You can’t enter them, at most you can mount them. Not that we know who made them, these temporary cathedrals that stand testimony to farmers having stockpiled. Once the cycle of seeding, growth and harvesting comes to a temporary end in late summer, they get created by layering the straw and stubble that gets left behind. Until the winter’s supply of fodder has been used up, the straw consumed, and the cycle can start anew.

The artist, assuming he construes his profession the way sculptor Claus Bury does, is a forever attentive observer. Ever since 1984 and of late with ever greater zest and commitment, he has directed his attention to the temporary structures that farmers the world over erect from straw. For very practical reasons, but also with a certain inclination or insistence on good shapes and with a sure feel for stability. Bury calls the various stacks and ricks “Farmers’ Architecture” and the image on the cover of the volume, which Bury took in 2009 nr. La Joyosa in Spain, proves how right he is. For it shows several blocks, buildings that are as much as six stories high, erected as slightly staggered structures.

As if building from straw had a history all of its own and a repertoire defined by planning, materials and load-bearing considerations, Bury sub-divides his images into six chapters: Composition, Archetype, Architecture, Roofing, Structure, and Decay. The variety of different shapes and methods of layering and construction is quite astonishing. There are simple, small units mades of bundles of sheaves, held together by a straw tie, leant in threes against one another, and then there are the monumental edifices. Sometimes the straw is stacked by hand, sheaf after sheaf, at others a cube or pyramid constructed from mechanically manufactured bales, bundles or cubes. In Cambodia, Bury photographed carefully stacked sheaves of rice plants. In Europe and especially in the State of Hessen, where Bury lives, the standardized bales are evenly stacked one on top of the other, now looking ragged and on other occasions almost ornamental with alternating short and long sides. So-called straw halls are more clearly defined by a focus on economic use; these are simple roof structures beneath which the bales can be placed, protecting them from the elements. Now and again, small towers of round straw bales reach up into the skies.

Filled with curiosity, in the course of extensive travels Bury has explored by camera the various different types of layering in all sorts of cultures, just as he has studied the differences of the “buildings” that accordingly arise. That is until what was originally stacked by way of a store is taken down again, sheaf by sheaf or bale by bale, until the shape melts into spring.

Bury’s black-and-white shots are slightly reminiscent of the industrial photography as championed by Bernd and Hilla Becher, even if Bury is less interested in typologies and more in exploring the relationship of form and space, building and countryside. He would hardly be a sculptor if, when considering these transient structures he were not concerned with the fundamental sculptural ratios of adding and subtracting, of leant angle to stacked layer, or of supporting section to borne item. Florian Hufnagl, Director of Neue Sammlung in Munich, who knew Claus Bury while the latter was still a jewelry artist, puts it aptly in his foreword to the volume: “With the photographs of farmers’ architecture, the artist becomes an observer, a seismograph of the human wish to creatively shape the environment. There’s hardly any other more beautiful proof of the creative potential innate in man than farmers’ architecture across the various countries and continents. The fact that they are always new, forever different, and highly diverse attests not least to humankind’s innate inventiveness and how we have always tussled with our surroundings, and specifically with the countryside around us.”

Claus Bury
Bauernarchitektur /Farmers' Architecture
ed. Florian Hufnagl, Die Neue Sammlung - The International Design Museum Munich
with a text by Ulrich Schneider
144 pages with 110 b&w illustrations, hardcover
EUR 38.00

by Thomas Wagner
Feb 5, 2013
All photographs from the book "Farmer's Architecture" © Claus Bury and Wienand Verlag, Cologne