The Countryside and the City
Our body and the territories we cross daily: a conversation with Amelie Aranguren and Fernando Garcia Dory (INLAND – Campo Adentro)
The first edition of If Body 2023 features Amelie Aranguren who, on July 19th, will present at the Real Academia de España en Roma a convivial moment related to food, the body and the many eco-agricultural farms that inhabit the Roman rural area, to reflect on the multiple relationships between the countryside and the city, while questioning how we feed ourselves in times of climate crisis and environmental disaster. On this occasion, and in collaboration with choreographer Stefania Carvisiglia, the gestures of cooking will give rise to extemporaneous scores for potential choreographies of Agrogestuality.
The following conversation delves into some of the issues addressed by Aranguren and Inland—a collective she co-created with Fernando García-Dory in 2009—that brings attention to the connections that bind our body and the territories we cross daily.
If Body is a public visual and performing arts program that focuses on the body as an artistic language and learning methodology based on experience and participation. Conceived and curated by Sara Alberani and Marta Federici (LOCALES), it presents new performance works, talks, workshops and exhibitions that explore the cultural, social and political meanings associated with body and corporeality will be presented over the course of six events. The first edition involves interventions by Amelie Aranguren, Marie Moïse e Mackda Ghebremariam Tesfau’, Pauline Curnier Jardin & Feel Good Cooperative, Adelita Husni Bey and Holly Graham.
Over the coming months, a series of interviews will be conducted by Chiara Pagano with all the artists of If Body 2023 program to delve into each specific happening.
Chiara Pagano: Since 2010, you have been part of INLAND – Campo Adentro, an entity created in Spain in 2009. With a strong artistic sensibility and building on a close relationship with the rural world, its object is to develop new eco-sustainable sensitivities. Can you tell us more about the project’s genealogy and the needs that drove you to create it?
INLAND – Campo Adentro: The idea came after 10 years of working in relation to art and the rural question, after living in between the city of Madrid and a remote rural location and seeing the village becoming abandoned.
It was important for us not only to transform how art happens and manifests itself when embedded in the historical and material conditions of what we call “contemporary art”, but also to revive the rural cultures. We wanted to bring these two processes into dialogue so that they would be mutually reinforcing and symbiotic; there was the need to encourage cultural workers to reconsider their spaces of production and their meaning and to look at the rural as a possibility, as a platform for a deeper and inevitable ecological and social change. Then, of course, the personal need to make possible the countryside I would like to live in.
The tools and methodologies that have informed Inland’s structure come from the rural movement militancy, which we pursued years before imagining a pilot or experimental structure that rethinks the arts in the rural context, and the arts of the rural. That frame consisted of a political “entente” amongst different actors: the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Environment and Farming, social movements, universities and museums. That first experience led us to start artistic projects in twenty-two villages across the country, and their subsequent exhibitions: a first step that was followed by a period of reflection and evaluation, consisting of several study groups on art and ecology, and a series of publications. After that, the focus was placed on collaborative production through the Mobile Method system and we started to work also in the spaces we are based, as well as farm production and the coordination of the Confederacy of Villages, the European Shepherds Network, and the Lumbung Land Group.
INLAND defines itself as a para-institution, a term that immediately evokes a kind of critical hacking approach to art institutions in search of alternative and democratic forms of knowledge transmission and production. I think, for example, of your participation in Lumbung—documenta fifteen in Kassel. How did you inhabit the space on that occasion? And from what does this positioning stem?
The whole of Lumbung’s idea was similar to the main principles of Inland: to exist within the institution but, at the same time, to exceed it. The focus on the infrastructural aspects—such as how the venues, the economics or the decisions were held—was very different from the documenta 12, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and in which I had the chance to be part.
Within Lumbung we had a long and intense period of exchange that preceded documenta; it was very moving to see the internal solidarity in the midst of political difficulties, and it is very joyful to see that to date we continue to work with Lumbung Land Group, Lumbung Press and so on.
Speaking about the para-institutional position, in my perspective it was needed as a way to counterbalance and overturn the vulnerable position of the individual artist. We were very interested in structures created by artists, such as the FIU art school by Beuys, Eflux by Aranda-Vidockle, or Food restaurant. In this, the difference from avant-garde artists groups lies in an intentional experimental economic approach, as well as in the strategies of mirroring the institution as a form of camouflage.
Through the involvement of artists, activists, researchers, eco-farmers and all the many subjectivities you involve whenever you encounter new territories, the collective grows according to the specific needs of each particular place, continuously regenerating itself like a compost. For several months now, you have been in residence at the Real Academia de España en Roma. What research have you developed during your stay, and how has your work guided you within and outside the space of this institution?
Nuova Agrocittà has been a nine-month process in which we have met, listened and exchanged ideas and practices with various groups of agricultural producers, consumers and activists in the city of Rome. A proposal that is based on the relationship between the countryside and the city, on the different ways in which we build bridges or blur the lines that separate them. This process has manifested itself in a market that was held at the Spanish Academy, a map that maps all the agroecological farms and markets in the Roman environment and the website-repository roma.inland.org.
