regenerative farming

Art Farming and Cultural Change, oh my!

Art Farming and Cultural Change, oh my!

When the folks at Lyttleton Atelier approached us with the idea of mounting an exhibition of works in progress from the Artist Farmer Scientist project in their window gallery, we very promptly and enthusiastically said yes please.

Three solar energy concepts that will surprise and delight...

Mark and Bjorn are developing an on-farm solar energy project with horticulturalists Erika Watson and Hayden Druce of Epicurean Harvest (in Hartley). After meeting on the farm the four of them have exchanged some exciting ideas via email which we really needed to share with the world… In this post we have included some pictures from Epicurean Harvest’s November ‘I’ll be damned! farm resilience’ fundraiser event, when they opened their gates to a couple of hundred people who were treated to food, tours, music and talks. As a result they are well on their way to being able to fund the installation of some P.A. Yeomans-style keyline water conservation and irrigation infrastructure on their farm in 2019. Brilliant.

This is Erika

This is Erika

Email 1 - Mark writes…

…We are keen to start throwing some ideas back and forth with some of the concepts we were talking about on our visit. Ideas around how to be more creative in re-thinking the ways we move water around a property and what unconventional ways we can use energy that is self sufficient. And of course how to make it look amazing!  

In our meeting we went down a few paths not limited to solar powered little buggies that transport hose and pump water around the paddock. We discussed the ideas of retractable dam covers and floating solar. We played with the concept of the whole farm being one big energy producing entity and how to relate that concept into an artwork.

Let us know some of your thoughts, also if you'd still like to work with us on this? Where you'd like to see it go and how it can benefit the farm?

solar 1.png

Email 2: Erika writes…

…Our ideas are obviously coming from our own context, but applicable to the exciting movement happening in the agricultural space. We are also 2 people with science degrees and creative backgrounds (Hayden music, me painting).

After you visited we went though in more detail the ideas we had thrown out there in the initial email. With a bit of space we have had more thoughts on those and the applicable nature for wider uptake as an artistically beautiful and agriculturally functional piece of solar science.

Below I have fleshed out thoughts/concepts more, and knowing you don't have a trillion dollar budget, aimed high with the idea of concepts translated into more financially achievable outcomes.

Floating Panels:

We discussed the dam and water (obviously our biggest issue and ongoing threat to livelihood). We aim to have the dam in place/built by February. If the panels went over this, we were thinking instead of floating it would be better to be a shelter. Floating as we mentioned would block air flow and light to the dam, affecting biology, also the surface would fluctuate with rainfall or use and perhaps be problematic for panels resting in the water’s surface. A structure built over the dam or part of the dam, perhaps to look like carved tree trunks or woven from materials (thinking of your bamboo Mark, but perhaps would need to be in metal in the dam then to wood if needed and the garden by the bay in Singapore), panels as leaves/canopy. Functionally this would reduce evaporation, still allow light through for dam life, and contribute to farm power needs. The tree/s a direct relationship to real trees/plants, photosynthesis and power of solar energy. The trees that were in the water (ie "planted" at the bottom of the dam), would have to go in, at least in part, before it filled up... its highly unlikely we would empty it to do the project, I'm sure you totally understand that! This sounds epic, Hahaha! But thought I'd flesh out what I can see on this end. This would be beneficial to our farm and dam project, but also to many farmers, who look to bore/groundwater as a source of irrigation as it doesn't evaporate... until you use it. We don't want to use groundwater, water in the ground/soil is the best place for it to be! Taking it up, throws it into the atmosphere, and moves it into the different water cycles around the planet. Water vapour contributes to 60-85% of the greenhouse effect. Workshops/engagements could be on photosythesis and photovoltaics, water cycles, carving, weaving, structural integrity...

