Ferm Fest Celebrates Agri/Culture

Be on the lookout for a fantastical and colorful installation by Madison artist Anwar Floyd-Pruitt during the 2020 Farm/Art DTour. Anwar’s art spans community art, puppetry and abstract mixed media portraiture.

Wormfarm Institute invites visitors to take a drive in the country during Fermentation Fest—A Live Culture Convergence Sept. 26-Oct. 4. This harvest-time event is anchored by the 2020 Farm/Art DTour, a free, 50-mile, self-guided excursion through the working farmlands of Sauk County — punctuated by site-responsive artworks, roadside poetry, local food markets, educational Field Notes and cultural and agricultural attractions. This is the eighth iteration of the DTour and the first along a new route with trailheads in Plain and Sauk City.

“The DTour is uniquely positioned this year,” says Philip Matthews, Wormfarm director of programs. “Because it’s self-guided, it has social distancing built in (and we’re encouraging folks to ‘keep one cow apart.’) It’s a rare opportunity for us to come together on the land we mutually depend on and celebrate those who care for it.” 

Eleven featured artists, with more to be invited, will collaborate with local landowners to install temporary artworks on farmland, drawing attention to the importance of what farmers do every day. Artists were selected by a jury of regional art professionals from an open call for proposals.

Some artists will engage Sauk County residents. Brent Houzenga will merge his New Orleans street art-style with rural roots (his grandfather was a farmer) to paint a monumental portrait of a local farmer. Artist team Sheila Novak, Emilie Bouvier and Crysten Nesseth will create a series of cyanotype banners that visually tell stories collected from Sauk County residents, while Tory Tepp will collaborate with Tower Rock Homestead Bakery to plant 3.5 acres of kernza (a perennial grain) in relation to a new earthwork. 

Others will respond to current events. Returning artist Erika Nelson will adapt Dr. Doolittle’s Pushme-Pullyou into a half-donkey, half-elephant screen printed with a surface design mash-up of fictional political yard signs and carnival posters. Nelson’s installation “Step Right Up! Your Voices, Your Votes” is part of a Mid-America Arts Alliance Interchange Project and includes interactive elements to inspire civic dialogue. 

Dan S. Wang writes in his commissioned essay to the 32-page guide that accompanies the event: “For this particular season of change, the Farm/Art DTour has gone from regional novelty to a model for the emerging world of curbside culture. It took the restrictions of a pandemic to show what DTour visitors have known for many years now: The form has wheels. Already there have been drive-by shows staged on the East and West coasts. Having participated in one in L.A., I can say that the difference is that of layers, of depth. Viewing art works outdoors is one thing; a DTour through the land and season is an altogether more poignant experience.”

Visitors who have traveled past DTours will recognize old favorites with new twists. New Field Notes, educational signs that speak to land use, have been added and five will be geo-tagged with audio of farmer interviews in collaboration with Grassland 2.0. PassWords — five-line roadside poems inspired by the old Burma Shave ads — were selected this year by Angela Trudell Vasquez, Madison’s first Latina poet laureate. 

Entirely new elements have been added as well. Sound artist Hugh Livingston will create a GPS-based mobile app to play a soundscape that evolves as the visitor drives or cycles the route. “The Land Remembers” —inspired by Ben Logan’s memoir about life on a small farm in southwestern Wisconsin — will be a series of 20 dialogue balloons supported by the Wisconsin Humanities Council. These large signs will feature quotes from voices that have shaped Wisconsin’s history, and writers imagining what the land’s non-human residents might say. 

“The DTour is a multi-sensory, leisurely meander,” said Wormfarm Executive Director Donna Neuwirth. “A little bit of Kansas, a little bit of Oz, plus cows. In this edge environment teeming with diverse life forms, at a time of transformation, we want visitors to think deeply about their relationship to the land, and to each other. It’s essential that we renew and cultivate connections between rural and urban dwellers.” 

For more about the DTour including the latest information about Covid-19 guidelines, food vendors, pop-up events and rogue installations, visit fermentationfest.com