Driving an art-dotted Driftless
A look at Fermentation Fest's 2016 Farm/Art DTour.
Some of the best things in life are fermented: beer, kombucha, soy sauce, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, yogurt...the list goes on. Fermentation Fest, running October 1 through 9, is an annual Sauk County festival dedicated to fermented foods and farming. But it also focuses on a different kind of “culture,” realized through the Farm/Art DTour, a tour of various art installations and live performances stretching more than 50 miles across the county in and around Reedsburg.
The nonprofit organizing the event, the Wormfarm Institute, encourages attendees to either drive or bike to each stop. There will be a total of nine visual art pieces, created by artists from six states across the U.S.
In some way or another, each piece is intended to react to—and often, interact with—the landscape in which it's displayed.
In Texas-based artist Austen Weymueller’s piece, To Re-Wild, a spindle-limbed cowboy rests its lanky arms across the branches of a tree. Weymueller has been fascinated with the image of the cowboy for years, and has researched it extensively to inform her artwork.
“I think cowboys are massively complicated creatures,” she says. “There is this push and pull between searching for a home, a domestic space, and then pushing back out of it and wanting to explore again, push your boundaries, and find a new home. That is really resonant with me.”
As the bulk of artists exploring the cowboy image, historically, have been men, Weymueller feels she has a fresh perspective to offer.
“Western novels and art have specific stereotypes about cowboys; it seems like they are always depicted as very stoic,” she explains. “I think there is a lot more to unpack with this character: the emotional side, the relationships with their families.”
To construct To Re-Wild, which she made as part of an artist residency at the Wormfarm Institute last summer, Weymueller used materials inspired by her grandmother’s hardware store: plywood, chicken wire, utility fabric, rebar, and cement paint.
Several other artists on the DTour chose to rely on materials that make sense in the context of the festival’s emphasis on the ecological role of farming and agriculture.
One of them, Brian Sobaski, sculpts larger-than-life, anthropomorphic animals (often in states of energetic movement) using straw, hay, twine, welded steel and wood. His piece in this year’s festival, Love Your Honey, is a massive beehive—complete with live bees.
Baraboo artist Beth Persche took the theme of fermentation more literally, by creating a mosaic archway using beans, corn, wine corks, and bottle caps. The mosaic, inspired by tilework seen in Mexican churches, was a collaborative art project: About 200 Sauk County residents from four different communities helped Persche construct it.
Michael Kautzer, a Milwaukee-area artist with a background in architecture, chose to focus on the image of a barn. For the DTour, he crafted “a herd” of miniature barns, posed in a field as if grazing on the land. Rather than a traditional “barn red,” he chose to paint each one a color reminiscent of either a pumpkin or a pig, to both coexist in and contrast with the natural landscape.
“Even on a cloudy day they really stand out in the field,” he says.
In form, the doll-sized barns are an “idealized” but “fictitious” version of the classic Gambrel-style barn, which has a symmetrically sloped roof line. Kautzer has done a number of other Gambrel-inspired works, including one for the Wisconsin Triennial (on display until January at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) that is big enough for a person to crawl inside.
“They’re based on toys and model barns I built as a kid,” he says. “The shape and proportions are mostly the same but the size and color are site-specific.”
Having built around 300 such barns, Kautzer says he may have fully explored this particular artistic subject.
“I think I’m sort of at the endpoint of this shape,” he says, laughing. “I probably won’t make any more; I’m sick of barns at this point.”