Solar Powered Buggy:

We move cows/livestock almost daily or sometimes faster (depends on pasture quality etc) to enable grass to grow, and exudates to pour into the soil, improving organic matter. Many farmers moving towards regenerative agriculture do this, and a big blockage for uptake of these methods is the labour involved. That of carrying and moving fencing and watering infrastructure. An amazing designed "buggy" that holds and moves an IBC (1000L) of water, a water trough, stores fencing equipment (lightweight) and acts as a remote energiser for the fencing would be AMAZING. Obviously powered by solar. It would be super cool if it was remote controlled. This would suit pastured poultry, small herds of livestock suck as goats, sheep and even cows. This concept would have to be upscaled to apply to larger farmers with larger numbers of livestock. As an artwork, it would be up to design to translate the multifunctional coolness of something like this (i'm kinda seeing some sort of kinetic sculpture, even steam punk thing or a even streamline and sleek, or totally made of recycled materials to translate ease of uptake). Solar energy of course feeding the freedom of regenerative farming. Workshops/engagements can be on art as kinetic multifunctional use, solar energy, animals are part of a sustainable landscape...

Whole Farm Solar Energy:

I had the idea of what I was calling ribbons on the contour. Below the drainages cut for the dam (on contour), this is where forestry can take place and watered passively but instead of planting trees (a time vs wow factor to consider), a landscape sculpture that, like contour forestry, is below the dam drainage contours, built as a long tube (perhaps only needs to be 30cm tall?), woven out of logs, sticks, branches, filled with composted/ing materials and seed bombs of grasses, herbs, forbs, etc, faster growers than trees (which can also go in, but later in succession – also an important concept in regenerative farming). Increasing the biodiversity, solar harvest and a whole farm approach to sculpture. Workshops/engagements can be on biodiversity and ecosystem processes, photosynthesis and solar, sculpture across landscape...

This is Hayden

This is Hayden

Email 3: Mark writes…

Erika! Awesome.

Floating Panels:

This is cool, bamboo would be great for the canopy, but it doesn’t do so well in direct sunlight for long. I’ve attached a photo of a project I did in Larjamanu where we wove disused aluminium cables from power lines. I can’t stop thinking Kinetic sculpture and maybe the solar power lowers the canopy in during the sunniest times of the day and opens it back up later when the sun goes away. Also floating barges are relatively simple to make, and don’t need to cover the whole space but might just float about. Plus they make really interesting platforms for sculptural work.

solar pic 5.jpg

Solar powered Buggy.

The more I think about this the more I feel like farmers are just going to be like, well why not just put the IBC on a trailer and tow it around. Also it keeps on feeling like a ‘start up’ idea rather than a creative project. What do you guys think? BUT there are still creative solutions to this problem that would be really fun to play with. These sprinkler tractors https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTsEzqwjS0I (video complete with inspiring music) I was talking about in our meeting the other day, I’m thinking of as a fun model to scale up… not sure yet how useful it would be but it would be fun.

Whole Farm Solar.

Yeah this is great, this to me is a great spot to use woven bamboo, and let it naturally decompose once the growth around it gets thick enough.

Your enthusiasm is awesome and its contagious!

Lets keep chatting!

Email 4: Bjorn writes…

My thoughts at the moment are that the solar over dam idea sounds most practical. I really love the buggies, but agree it's kinda #startup. Floating solar is generally seen as a pain not worth the effort in the industry, so using the space of the dam without using floats and while respecting the solar requirements of the water would be really neat.

Looking forward to see where we can go with the next development!

humus:human at Siteworks in Bundanon

humus:human at Siteworks in Bundanon

The humus:human project has had its first proper outing - at Siteworks, Bundanon Trust’s annual art/science event. Jono Bolitho reports back…

Did you just say "gel matrix" ???

Did you just say "gel matrix" ???

Turns out humus has a gel-like consistency. And a honeycomb structure. Laura, Jono and Glenn delved into the science and texture of humus on their first residency together and now want to make a jelly cave.

