Fernando Garcia-Dory

Arts and Agroecology


How can culture and creativity be tools to preserve a living in the rural world

Fernando Garcia-Dory

First, lets make a basic assumption: Rural arts doesn’t imply necessarily a relation between art and agriculture. But we will come to this later.

My approach to art: Art is for life. Is a celebration of the encounter of the social and nature, that transcends the limits of established perceptions and expands the present to re-invent the future.

Dickens (2001) called subsumption to the capitalist process through which human internal nature is changed at the same time that social relations transform external nature in the aspects we need to maintain social reproduction. He claims that capitalism is rebuilding human biology in its own image.

If historically the perceptions of nature have been culturally built, in post-industrial capitalism we live perhaps the moment in which mankind is further from nature, and at the same time constricted by it, as it is represented in the city: the illusion of a technosphere unattached of ecological links.

This reencounter between society and nature can be provoqued in many spheres but having in mind our urgency and limited capacities we have to chose strategically.

I chose rural as it:

-Implies a direct management of territory (80% of Spain is rural), natural resources and material transformation for covering basic needs.

-Implies locality, sense of place and community, due to the organic size of the settlements.

-Is closer to the possibility of understanding and being conscious about ecological cycles (maybe the same can be in cities, but I grew up in the countryside and I feel another rhythm there that makes me easy to focus)

The rural is a critical site in fast and deep transformation, maybe more evident because the departure point of rural culture is further than in a city on evolution.

Its population (aged and dismissed) has evolved with nature, in the rural just called countryside. Richard Norgaard (1984) uses the concept co-evolution to emphasise how human activities modify an ecosystem and how the ecosystems responses provide reasons for the next individual action and social organization. With the time, coevolution between nature and society has resulted in an increase of complexity in socio-environmental relations and in sophisticated social organization.

Living in and from land has produced a character. When Michael Hardt talks about biopower it is not only in the sense Foucault did: from an authority able to coert life and imagination, oppression and control that today reaches even the gene of the patented seed. Hardt as ecofeminism, defines bio-power as the capacity nature has – as woman – to self organize, reproduce, in more complex structures with qualities as care, affect, nursing…

(This behaviour happening in human relations, creating communicative links, is a work very valued by economic agents in the current stage of post-industrial capitalism, and therefore, is instrumentalised).

It is questioned too that biopower only acts from top-down, as the growing ‘affective labour’ in the services sector poses a transformation potential by itself, to create autonomous circles of valorization.

Biopower is therefore, from down-top, the capacity to create networks, to break social anomy: “In the production and reproduction of these affects, in this culture and communication networks, collective subjectives are produced, and sociability, and society itself.”

A life-form is created.

My inquiry on collaborative art from an agroecological perspective is to try to answer the question: What would happen if we exert biopower from the primary sector, in which affective labour is directly linked to the control and management of natural resources and the satisfaction of basic needs?

(Food as tool for social change)

Here we see one of the values you feel within the peasant culture of small farmers, the “awkward class” as Shanin said.

Edgar Morin in “Introduction to Complex Thought” talks about the brutality of the global Iron Age we are living:

“We have unprecedented knowledge over the pshysic, biologic, psychologic, sociologic world. Science has made empiric verification and logic to rule. But the mistake, ignorance, blindness, grows everywhere as our knowledge does.

The roots of the mistake are not in the fact mistake (wrong perception), nor in the logic mistake (incoherence), but in the way of organization of the knowledge in ideas systems (theories, ideologies). There is a new ignorance related with the development of conscience itself, a new blindness related to the degraded use of reason. The more serious menaces that mankind face are linked to the blinf and uncontrolled progress of knowledge.

But Bachelard, had already discovered that the simple doesn’t exist, just the simplified.

Science builds its object extracting it from its complex environment to put in non-complex experimental situations. Science is not the study of simple universe, is a heuristic necessary simplification to obtain certain properties, see laws.

The modern pathology of spirit I son the hyper-simplification that blinds to the complexity of the real. The pathology of reason is the rationalization that encloses the real in a coherent ideas system, but partial and unilateral, and that doesn’t know that part of the real is non-reasonable, and that rationality has as mission to dialogue with the non-reasonable.

“I feel that the true rationality is deeply tolerant with mysteries. False rationality always has considered as primitive, childy, pre-logic, (irrationals), populations where there was a complexity of thought, not only in the technique, in the knowledge of nature, but also in the myths….”

This statements grounds the ethno-ecology, a discipline integrated in the agroecology. It studies how pwasant and indigenous peoples develop a cognitive and material appropriation of ecosystems by having a KOSMOS (beliefs as image or representation), CORPUS (knowledge as reading or interpretation) and PRAXIX (practices as uses or managements). This three interrelated aspects define the relations between society and nature.

The recognition of complexity and the value of peasant knowledge and creativity does from Agroecology a scientific framework of the new paradigm, made of many disciplines, such as Ecological Economy, Environmental Sociology etc…

It is directly oriented to action, its aims are to rescue and revalorize traditional knowledge, promote economic, social and cultural equity and justice, promote participation and organization processes for self-management and empowerment of communities, merging social and natural sciences methodologies for endogenous rural development.

