Contemporary Artists Steward Ancient Agrarian Practices in Brower Center Exhibition
When modern living encroaches on pastoral land, open space and local food access aren’t the only things at stake. What happens to the generations-old land practices that once thrived there? Are they lost forever? What about the people who depend on land for their livelihoods?
The David Brower Center’s current art exhibition features two artists at the forefront of a global resurgence in sustaining farming and shepherding traditions. Land, Use: Works by Amy Franceschini and Fernando García-Dory brings together individual works by each artist–as well as featuring a first-time collaboration for San Francisco Victory Gardens Founder Franceschini and Madrid-based García-Dory. The exhibition runs in The Brower Center’s Hazel Wolf Gallery through May 9.
For both artists, art is social practice. The artists explore modern technologies, organized education, interaction and aesthetics as an answer to revitalizing historically oral teachings. Through these means, they facilitate agrarian knowledge transfer to the next generation. They engage shepherds and farmers, document these interactions, and use these representations to spark new conversations. As such, their work is reflective of a key objective of the David Brower Center—to raise awareness about social and environmental issues through powerful artistic mediums.
The exhibition includes images of projects such as Franceschini’s This is Not a Trojan Horse, in which she constructed a human-powered wooden horse and moved it through the Abruzzo region of Italy for 12 days, inviting farmers and producers to cover the horse’s skin–chalkboards–with their perspectives on the changing rural landscape. Key works by García-Dory include documentation of his project A World Gathering of Nomadic Peoples, through which shepherds around the world met for the first time to develop shared strategies for advocacy.
García-Dory’s A Shepherds School as a Micro-kingdom of Utopia brings young people to apprentice with seasoned shepherds, sharing quarters in mountain cabins, shepherding goats, sheep and cows. They learn cheese-making techniques ranging from cave-aging to utilizing modern structures and technologies built by García-Dory. These facilities ease some of the challenges and frustrations inherent in ancient processes even for the experienced cheese-makers. And these structures create options necessary to make the craft more attractive to the next generation.
Together, the artists collaborated on Shepherd’s Wagon, A Blueprint consisting of a sculptural, makeshift meeting place, a participatory event, and a map charting the outcomes of a facilitated discussion. Wooden surfaces and canvas material folds out from the wall to create shelter, a table and benches. Franceschini and García-Dory invited land use experts, agriculture activists, and young farmers including the Greenhorns, to congregate here for constructive dialogue about contemporary land issues.
The Brower Center’s Hazel Wolf Gallery–indeed the entire Center–was built for collaboration. As such, this space requires flexibility. Conferences, gatherings, and structured group discussions regularly take place in the gallery, so it is important that sculpture be modular and accommodate multi-use of the space. This challenge presented Franceschini and García-Dory with an opportunity in expression: Shepherd’s Wagon, A Blueprint reflects nomadic, temporary treatments of space. In thinking how an artist interfaces with politics around land use, and urban agriculture in particular, Franceschini says this piece reflects the advantages of mobility and dynamism in advocacy for change. “Infrastructure can sometimes weigh things down. This [Shepherd’s Wagon] evokes temporary architecture that can move, change shape, have some flexibility to it.”
By blurring the lines between organizing, action, art, and new media, and drawing parallels between what is happening on the ground in communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and Spain, the artists make the invisible visual and put these issues in the international spotlight of a tech-driven world. Their work transmits an infectious respect for land and food practices that resonate so much more deeply with the human spirit and our relationship to the natural world than the “modern” life we’ve come to accept as normal. The exhibit also raises powerful questions about the role aesthetics play, and should play, in engaging contemporary, urban audiences.
For the Brower Center as a physical gathering space, the themes of this show resonate deeply. The Brower Center feels that bringing people together for face-to-face dialogue is more important than ever, and is dedicated to providing a forum not only for activists, but for the community as a whole. In addition, they believe that high-quality art and the educational opportunities that surround it should be accessible to all.
The show also features García-Dory’s first solo show in the United States. Here is more info, including hours and location.
About the artists:
Amy Franceschini (San Francisco, CA) founded Futurefarmers, an artist collective and design studio, and in 2004 she co-founded the international artist collective Free Soil. She initiates and participates in cross-disciplinary projects that incorporate cultural, agricultural and social practices. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Whitney Museum, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Fernando García-Dory (Madrid, Spain) studied Fine Art and Rural Sociology in Madrid, Spain and is currently working on a Ph.D in Art and Agroecology. His work explores relationships between culture and nature in contemporary life. His international exhibitions include those at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona; Tate Britain, London; Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid; and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin.