If you visit Japan’s Niigata Prefecture during the region’s annual rice harvest, you’re likely to find enormous tarantulas, eagles, and dinosaur-like creatures stalking the bucolic landscape. The towering sculptures are part of the Wara Art Festival, a summertime event that displays massive animals and mythical creations fashioned from the crop’s leftover straw.
Traditionally, the byproduct is used as livestock feed, for compost that revitalizes the soil, and to craft household goods like zori sandals, although farmers increasingly have found themselves with a surplus as agricultural technology and culture changes. This shift prompted a partnership between the people of the former Iwamuro Village, which is now Nishikan Ward, and Tokyo’s Musashino Art University (known colloquially as Musabi) in 2006. At the time, Department of Science of Design professor Shingo Miyajima suggested that the unused straw be used in a collaborative art project between the university and local farmers, resulting in the first Wara Art Festival in 2008.
Today, students design the oversized characters—you can see previous year’s creations in this gallery—and artisans from Nishikan Ward construct the wooden armature and thatched bodies. The monumental figures stand as high as 30 feet, looming over the green landscape in a playful celebration of local culture.
Although the festival paused in 2020 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s back for its 13th edition at Uwasekigata Park. This year’s motley cast includes insects, animals, and even legendary monsters like the Amabie, all on view through October 31. (via Hyperallergic)
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Haifa-based photographer Lior Patel has spent the last seven months immersed in the daily rhythms of sheep. Hovering above the Peace Valley region of Yokneam, he’s documented a single flock’s grazing process in a captivating timelapse that shows the animals racing across the agricultural landscape and down roadways in robust, heaving masses. Shot with a drone, the accelerated footage attests to the drove’s shape-shifting instincts, which resembles other naturally occurring patterns like a flowing current or mesmerizing starling murmurations.
Vegetable farmer Michael Morgan, who’s referred to as the “king of cabbage,” and South Africa-born herder Keith Markov have managed the flock since 1985, and today it fluctuates between 1,000 and 1,750 individuals. Each year, the sheep migrate up to seven kilometers from the valley to the outskirts of Ramot Menashe with the help of shepherds Mustafa Tabash, Mahmoud Kaabiyah, Eyal Morgan, and Dan Goldfinger and a few border collies, which you can see circling the edges of the flock and rounding up stragglers.
To focus on the sheep’s natural movements, Patel tells Colossal that he captured most scenes from a fixed camera position. Each shot shows between 4-7 minutes of the shepherds corralling the animals en route to their next location. “The first challenge is to understand the elasticity of the herd during the movement, its dispersal during grazing, and how it converges into one tight pack towards exit/return from pasture and crossing roads and paths,” he says.
Patel frequently travels throughout Isreal documenting agricultural practices, barges, and the historic architecture of city centers with a drone, and you can find more of his aerial photos and footage on his site and Instagram.
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A Quirky Animation Follows a Determined Cactus Farmer as She Tracks the Man Destroying the Environment
A cowgirl named Rose and her eccentric pals embark on a mission to find the man damaging their local environment in the clever and fervent short film “Spell of the West.” Created by Los Angeles-based Sam Lane during her third year at CalArts, the animation follows the group’s wayward journey through the roving hills and sentient forests as they search for the ax-wielding tyrant who’s chopping down trees and demolishing their cactus farm.
Simultaneously witty and sincere, “Spell of the West” is imbued with magical undertones and a message that there’s more to environmental destruction than the loss of ecosystems. Lane explains to Short of the Week:
Most scientific work falls short of capturing the emotional aspect of human/nature relationships. In order to protect our natural surroundings, it’s important to know the dry facts, but it’s also important to establish an emotional human connection. Narrative is a prime rhetorical tool, and I was interested in re-framing the environmental conversation with a deep respect and poetic appreciation for the natural world.
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Spread across a thick field of leeks in the Netherlands is Daan Roosegaarde’s new installation that illuminates the practice of modern farming, highlighting the plants that feed us and their plights. In “Grow,” the Dutch artist and designer, who’s known for glowing, interactive exhibits, implanted the rows with red, blue, and ultraviolet lights that shine vertically across the crop and shift in entrancing motion.
Spanning 20,000-square-meters, the multi-faceted project is both aesthetic and practical: the radiant landscape is visually stunning, while the embedded elements enhance plant growth and cut pesticide use in half. Roosegaarde worked with existing photobiological technology and distinct “light recipes” that are thought to improve crop resistance and their metabolisms without added chemicals. “It gives a new meaning to the word ‘agri-culture’ by reframing the landscape as a living cultural artwork,” the studio says in a statement.
In a conversation with Dezeen, Roosegaarde noted that a trip to a local farm spurred the project, which the designer now hopes will act as a blueprint for similar works. The Netherlands is the second-largest agricultural exporter in the world—the U.S. is first—and is known for innovating more sustainable technologies. With some shifts in the combination of lights and placement, this singular project could have wide-reaching implications for crop production around the world.
“Grow” took Roosegaarde’s studio about two years to complete and is part of Rabobank’s artist-in-residence program. It’s slated to tour 40 countries in the coming months. For more of Roosegaarde’s work that falls at the intersection of art, design, and science, head to Instagram.
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Based in South West Devon, Victoria Rose Richards (previously) accentuates the textures and patterns of landscapes through her aerial embroideries. She depicts sprawling forests with tufts of French knots and employs satin and seed stitches to form the tight, straight rows of farmland. Richards tells Colossal that in recent months, she’s added minuscule details, “like gates, sheep, birds, and people to the whole piece to build more story,” in addition to more fantastical elements, like multicolored fields. Both her aerial works and those capturing an autumnal path or rain-soaked beach reflect a greater focus on the depth of the landscape, too, as they reveal the peaks of hills and distant horizons.
To keep up with Richards’s fiber-based scenes and get updates on which pieces are available for purchase, follow her on Instagram.
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Before crops are harvested and combine tracks mark the soil, Wyoming-based photographer Mitch Rouse captures the immaculately planted farmland that patterns the western United States. His captivating aerial shots frame the patchwork fields, concentric rows, and land-hugging lines formed with sprouted produce and vibrant trees. Sometimes disrupted by a natural landmark like a small mountain range, the photographer’s images provide a new perspective on the cultivated land.
Rouse tells Colossal that the Palouse—a major agricultural area in the northwest— is one of his favorite regions to visit because it’s often full of luxuriant fields. “This year, it was particularly lush, and I was very surprised getting out there how soft and velvety the green fields looked. Unlike the first photograph (shown above), the shapes in the Palouse are much more organic flowing and curving with the natural form of the hills,” he says. The photographer also has explored Montana, Oregon, Idaho, and California, capturing the precisely placed rows of trees near Bakersfield.
Originally frustrated by the limitations of drone and aircraft techniques, Rouse said he has “now found the sweet spot between the two by developing a system that incorporates a Bell 407 helicopter, with a Shot Over gimbal mounted to the nose, which contains a 150 MP Phase One Industrial camera.” Much of his process consists of spotting land patterns and flying over them. “A lot of it ends up really just being aware of your surroundings and eventually develop an eye for what will look good, making it pretty easy to pick your targets,” he says. “The key to getting these is timing it right. You want favorable light, whether it’s from clouds or sunrise or sunset.”
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