On Wednesday, students watched as a truck dumped 32 tons of fresh carrots outside the Ben Pimlott building at Goldsmiths University in London. Though some initially suspected that the giant mound of vegetables was a prank, it turned out to be an artwork.
The piece is the latest work by Rafael Pérez Evans, an M.F.A. candidate at the famed art school whose installations have centered the tensions that permeate urban life and the complexities of rurality. His piece, titled Grounding, borrows from the act of “dumping,” a means of protest used by European farmers to make their devalued labor visible to consumers and indifferent government bodies. The work is appearing at the school as part of an M.F.A. degree show that opens this week.
Grounding became a sensation on Wednesday, after George Greenwood, a Times reporter, posted an image of it on Twitter. As of Thursday afternoon, Greenwood’s tweet had accrued more than 67,000 likes. As others began to speculate on what the pile of carrots could possibly mean, Goldsmiths responded with a clarification that they were part of an artwork. In a tweet, Goldsmiths said, “Rafael has arranged for the carrots to be removed at the end of the exhibition and donated to farm animals.”
Pérez Evans did not respond to request for comment.
Evans’s piece alludes to the large piles of produce that are dumped in urban areas, sometimes outside government buildings or on busy intersections, forming barricades. In 2009, after complaints by European dairy farmers to freeze production quotas amid a drop in prices went unheard, protestors in Belgium poured three million liters of milk over fields in the country. Protests later spilled into the capital Brussels, as milk was poured over streets and eggs hurled outside the E.U.’s headquarters.
The carrots used in Grounding were among those deemed unsuitable for sale by U.K. food distributors, according to a statement posted to the artist’s website. In 2018, a University of Edinburgh study reported that over 50 million tons of produce grown in Europe, or about a third of all goods farmed, are discarded each year, partly after being deemed too ugly to sell at grocery stores. To compensate for the loss, farmers are often contracted by markets to grow more produce than is expected to sell.
Goldsmiths has become known for breeding artists with conceptualist impulses, and during the ’80s and ’90s, the school became the alma mater of Young British Artists such as Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, and others, who were known to take up bizarre ready-made objects, such as dead animals and food, and call it art. Many alleged early on that those artists’ work couldn’t possibly qualify as art, and those debates resurfaced again on social media with the Pérez Evans piece, after users figured out that the carrots were indeed part of a sculpture.
“This site-specific intervention offers itself as a sculptural exercise in grounding, ‘bringing back to earth’ some of the dissociative and opaque practices of the metropolis and the university industrial complex,” Pérez Evans wrote in an artist statement.