Werkleitz Festival

31.5.–9.6. 2024


Daniel Herrmann Kurator Alexander Klose Kurator Benjamin Steininger

Rapeseed for energy production or wheat? Potatoes or photovoltaics? Given today’s plethora of threatening situations, from climate crisis to disrupted supply chains, some argue that it is not right to use agricultural land to produce energy instead of food. You, visitors to this exhibition, are invited to embark on a journey of views and feelings about these land use conflicts. You won't find any definite answers, but you will find historical and contemporary, speculative and playful, scientific and artistic perspectives that may generate new thoughts and opinions. The trail extends over two floors, and is conceptually complemented and spatially structured by a film program that is shown in five video boxes.
It all begins with activities in and around the soil, and with the direct and indirect inflow of energy from the sun. Today is by no means the first time that areal limits to insolation have been perceived as a crisis. The fact that agriculture, culture, and society are closely linked is shown by several millennia of images of agriculture collected on a "crazy wall". Nothing in this long history has had as far-reaching consequences as industrialization. How much fossil energy is contained in today's agricultural products? On a "detective wall" about the nitrogen conspiracy, you can find out about some of the key connections between these transformations. Finally, on a large "plant table" on the second floor, the tractor’s trail leads to fields and battleground, and meets with a quartet of cultivated plants, the "glocal" history of sugar and the historical dynamics of collectivization and capitalization.


„We are earthbound among earthbound“ (Bruno Latour, Terrestrial Manifesto). And this is true in a very literal sense:
everything depends on the soil, whether agriculture, industry, or cities. And everything shown in this exhibition happens in, on, and above the soil, or is about it, from the growth of plants to speculation on land prices. This substrate (from Latin: foundation, biological: breeding ground) forms a boundary layer in which the qualities of rock and air mix. It is vital for our survival, the earthen counterpart to the atmosphere, but at just a few decimeters, it is infinitely thinner and more fragile. It is produced by the complementary activities of plants and all the animals, bacteria, and fungi in the soil, the so-called edaphon. Its secret star is the population of earthworms, to
whose tireless digestive activity a large part of the newly formed soil can be attributed. On the other hand, the soil is degraded and used up by human activity, often irretrievably, as described already by chroniclers of agriculture in antiquity.

Images of agriculture

Agriculture is one of the oldest culture-forming forces. Its images date back to the empires of Babylon and ancient
Egypt. „The domination of nature by humans“, writes British environmental historian David Blackbourne, „reveals much about the nature of human domination“. The images of agriculture express the respective historical state of politics and society and their ideals. With the advent of modernity, the production and dissemination of pictures multiplied exponentially. Images from the past and present are caught up in the maelstrom of ideologically colored narratives, from nationalist myths to advertising and political propaganda. To escape this maelstrom, we have radically decontextualized the images on our „crazy wall“ and arranged them according to purely formal criteria. You, the visitors, are invited to cut your own path through this jungle of images. You will also fi nd a selection of your favorite motifs to take home on the postcard stand next to the wall.

The nitrogen conspiracy

Without nitrogen compounds, there would be no life on Earth: no protein, no DNA, no chlorophyll. The atmosphere is full of this raw material. However, for billions of years, only lightning and bacteria were able to bind these elements to form the basis of life. This only changed in 1913, when the chemical industry began synthesizing ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen—for artificial fertilizers, but also for the munitions of the First World War: „bread and death“. Since then, a petrochemical superstructure of companies, people, and substances has emerged around these extremely energy-intensive processes. It is estimated that more than half of the world‘s population can only be fed thanks to the use of artificial fertilizers and fossil fuels. On the other hand, corruption, wars, mass murder, and planetary environmental destruction have accompanied the development of this system. Our „detective wall“
collects clues about possible „perpetrators“, „victims“, „crime scenes“ and „crimes“. Who is pulling the strings in this conspiracy?

Energy crisis

If the soil is the substrate of life, it is awakened by the activity of the sun. Plants and weather phenomena such as wind, rain, and ocean currents directly depend on it. Even fossil fuels are nothing more than stores of accumulated solar energy from the distant past. Therefore, the conglomerate of ecological crises we are confronted with today also conceals energy crises. Historically, poverty and hunger as a result of deteriorating climatic conditions and depleted resources have been among the most important triggers of social upheavals, from local uprisings to the fall of entire empires, but also of technical innovations as well as political and social reforms. Energy crises were and are a defining moment in history. The theme island highlights three such energy crises over the last 200 years.

Plant shelf

Laboratory, workshop, administration — all the threads of modern agriculture align on the workbench. This is where plants are optimized, machines are designed, and landscapes are split up. In our „plant shelf“, which originates from the historical stocks of the department store, the operational functions of the table are combined with the archive capacities of the shelf. From the Peasants‘ War to land reform to land grabbing. From the field to the battlefi eld and back again. From the Central German beet field to the London Sugar Exchange.
In the network of apparatuses, books, found objects, projections, and statistics, you will encounter fragments of the
global history of beet sugar from central Germany, traces of the tractor that lead to the East and the West, pieces of a
history of the dialectic between collectivization and capitalization as well as a quartet of energy crops in which you can also take a stab at potatoes and algae.