Diving in with a foreign eye
Casa delle Agriculture was born as a collective formed by farmers, artists and activists, then officially launched in 2013 in Castiglione d’Otranto (Lecce) with the primary objective of practising “restanza” and re-inhabiting the rural landscape of Salento, a precious heritage of knowledge and biodiversity handed down for millennia, but now cemented, polluted and forgotten.
Casa delle Agriculture is a voluntary association and an agricultural cooperative, made possible thanks to a model of social cooperation developed over the years, primarily involving local citizens.
In addition to revitalising abandoned land and enhancing biodiversity, Casa delle Agriculture aims at social inclusion, transforming some of its projects into places of inclusion and resistance: the Vivaio dell’Inclusione (Inclusion Nursery), for example, is guaranteed thanks also to the work of differently-abled people, migrants and the elderly – groups considered to be weak; the Mulino di Comunità (Community Mill), inaugurated in March 2019, on the other hand, puts micro-productions into circulation through a milling service at fair costs, encouraging everyone to cultivate abandoned land in order to have more quality grains and legumes around them, thus increasing a local economy.
The rituals associated with community and rural life stimulated the idea of an annual festival, which has been running for 10 years, entitled Green Night: agriculture, utopias and community, which acts as a ritual of passage for all the cultivators of change who act locally, an event open to the public that gives visibility to projects linked to the defence of the territory, to artisanal and ecological production, and to another way of making culture.
For the Salgemma agenda, in conversation with Luigi Coppola, we explored an ethical and design track that develops in the association’s collaborative practices and in artistic practice, the latter being an integral part of the Casa delle Agriculture project.
- The practice of restanza
The concept of restanza, a neologism used by the anthropologist Vito Teti in Pietre di Pane, finds fertile ground in the work of Casa delle Agriculture to explain our narrative, the utopias we are building, and, above all, our unprecedented way of living, which does not follow roads already trodden.
I found it interesting to activate in artistic practice the idea that is inherent in restance, to preserve this foreign and dynamic gaze that also challenges the concepts of ancient and tradition to find a contemporary way in action and thought, where culture is a possible key.
It is the same work as preparing the soil: humus enriches and nourishes the soil that has been depleted, putting organic material and nutrients back into circulation, until the soil itself has the capacity to react.
We are trying to do the same work from the social point of view, tackling many issues, especially that of living, which means thinking about relationships, the type of cultural exchange that can be activated within a community, how to include all the marginal components and how the surrounding environment becomes an integral part of this life, the relationship between culture and nature that is revived and becomes peculiar to a new way of being in the world.
Enriching this terrain, enriching ourselves as a community of practice because the first big job we constantly do is to always put ourselves in crisis and to always find new solutions.
We are still at the beginning of a journey and the issue of restraint is a complex one that holds together all our work, which is articulated in so many rivers.
2. Being is in the relationship
The whole process was born more than ten years ago by a group of young people who were already bound by a brotherly friendship, a sentiment shared by all the people who join the Casa delle Agriculture association.
CdA is like an organism made up of concentric circles of members who play an active role on a daily basis, where everyone has their own space for expression according to the energy they have at their disposal at that moment.
The contribution of the very strong and powerful community of elderly people within the Castiglione and Andrano community has been fundamental, and from the beginning they have supported us in a visceral way, spending themselves for us and seeing in our actions almost a cultural heritage to be passed on.
It all started in a place where associationism and community action were already very present and created a fertile territory where the Green Night is the miracle of these relationships that takes place every year. There is a network of people we call Cultivators of Change who believe in the idea of manifesting themselves and finding a common moment where these transformative energies converge. Those who usually come to the Green Night come to understand the complexity of a territory that is on the move, made up of relationships and many transformative elements, generally a more optimistic picture of the reality of the territory that experiences its difficulties every day.
What I have tried to do through my artistic and curatorial practice, thanks also to the constant collaboration with Free Home University, has been to bring to the community of the country external looks with very radical visions in order to create a constant confrontation that can generate other visions.
