The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art will introduce an exciting and interactive dimension to MMoCA’s Rooftop Sculpture Garden with the addition of Meg Mitchell’s sculptural installation, Tenacious Numismatic Hops Exchange (TNHE): a hop garden for unyielding people. Composed of six twenty-foot-tall aluminum beams on a winch system, Mitchell’s Hops Exchange is a massive artwork that functions both as a trellis to support the growth and harvesting of hops, and as a platform for social engagement, educational programming, and artistic activity.
In early April, the fabricated metal beams from Henry Street will be installed along the building’s towering, north-facing brick wall. The installation process offers audiences the first of many opportunities to connect with Mitchell’s Hops Exchange and the conversations it will spark, such as historical and contemporary notions of technological, industrial, and agricultural progress; the patenting and ownership of seeds and plant life; the socio-economic history of hops as a commodity crop; and the current increase of interest in hops cultivation, beer production, and local industry.
Mitchell, whose artistic practice is grounded in a multidisciplinary approach, works in various media, often combining the sculptural with the performative, and the handmade with the digitally rendered. She designed the sculptural installation to resemble architectural trusses—rigid building structures used in engineering and construction. Hinged at the bottom of the wall and anchored at the top, the trusses can be manually lowered and raised with a winch and pulley system, which provides functionality while also visually referencing the history of labor and industry. As these artist-rendered beams serve as the foundational structure for the hop vines’ growth, the project hints at Mitchell’s larger artistic interests in engaging discourses of power and control as applied to gender, nature, labor, and technology.
By designing her installation to function as a simple machine that can be manually operated with relative ease, Mitchell prioritizes the experiential and participatory over the self-contained, static object. The lowering and raising of the trusses allows the hops to be safely accessed for harvesting each autumn. The Hops Exchange harvest will become an annual MMoCA tradition. Mitchell’s plan to choreograph the annual harvest as an interactive performance tied to the actual history of hop-related labor and material exchange enables her to cleverly address food as commodity and explore the poetics of desire and control. Combining the visual language of industrial architecture, the socio-economic history of the hop plant, and the conceptual concerns surrounding ownership and control of natural resources, Mitchell’s installation provides a forum to discuss complex contemporary issues.
Meg Mitchell is Associate Professor of Digital Media in the Department of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work has been featured in numerous group and solo exhibitions, at venues such as the Evergreen Museum and Library in Baltimore, MD, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Conner Contemporary, the DC Art Center, the International Waldkunst Zentrum in Germany, and most recently at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the Wisconsin Triennial. Her work has been featured in many publications, such as Art Papers, Art in America and the Washington Post. She was awarded an Expanded Artist’s Book grant from Columbia College Chicago for her collaborative project with Denise Bookwalter, “Rain/fall,” a data driven artist’s book and mobile application.