Potential Agrarianisms

Kunsthalle Bratislava
20 August - 31 October 2021

Curated by Maja and Reuben Fowkes
Participating artists: Melanie Bonajo, Gerard Ortin Castellví, Anetta Mona Chişa, Annalee Davis, Ferenc Gróf with Jean-Baptiste Naudy, Oto Hudec, Marzia Migliora, MyVillages, Ilona Németh, Uriel Orlow, Prabhakar Pachpute, Alicja Rogalska

POTENTIAL AGRARIANISMS sets out to diversify agriculture and pluralise its histories, recovering suppressed peasant pasts and activating their unrealised possibilities, destabilising urban-rural dichotomies, repairing the disconnect with the natural world and restoring caring and reciprocal relationships to the soils and plants that nourish us. Uncovering its origins in colonial plantations and embeddedness in the operations of extractive capitalism, the exhibition explores alternatives to the globalised system of industrial agriculture with its patent formula of chemical additives, noxious pesticides and genetically modified seeds, vigorously cultivated with fossil fuel machinery. The rediscovery and reimagining of attentive relations to the land challenges the relentless expansion of intensive farming which promised a new age of abundance, but by depleting the natural vitality of the soil, endangering biodiversity and contributing to climate change now undermines its own aims. Drawing on feminist, postsocialist, black, indigenous and beyond-human perspectives, the artists in this exhibition propose reparative and future oriented land reforms for a just social and ecological transition.

The planetary scale of the transformation of agricultural methods and rural life since the colonisation of the Americas and onset of industrial modernity is epitomised by the parallel trajectories of sugar cane and sugar beet, whose potential histories are reactivated by artists in the show. Decolonial theorist Ariella Aïsha Azoulay’s observation that ‘potential history does not mend worlds after violence but rewinds to the moment before the violence occurred and sets off from there’ also speaks to the entwined social and environmental predicaments of the land. Artists in the exhibition rewind to the moment before the establishment of monocultural plantations, before a patchwork of biodiverse farms was ploughed over, erasing centuries of situated plant knowledges, and before genetically modified corn replaced varieties cultivated by First Nations to suggest that another agrarian path was and is still possible. These art practices infer that in order to establish reparatory procedures, it is necessary to understand the complexity and interconnectedness of agrarian struggles in which all terrestrials, the flourishing of plants, the vitality of the soil and wellbeing of Earth are at stake.

The realisation that the potential histories of post-1989 transition in Eastern Europe could have followed a different course is another underlying stream of the exhibition. This arises from Ilona Németh’s collaborative research and editorial project Eastern Sugar that outlined the demise of the region’s sugar industry as a result of neoliberal marketization and financial opportunism. Building on the momentous revolutionary history of the region and reactivating its empowering legacies of peasant revolts, Potential Agrarianisms points to a convergence with the multiple forms of rebellion required to address the environmental crisis, in which intensive agriculture is inextricably implicated. Anticipating that ‘rebellion will come,’ the protagonists of Animal Farm nevertheless wonder, ‘will there still be sugar after the rebellion?’, revealing the tension between existential anxiety about the imminent future and preparedness to bring about change.
(Maja and Reuben Fowkes)

Photos: Martin Deko, SNG and Adam Šakový.

Potential Agrarianisms is realised within the framework of the Eastern Sugar project in collaboration with Kunsthalle Bratislava and the Slovak National Gallery with the support of the European Union’s Creative Europe program.

Further supported by the Visegrad Fund, Erste Foundation, Pro Helvetia, Mondriaan Fund, Romanian Cultural Institute Prague, Embassy of Romania, Embassy of Netherlands, Spanish Embassy, Italian Embassy, French Institute and the Polish Institute. 

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