Without a foreign gaze, it is difficult to make the people of our community understand the beauty and uniqueness of the area. I think this confrontation is always very strong and often very tiring, especially in recent years when we are seeing a lot of attention towards our actions. We are aware that we are touching important keys, but it is important to maintain a basic lightness, a fundamental element to be able to go far.
3. Curatorial and artistic practices in rural contexts
Unfortunately, the contemporary art world has been built through a very deterministic way of acting with great limitations on the type of processes to be followed and the timeframe to develop them. There is a preference for cultural productions within very defined and closed timeframes in order to be able to present “results”, the culture of the process, over long periods of time, and also the ability to make the public participate in its evolutions is poorly developed.
Also based on my previous work experience, the desire to immerse myself in a reality such as Casa delle Agriculture and to go deep was born in me. This process of digging deep down is in keeping with the complexity of the challenges we are working on and allows us to implement real transformative processes.
This idea of taking the time, continuing to go deep, putting oneself out there and not closing oneself off is fundamental.
When I began my process within the Castiglionese reality in connection with the Free Home University experience, an experience based on the encounter and relationship of radical pedagogy, we carried out a very intense programme, inviting personalities with a very strong cultural background. For example, with the activation of the Common Park of Minor Fruits project, there have been very interesting and inclusive moments, perhaps because at that moment there was a need for a shake-up.
We realised that the classic mechanism of the residency did not work in our case, because each time it was necessary to start from scratch with the invited artists and it often happened that there was no real exchange. With time we realised the need for negotiation and to establish a relationship over a longer period of time because the nature of places and communities is complex.
4. Art as a collaborative and non-authorial practice
At the moment we are participating in Confederacy of Villages, a European project that involves five other realities linked to the idea of art and rurality and that carry out processes similar to Casa delle Agriculture. We have already had the opportunity to get to know each other and experiment in Castiglione with the partners and related artists, and this opportunity of the European project will allow us to open a new phase of exchange. The idea is to build a long-lasting sharing process that finds a very strong connection with realities that are very distant from each other, but that have the same inputs and starting energies.
Another project in which I am fully involved, and in which I am a great believer, concerns the crisis in the Salento landscape caused by the death of millions of olive trees affected by xylella, which has highlighted a series of structural limitations in the area.
We are promoting an important network of exchange with five realities in Salento that share the practice of Casa delle Agriculture and we are trying to build a prototype of action from below for an idea of agroforestry and cultural-economic change in the area, with a different vision of the relationship with nature.
This commitment of mine is accompanied by a very personal daily practice and care that gives a rhythm to my life in Salento. I am dedicating myself to experimenting with the recirculation of organic matter and the reconstruction, also in a symbolic key, of the landscape. We are doing this work together with Rossella Biscotti and Michele Guido for Fondazione Merz, who asked us to understand what the role of art can be at this time in the specific problem of the crisis of the devastated landscape.
In 2019, with Matera Capital of Culture, I was invited as part of the Gardentopia project curated by Pelin Tan, and I developed three different projects: the creation of an evolutionary Garden in Matera, and the second project in Cirigliano (MT) where we created the Parade of the Seasons to Come, built in this tiny village of 300 inhabitants, recovering the tradition of a rural carnival and reactivating it in a new contemporary ritual, which will each time open a new path of connection of ecotourism and rediscovery of ancient paths that connected the neighbouring countries.
The practice and involvement of Casa delle Agriculture return in the third project developed in San Mauro Forte (MT), a town that has almost entirely organic production and great potential, but a pessimistic narrative of its future. On this occasion I involved two other members of Casa delle Agriculture, along with a photographer and a designer, in a collective investigation called Utopia in reality, writing a fiction and imagining in ten years what the village would be. Then with the action Il paese dell’abbondanza (The Land of Abundance) we created an installation that investigated the relationship between restitution and abundance in a journey through the village with new visions.
The project’s spin-off is a collaboration with a young association in San Mauro Forte, with whom we are working on the supply chain of an ancient grain: Saragolla lucano, a variety of durum wheat that was grown in the south until the early decades of the last century, before the advent of modern grains. Having reproduced the seed, we donated it to the community of San Mauro, which is cultivating it so as to restart a supply chain to create a local and cultural economy that will enhance its value, thus restarting the restanza circuit.