Reflections on cultural adaptation in practice

33586328613_9575c5d316_o (1).jpg

By Alex Wisser

Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation was recently invited to speak at “What do we teach, how do we learn”, a Sydney Biennale event at Artspace querying the relationship between art and teaching. It fell to me to string together some semi-cogent sentences in representation of our group. Preparing for the talk proved itself an exercise in arbitrary narrative synthesis because our group is very intentionally structured to maintain the multiplicity of its members and does not easily reduce to a unified common voice or position. So, attempting to “speak for the group” is itself problematic.

My solution was to begin with a disclaimer not unlike the one above and then to concentrate on exactly the “soft structure” of our group as a subject matter, throwing in some reflection on my own ‘pedagogical’ experience as a member of the Kandos School of Adaptation’s student body (seeing as this was the subject of the talk – and also a favorite subject for reflection of mine). The text below is adapted from the original talk.

bs1.jpg

 

The Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation began life as a fiction that grew up to become a real thing (not unlike an artwork). Despite its newfound reality, the structure of KSCA retains the unreal quality of its fictional beginnings and having none of the material trappings we would normally associate with an institution of learning, the school itself became its name – a moniker that when placed onto a project would magically render the institutional resources of KSCA at the disposal of that project. Through this fluid structure, the individual members of the group are able to maintain our own initiative while still having recourse to the collective support and engagement of the group.

It occurs to me that this structure might be called superficial. It organizes from the surface as more of an exoskeleton than an endoskeleton. It possesses little essential identity but becomes what it becomes through the activity we pursue in its name. The signifier remains constant as the signified shifts beneath it.

bs2.jpg

 

This does not mean that it has no structure. The four words Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation regulate and organize whatever content they are given. Whatever activity is placed beneath them becomes subject to the aperture that the name imposes. Any activity so designated becomes a learning activity and the subject of that learning, its discipline if you will, is the phenomena of cultural adaptation. Instead of imposing these elements upon a project as their a priori criteria for inclusion, these elements are discovered, emphasized and brought into focus within the activity of any project adopted by the group.

The term ‘cultural adaptation’ refers to the idea that if art can be seen as an activity that functions specifically to adapt culture to the changing conditions of social reality, then any activity that changes culture can be seen as art. Art, defined as cultural adaptation, leaves the museum and gallery cul de sac and opens onto the entire field of cultural activity. It can take place anywhere. It happens in the office or the block of flats, at the bus stop or the parking garage, it happens in a paddock or at a football game. It happens at any point within our society at which conventional practice is challenged, shifted or broken in the pursuit of new cultural modes often catalysed by a changing social reality. For an artist, the prospect of applying the conceptual and communicative strategies of my art practice to a point of cultural change outside of the artworld is very exciting.

Glenn Morris shows us historic images of Billabong, the property now under his regenerative management

Glenn Morris shows us historic images of Billabong, the property now under his regenerative management

To put this into relief, our current project “An Artist, A Farmer and a Scientist walk into a bar…” centres around a community of farmers who, on their own initiative, compelled by economic necessity as much as ethical or idealistic concern, are turning away from the high input conventions of chemical dependent industrial farming toward methods that regenerate soil fertility, cultivate biomass and encourage soil water retention. In pursuing these changes in their practices, they place themselves in contrast to the forces and interests of the existing industrial farming economy as well as the conventional farming community to which they had previously belonged. As a result, they face a resistance that seems to encompass the existing social world.

Tim Wright's impressively healthy grasslands produced through holistic management practices on Lana NSW

Tim Wright's impressively healthy grasslands produced through holistic management practices on Lana NSW

What I believe we are witnessing and potentially participating in, is a point of cultural change. Material social and economic pressures are building within a certain regime of practice and this is driving a change in behavior amongst those who directly participate within it. This change meets its necessary resistance in the form of the status quo: the culture as it exists closes ranks against the perceived threat of change, presenting a united front that stretches from the company board room to the local pub, from the evening news to the queue at the newsagents.

