By Alex Wisser
The propitious beginning to “An Artist, A Farmer and A Scientist walked into a bar” was a communications strategy meeting at Big Fag Press. Sexy. I am quite happy that this humble beginning wouldn’t sustain being called cutting edge, advanced practice, avant guard or any other arts-specific descriptors within the fading paradigms of high culture. I much prefer the appropriated dag of business speak, forged in the honest hearts of self-described ‘entrepreneurs’ and applied without irony to a realm of value they have never suspected exists.
The meeting was more than just a fuck you to the status quo, but actually represents the priority that communication will take in this project. This results from several considerations. The first is that most of the activity we will be engaged in will take place in a paddock somewhere, making it difficult to reach audiences and communicate our message more broadly. The second is that the project itself has developed in part as a means of addressing the sense of isolation, and perceived exclusion from the social and political dialogues around land use and care experienced by our farmer-partners. Their lives are lived in intimate and daily engagement with both the care for and use of land. Their work to change the culture and methods of modern farming is compelled by the material dependence of their livelihood and shaped by a direct experience of both the positive and negative consequences of the farming methods applied to it. It seems to me that the perspective of these farmers should be central to the national discussion we have about our relationship to land, and yet they feel themselves excluded.
A further reason we are placing our communications strategy at the heart of the project is the sense of isolation that innovative and regenerative farmers feel in relationship to their own community. Laura Fisher and Imogen Semmler reported on their conversations with farmers about the social consequences of their choice to pursue alternative farming methods. This experience is perhaps best encapsulated by the fact that as soon as a farmer ceases to rely on the products of the agrochemical industry, they no longer have much excuse to visit the local Ag shop. They thus lose an important social connection to this hub of the farming community in which they live, but also it means that they have detached themselves somewhat from the economy that sustains the local community. Conventional farmers tend to feel that what a regenerative farmer is doing isn’t just different from the traditional mode but is directly threatening to it. This leads often to a very understandable sense of ostracism. It has been our experience though that regenerative farming is a growing movement though its advocates are often isolated geographically. One of the many aspirations of AFS is to provide an opportunity to consolidate the disparate elements of this emergent movement into a community of support with the potential to build into something substantial and sustained.
The first part of our morning was spent discussing the “why”, before our guide, Kirsten Bradley deftly guided the discussion around to the “what” and “how” of our communication strategy. The what of “An Artist, a Farmer and a Scientist walk into a bar” emerged as a many legged insect, with eight independent projects all flailing about on their own. How we pull these disparate limbs into a single body walking in a particular direction and munching on a particular leaf of grass was going to be the challenge. Through discussion, we decided that we would allow the eight stories to unfold on their own, and from these threads we would pull together a core narrative about the moment of history we are attempting to participate in. This point of cultural change in which farmers and fellow travellers have begun to drift away from established ways of seeing, thinking about, and working in relationship to land. This story will include the perspectives of scientists grappling with shifting paradigms and the struggle to change and resist change which is, no matter how frustrating, the process by which science advances. It will also include the story of some very well-meaning artists who thought they could help. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next!