In this installation in the UCCA Nave, Hong Kong-based artist/architect duo MAP Office will focus on the historical, fundamental importance of wheat. “The Oven of Straw” is a space paradoxically made of the very stuff it is intended to consume －a portrayal of an agricultural product crucial to society and economy, yet highly vulnerable to fire and drought. The installation comprises bales of straw fronted by an imposing facade resembling a blank, an electric blue fluorescent tube on the frieze serving as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of material goods as well as the commercial imperatives that underpin their production. The interior operates like a small cinema, and features a two-channel video installation that mixes archival material from various influential films relating to wheat. Originally displayed in Ukraine, a country with an economy largely based in agriculture, the piece was conceived for the first Kiev Biennial in 2012. This will be its second showing.
In 2013, as the global food crisis only worsens, and there is increasing public awareness about the impact of the futures market on global food security,“The Oven of Straw” articulates the tension between capitalism, commodities, and basic human life. The video installation pits the labor of the farm worker against the speculative activity of the trader or banker. Films from various historical moments that employ farms, field, and financial institutions as both subject and scene run side by side in a melancholic loop. There are clips from Soviet films that glorify collective labor; Dorothy from The Wizard of OZ makes an appearance in a nostalgic representation of the pastoral; while footage from the Minneapolis Grain Exchange (MGEX) and Bloomberg News show the modern face of the agriculture industry. A voiceover track sets up an opposition between production and consumption from the outset, beginning:
Our values...our beliefs...our rituals...our heros...
The farmer and the broker
The cultivator and the investor,
The producer and the seller[...]
Works by filmmakers including D.W.Griffith; Sergei Eisenstein, Luis Bunuel; Michelangelo Antonioni; Terence Malick; Akira Kurosawa; and China's own Ping He are featured, a broad sweep through cinematic history that covers feature films and propaganda films alike. One thing all the films have in common is a reliance on the affective qualities of various aspects of grain production. Wheat has often been used as a way to draw a sharp parallel between the productive systems of agriculture and the sterile accumulation of capital. “The Oven of Straw” takes cultural products from different periods, and refashions them in a critical engagement with contemporary issues.