20,000m2 artwork GROW by Daan Roosegaarde highlights the beauty of agriculture

We all need a little inspiration to guide us into 2021. GROW, a monumental new artwork by Rabobank artist-in-residence Daan Roosegaarde, meets that need. GROW, documented in a film of the same name, illuminates a huge field of crops in the night, and celebrates both the beauty of agriculture and the cutting-edge innovations making farming more sustainable.

“Do you want to work with us to tackle food problems in the world? Whatever you do, be radical.” That was the challenge Rabobank’s Chairman of the Managing Board, Wiebe Draijer gave to Daan Roosegaarde before the artist joined Rabobank as artist-in-residence in 2019. Daan, who heads up the pioneering Studio Roosegaarde in Rotterdam, says that call-to-action “really became part of my brain.”

He started to ask himself: “How can we make the farmer the hero? How can we show the beauty of agriculture? We have these huge fields in the Netherlands that people rarely notice. They’re not part of your day-to-day awareness. But they feed us.”

From farm to “dreamscape”

On a cold night two years later, a crew of 22 artists, designers and engineers descended upon an organic farm in Lelystad. They were there to rig a spectacular display of “dancing lights” that would illuminate not only a 20,000m2 field of leek plants, but an agricultural system that is often taken for granted. “It was just this sort of vastness, this space that breathes and feeds us,” Daan recalls. “It really started to make a connection with me.”

The artwork appears as a luminous “dreamscape.” Red and blue lights wash like waves over an enormous field surrounded by darkness. The farmer watches on, staring at his glowing crops as they catch the light.

GROW is a testament to the beauty and vital importance of agriculture. But the light spectacle is inspired by real science exploring how certain combinations or “recipes” of light can improve plants’ growth and resilience. “I hope GROW will be a platform for science and innovation and for farmers to be proud of their landscape,” says Daan.

“Light is information”

The concept for GROW emerged from expert knowledge sessions, including Rabobank colleagues from across the business, hosted at Studio Roosegaarde, Wageningen University, Springtij Forum and the World Economic Forum in Davos. It was in this research phase that Daan connected with New Zealand-based agtech start-up BioLumic. The company, which is in the Rabo F&A Innovation Fund portfolio, develops UV “light recipes” that help growers get more out of their crops. Research shows that exposing seeds or young plants to specific formulas of light can enhance growth and reduce pesticide use up to 50 percent.

Building off of these light recipes was a natural fit for Daan, who regularly uses light in his artworks, for example, to show how water levels could rise due to climate change. “Light is not decoration for me,” he explains. “It’s information, communication.”

Light is also information for Professor Jason Wargent. The BioLumic Founder and Chief Science Officer says he had never been involved in an artwork before, but has enjoyed seeing the results. He describes GROW as making the invisible visible. “You could argue that light itself is invisible, in the sense that you can’t see what it’s doing to a crop,” he reflects. “But to growers and to us at BioLumic, light is a vital ingredient for maximizing crop productivity.”

BioLumic’s mission is to get the most out of plants in a clean and sustainable way. “It’s a similar mission to what GROW is trying to convey,” says Jason. “There is a natural beauty to what happens in agriculture that doesn’t always get seen very clearly.”

Prototyping a better future

Daan describes GROW as a prototype for a more sustainable way of growing food. For him, creating inspiration is not just something nice to do. It’s the essential first step toward design thinking and, ultimately, innovation. “The goal of GROW is to inspire thinking about what we want our future to look like,” he says. “Because if we can’t imagine a better future, we won’t get there. Then and only then can we construct, engineer, prototype and actually make it.”

The artist-in-residence program at Rabobank

Rabobank has hosted an artist-in-residence program for a number of years. It begins with the question: how can art be of value to the bank and the society in which we operate? Rabobank believes that, through the open exchange of ideas, employees and artists can learn from each other and make a positive contribution to society.

Daan Roosegaarde, Artist-in-residence 2019-2020: “GROW really started from the dialogue with Rabobank. We found shared values, a middle ground in which we enhance and strengthen each other. I could have never done this alone. It’s co-creation and that makes it really fun.”


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