Among INLAND’s purposes is to activate new questions about the relationship between centers and suburbs. After all, historically, the margins represent sites for the resistance of all those bodies which, using J. Butler’s words, are precarious and therefore also vulnerable. What are “the silenced other realities” you refer to in your statement, and what kind of approaches and methodologies do you adopt to make space for their voice?
It is of course a reference to the cosmovisions and ways of life of peasant and indigenous peoples. In 2004, when I started the Shepherds School, I realised that since a National Park was established in the area (1912), shepherd communities have found themselves living within an intra-colonial regime which pretends to be the protector of nature; a system in which an eco-technocracy establishes ways to manage the territory. This is why through the project of the school, the shepherd has been placed as the custodian of a kind of knowledge the aspirant seeks, as we have around 50 applicants every year. From that new position, they felt empowered to question dominant land use policies.
It happens also within the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples and Pastoralists – WAMIP, a global movement and a sister entity to La Via Campesina—created in 2007 when I organised a world gathering of nomads. Since then, we have been coordinating the European chapter, in horizontal dialogue with other regions and continents, to influence UN bodies—from FAO to the UNCCD.
Our achievements are sometimes symbolic (like 2026 being declared by the UN the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists), but they also contribute to pressure on the ongoing abuses we suffer as pastoralists and even more for the indigenous mobile peoples; it is about challenging the urban-centric cultural system.
Discussing eco-technocracy, agriculture and food markets immediately leads to reflecting on the issues of agro-mafia and caporalato (a specific form of labour of exploitation), two extremely urgent matters in both Italy and Spain. Did you have a chance to discuss these topics with the farmers you met in Lazio during your investigations?
The agro romano is sustained by the work of immigrants. When we eat fruit, vegetables or cheese we have to be aware of the conditions of the workers who produce them. In this sense, the farms we have worked with are all projects that go beyond the production of quality food: they involve taking care of the land, of the animals and, of course, of the workers. They all advocate decreeing the regular entry of seasonal migrant workers needed by the agricultural sector to guarantee the labour force in the fields, fight against the “caporalato” and defend food sovereignty.
Lingering with the topic of activism, over the past few months, we have witnessed several environmental disasters that have affected many Italian territories, among others. I’m thinking of what recently happened in Emilia Romagna which has become an example of an affective and communitarian resistance willing to react in the face of environmental collapse. Against the political impasse incapable of providing answers to the urgent questions of those who keep fighting against the climate crisis and in favor of social justice, what role does the alliance of bodies play? and how do you think we can counteract the fragmentation and individualism induced by neoliberalism?
Thinking of Emilia Romagna and the beautiful testimonies of solidarity and resistance that have reached us and that have had as protagonists new subjectivities such as the neo-rural, refugee migrants and, of course, the countrymen, the term “glocal” comes to mind: a word that helps to understand globalization in its humanistic and not purely economistic connotation, moving the attention to what remains of rural citizenship and peasant culture, which with its values of mutual support, hospitality, care, shared misfortunes and joys, represent the substratum of our civilization. Communities are inserted in the environment and therefore are co-responsible, interconnected and in solidarity in the challenges of humanity.
For If Body 2023, you will present a food happening: a collective cooking session will become a performative score with gestures, recipes and shared narratives as its main ingredients. A type of activity that fosters knowledge transmission and care practices through embodied memory and the coexistence of bodies.
This relationship with the rural world undoubtedly brings up the theme of tradition(s). How to preserve and enhance them without the risk of getting stuck in old perspectives that no longer resonate with us?
Many things do not resonate today because the tremendously aggressive forms of the market have destroyed them and all the knowledge and culture that came with them.
With Campo Adentro, we give special importance to shepherding, a profession that has been completely abandoned and denigrated. This summer, we will hear again about the hundreds of fires burning our forests, and how many could be prevented by flocks cleaning the mountains. But for this to happen, new shepherds must be trained and supported by consuming their products—milk, meat and wool. Spinning wool together may perhaps no longer resonate with most people nowadays, but if we pause to think for a moment about all that it entails, it becomes clear how it is actually an act of resistance and struggle.
This kind of operation somehow reminds me of the famous artwork “Semiotics of the Kitchen” by Martha Rosler: one of the many in which the artist reconsiders power dynamics through the culture of food preparation and consumption. By manipulating domestic language, the kitchen becomes a ground for resistance and transformation against an oppressive society. What does it mean to you to work with a gesturality that has long belonged to private contexts and thus has not been visible in public spaces?
Gestures are pregnant with emotional information; they carry memory. Memory of our elders, of women, of the domestic. But also, in the case of cooking, they are a way to feel, touch and listen to the land, the food and those who produce it. Let’s think about an onion, for example, where it grew, with what water, how it reaches our hands and all those different tricks we share when we cook together, in order to avoid tears in our eyes.