A nomadic pile of potatoes in the form of a cube visited a range of Hudson Valley sites. In each location it had unique interactions with its surroundings and the community, acting variously as a totem, witness, sculpture and general absurdist reality gauge. The project queries normalised human disassociation from our surrounding ecologies, in particular systems of industrial agriculture and commercial food culture; though each location prompted different dialogues.
Potatocube in chips aisle, Stop & Shop
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Image locations and notes:
1-3: Poughkeepsie Farm Project, a local, member-supported organic farm.
4&5: Five Guys Burgers & Fries. The cube was placed next to the sacks of potatoes (used for decor and storage) while we ate fries. No one noticed it except for a child of perhaps 7 years old at the next table, who kept grinning at us.
6: Hilltop at Sunset Lake, Vassar College
7-11: Stop 'n' Shop, the purchase point of the potatoes. Here nobody noticed that the pile of potatoes was in an impossible shape. One person expressed surprise that I would allow my son to pull such a large pile to the checkout, as some of the potatoes might fall off. Potatocube spent some time in the produce section and visited the chips aisle.
The cube and my 5-year-old then had an exchange with the store's surveillance robot, 'Marty' (see video below). Several customers approached us to share their discomfort with the new store technology, and numerous staff shared their views anonymously when asked. The introduction of nearly 500 $35,000 robots in 2019 (totalling $17.5 million) coincided with a strike of around 30,000 employees over unfavourable changes to their union contracts, and unsatisfactory raises (one employee I interviewed had a raise of 15c per hour).
Here is an article on the robots by independent news source The New Food Economy.
12: Gas station with giant plastic dinosaur, Middle Hope, NY
13: Route 9W, Middle Hope, NY. I rolled the cube close to a deer that had been recently struck by a car. Here it seemed to act most like a witness, an absurdist totem that momentarily linked the living and the dead, paying tribute to life that had been transformed into trash by one of the most useful and destructive human inventions of all. The United States has the highest number of cars per capita in the world. It is impossible to gain accurate statistics for roadkill, though there are attempts such as Project Splatter in Cardiff. State Farm Insurance estimates that 63,000 deer are killed by cars annually in New York State. Conservative estimates place annual US animal road deaths at one million, excluding birds and insects, which number into the multi-trillions.
14-18: DIA: Beacon, a museum of post-1960 American art, with a large collection of minimalist sculpture. The cube was placed outside at the intersection of Robert Irwin's walkways lined with geometrically sculpted trees. Museum visitors photographed and took selfies with the cube. One woman knelt to apply lip gloss next to it while her partner photographed her (not caught on camera). Verbal reactions varied from the delighted 'Is that potatoes? Yes! It's potatoes!' to a disgruntled 'It's only a cube of potatoes'. Afterwards I heard that the museum guards had enjoyed its visit.
19: Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery. Replacing churchyards and family plots in the mid-19th century, rural cemeteries' "carefully landscaped grounds embodied a respect for nature, and provided a respite from the chaotic bustle of the city" (poughkeepsieruralcemetery.com) - a perfect example of our push-pull relationship with the wild.
'Marty' the Stop 'n' Shop robot encountered my son and the potatocube. Its lights began to flash, its cameras rotated, and it produced sounds: the words "Caution, Hazard Detected" in English and Spanish, followed by some vintage-style robotic bleeps.
Soon after (not on video) a weary voice was heard over the intercom announcing "Possible cleanup required in the natural produce aisle."