Amy Franceschini wants to build a land bridge between art and activism. As a founder of the artist collective Futurefarmers spoke at Tipton Hall on the Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus Monday night, she explained that the more interactive site installations she creates to draw attention to issues surrounding farms and farming practice, the more the procedures of the art world seem to slow her down.
At the same time, Franceschini avoids direct action as an activist, she said, because she ha grown up watching her parents, die-hard radicals, be constantly let down when all their work seem to accomplish nothing—not that she wouldn't like to try.
The lecture doubled as a reception for Franceschini's exhibition at the Santa Fe Art Institute. Futurefarmers: A Collective Practice appeared to be represented primarily by a single work, captured in photos and text lining the walls of SFAI's lobby. "Shoebox Diaries" was a series of events that attempted to question a relationship between the sole and the soul, according to the description. Using a cobbler's bench and an atelier as the "nucleus" of the series, "The Pedestrian Press," a performance piece, traveled New York City on the soles of participants. Their shoes imprinted with the letters of the alphabet, participants walked on rolls of paper, "typing" with their feet in soot, while reading texts.
This returns us to Franceschini's expressed desire to find a link between the impulse to create and the impulse to educate.
Since 1995, Futurefarmers has brought artists and designers together with farmers, scientists, engineers, sowers, cooks and bus drivers to find a common soil in a way that might productively impact social, political and economic systems.
As Franceschini flipped through slides of community members in Philadelphia gathering around the Futurefarmers work "Soil Kitchen," artistic practice, field labor and activist intention became the obvious medium; the people, the art.
For the installation, Futurefarmers overtook a space in downtown Philly, where they offered bowls of soup (made from local ingredients) to residents who brought in soil samples from their gardens. While eating and waiting for soil test results (provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency), participants also learned about land husbandry, urban farming and issues facing small farms.
On the roof of the building, Futurefarmers built a windmill to power the installation, and in the outside courtyard, a statue of Don Quixote (a 1997 gift from Cuidad Real, Spain to the City of Brotherly Love) tilts at the windmill. Franceschini sees the statue and windmill as an metaphor for Futurefarmers' mission. Quixote was a hopeless outcast fighting against industrialization; and there was Futurefarmers returning agriculture to a post-industrial city, an effort that Franceschini likens to tilting at windmills as small farms continue to decline.
Even as Cervantes is edging out Shakespeare as the world's greatest gift to literature (Google it, you'll see),
Futurefarmers speaks to a generation increasingly concerned with food, not only as function, but as vocation and community—indeed as activism. One of Franceschini's slides depicting a group protesting the University of California system selling land to Whole Foods Market includes a sign that reads: "Resistance is Fertile."
Without any explanation, the slides depicting artistic actions and those depicting activist actions flowed perfectly with one another.
They gathered, they stared in wonder and, most importantly, they participated.