between Artist and Environment

In this spirit, the educational department of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has recently opened its doors to a latest project entitled ‘Common Senses’. Museum organisers describe it as “a multisensory environment at the intersection of education, design, and art, which aims to foster our evolving relationship with nature, technology, and our everyday surroundings through community interactions and creative play.”

Fritz Haeg and Annie Novak's Urban Edible Garden

Other projects, run in conjunction with Common Senses, include a 10-foot wide circular garden, filled with edibles, herbals and medicinals. Artist Fritz Haeg constructed the garden with the help of New York’s well-known Eagle Street rooftop farmer Annie Novak, cementing am ever increasing dialogue between artist and environment.

More specifically, the environment in question here is the cityscape: at once the most crowded and polluted of all human environments, and the one most in need of sustainable transition (see Can we Make our Cities Sustainable with Permaculture?). 

Fritz Haeg’s Artistic Interpretation of Permaculture Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share

Fritz Haeg’s interior project mimics the circular edible garden. ‘Domestic Integrities’ (est. 2012) “turns its attention inward, to local patterns and rituals of interior domestic landscapes, the way we use what we resourcefully find around us to artfully make ourselves at home, bringing the outdoors in”.

Final Preparations for Fritz Haeg's 'Domestic Integrity' (2012)

For this, he created a circular crocheted rug, which is added to every time it travels from city to city. Recycled materials make up the ever-growing circle onto which are placed “assembled, baked, built, canned, concocted, composed, cooked, created, dried, pickled, preserved, spun, stewed and woven [articles]. These may be as simple as a carefully composed bowl of just picked ripe fruit, an arrangement of fresh flowers and herbs, an infused tea - or as complex as a pickled vegetable combination, a preserved fruit, a home fire baked bread, an invented medicinal remedy foraged from the street, or a strange artisanal soap concocted in the bathroom”.

Visitors to the exhibit are invited to take off their shoes, sit on the rug and make themselves at home. Here they are able to touch, feel, taste and smell the local gifted bounty. Haeg hopes that the temporary guest will have experienced and absorbed a form of sustainable ‘integrity’ promoting a “consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes”.

Sebastian von Holstein is the online editor for Permaculture magazine and also the founder of the newly launched Von Holstein Group, which aims to restore health and balance to communities through the arts, design and architecture. 

Domestic Integrities first appeared at London's Hayward Gallery and is currently on display at New York's Museum of Moden Art (MoMA) until 19th November 2012

To watch a short video on Common Senses, please click here

For more info, please visit

Permaculture Issue 65 also contains an article on art and permaculture. Grab a copy here or download it here.

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