So, you might ask, how does an artist 'participate' at this point of cultural change? That is something we are still learning. And that perhaps is the most appropriate answer. It occurs to me that all of art is but a specific form of learning - an observation of the world made through an attempt to reflect, present or represent it. It is for this reason that artists loose interest in a work as soon as they know what they are doing - there is no learning to be gained from it.

To use my own circumstances as an example, agricultural practice is not only a subject of which I am profoundly ignorant, but also a subject in which I had no previous interest. I am not drawn to it as a preoccupation but through this project, I find myself (along with all of my preoccupations) nonetheless immersed within it. I am engaging with an entire realm of experience that I would have never chosen for myself, because I had no intellectual connection to it. For me, this circumstance or the circumstantial nature of KSCA predicates a kind of learning that is difficult or even impossible in more traditional educational contexts. Instead of working within the field or discipline of my competence, I (along with all my competencies) am dropped into a world of which I am manifestly ignorant. And what better place from which to acquire an education than ignorance.

The learning that occurs at this point of contact between my “self” and the world for which I am not prepared is incredibly generative. The world I bring with me, in its efforts to comprehend the world I am entering, begins to generate connections that were inconceivable before the confrontation I am attempting to describe. In the process, the resistance of the world I thus struggle to understand, challenges and decomposes much of the understanding I throw at it, forcing it (my understanding) to regenerate in forms that have been altered by the process. If left to my own devices, I would only have my own devices to work with, and little enters from the outside.

Rick Hutton shows the KSCA crew around The Living Classroom at Bingara

Rick Hutton shows the KSCA crew around The Living Classroom at Bingara

Which brings me back to cultural adaptation because it is an idea that I now carry with me everywhere. It functions less a matrix through which I can render the world comprehensible, and more as a question that I can ask at those points that I don’t understand what is going on. The question, if I were to formulate it out loud, would sound something like “How does this thing participate in cultural change?” This question is not something that I have to answer, nor really should I. The answer will come with the change that the question interrogates – it might take 10 years for the answer to emerge. In the meantime, I have a fulcrum for lifting that change into a perspective from which I can observe it, learn from it, and hopefully participate in the adaptation we make as a society to that change.

In the context of the AFS project, this method has already produced some striking results. Through conversation with our partners, we were able to identify a point at which we as artists might begin to contribute to their work. These farmers, whom I believe to be at the leverage point of a broader cultural change, find themselves isolated on three levels: from the conventional farmer community who view their activity with suspicion, from other farmers pursuing similar methods (for no other reason than that they are isolated geographically) and from the scientific community that will ultimately sanction or deny the value of the work they are doing. This isolation is particularly frustrating as it also excludes them from participating in the broader national conversations around environmental and land care concerns.

From this recognition we have devised a number of strategies that target these constraints, creating connection and allowing blocked energy to flow. “An Artist, a Farmer and a Scientist walk into a bar…” develops these strategies through eight engagement projects that will stir dialogue, establish lines of communication, and hopefully resonate the results to targeted audiences.

Its all about the grass

Its all about the grass

Beyond the specific, concrete applications, the KSCA method has another, unexpected outcome. By looking at our subject as a point of cultural change, I no longer perceive the vast, static and immovable mass of the existent world in its Goliath opposition to the infinitesimal David-like band of farmers advocating for change. What I look at now is a site of culture change: far from being an isolated movement in a static landscape of enduring truths and realities, it is a particular point of change within a culture that exists in a constant state of movement. What it will change into is a matter of how we adapt to it. If left to its current tendencies, the culture will likely degenerate into a more and more destructive modes of behavior. But likewise, it opens the possibility that we can adapt this cultural change to better fit our changing material and social circumstance. No longer is the struggle conceived as that of moving a mountain – the mountain is already in motion; the challenge is how we direct its movement.