How can art perform from an agroecological perspective?

In my view agroecology is not but the design of sustainable systems: agroecological and social.

There are different ways to articulate artistic intervention on this field:

-Individual work with traditional artistic, such as photography, sculpture, installation, tackling rural issues

-Using arts in a Community Cultural Development plan, as participatory video, children drawing workshops, sociodrama

-Collaborative work joining agroecological processes, developing systems

Or all together. There are specific methodologies to carry the different, evaluation and formalization. Agroecology provides valuable resources as toolbox validated by decades of experience as we see in the Participatory – Action – Research (IAP in Spanish) methods.

Artists can learn all this. One way is to integrate them in multidisciplinary fieldwork teams that carry agroecological projects. Other is to provide training in educational schemes, workshops…

This is what we start to do within Rural Platform. Plataforma Rural is a national alliance of small farmers, environmentalist, local associations, consumers, NGO’s, united for keeping a rural world alive. Was created in 1992 and is part of Via Campesina, a global movement of small farmers and indigenous peoples.

The compromise of artists with the rural gets validated by working together with small farmers organizations.

Platforma Rural has working commissions, as Rural University, Seeds Netwoek, Short Circuits, and also, Art and Culture.

We develop this area in two lines:

-National: 30 artists met in September to discuss and define our principles, and ways of action. We agreed on understanding art in an expanded conception as “usual performances visually organized instead of for utility, for emotion”, and necessarily attached to a group and context, as tool for empowerment, self organization and exposure on emergencies. Three compromises were adopted: to create a database of artists, skills and offers to fit the needs of rural communities and agroecological projects, organize a workshop in the countryside to stimulate creativity, and support one specific campaign of Plataforma Rural with a communication design strategy (such as the one against supermarkets or GMO’s)

-International: Study the possibility of launching an exchange of artists’ residencies amongst small farmers organizations of Germany, UK, Spain around the importance of keeping small farms in Europe.

Challenges and questions

Many questions appear in this experiment:

-Utility: Can the scientific approach and results orientated approach mean a constriction for the artsist?

-Effectivity: How far can arts reinforce or awake an agroecological process? Is a matter of rhythm. Empowering a community requires immersion (littoral), which means time, and art and artists go fast, as the voracity of cultural system.

-De-materialisation until…when? On one hand we see art is the mediation between the realm of subjective experience (even when that experience is purely conceptual) and techniques for repressing that experience to others, mastered by the artist, as Prof. Andrew Light stresses. Or, as Austrian collaborative public art groups Wochenklausur say, “art is not a formal act but an intervention into society”.

-How saving the gap between the so called popular low-art, art crafts and elite high-art?

-And many others…

What is true as I have experienced is that art can help on valuing a place, give (back or not) the sense of a place to a person / community. In this task the artist has to keep clear that this work doesn’t consist in a list of traditional environmental amenities suitable for ecotourism, but rather an account of experiences.

Now we face the coming of the simulation, the spectacle of the rural.

A dialectic between two landscapes: landscape of production (cultivation-farms and agroecosystems) and landscape of consumption (public entertainment and recreation – natural park).

Landscape is not just an iconography as texts or ways of seeing (as James Duncan poses in “The City as Text”). It is dialectically connected to the power relations that produce it.

In the Victorian school of gardening the aim was to insulate the bourgeois subject from the rural environment of that time as we can read in the writings of Humphrey Repton, one of the garden designers of late XVII century:

“Is the union, not the existence, of beauty and profit, of laborious exertion and pleasurable recreation, against which I would interpose the influence of my art; not let the fastidious objector condemn the effort, till he can convince the judgment that without violation of good taste, he could introduce the diary and the pig-sty (..) into the recesses of the drawing room, or the area of the salon”.

In that time, as art critic Grant Kester points, the identity of bourgeois subject is produced, or performed, through the act of possession. This performance requires the agency of some as yet un-possessed thing which must provide sufficient resistance to man’s will to mark the boundaries of his identity, while at the same time not offering so much resistance that this identity is threatened. The freedom of his view expresses the extent of his domain and of his status as a subject. Paradigmatically “nature” is the name assigned to that category of objects that resist man’s will. The landscape garden provides the spectacle of nature-like land, un-marked by the signs of possession. A kind of capitalist primal scene, it promises both the plentitude and the universality of the original common land, open and available and not yet subject to the regime of cultivation. It is land that is suspended between nature and culture, awaiting only the transformative ritual of ownership. The redemptive experience of property – taking is performed over and over again in the unimpeded vistas offered by the natural-style landscape garden.

As it happened with the re-wilding of countryside in the gardens, nowadays, the rural tends to be artificially maintained or reproduced as the pintoresque virtuos primal state for the urban-dweller weekend escape. In La Garrocha, Catalonian Pyrenees, the city council plan to contact actors to perform rural activities such as sewing the hay, to animate the abandoned rural landscapes (by agro-business orientated agrarian laws).

This is why Rural Arts without agriculture, without radicality, that is, going to the roots, can lead to this dead end of the disneyfication of the countryside, sinister mask of the dispossession of the capacity of managing the land and the peoples and rural communities sovereignty over the natural resources.