Edible, Beautiful, Untamed
Large swaths of farm fields stretching left and right – land intensely shaped by agriculture. Amidst these relics of a monocultural utopia the weaving of a different kind of story is observed; from the edges of the garden, in the patches between the fields and in the crevices of old farm machinery scattered here and there a different vision of a rural future emerges. The main protagonists of Edible, Beautiful, Untamed aren’t human. This is a world of modified organisms and machinery – giant vegetation, hybrid insects, and mutated agricultural equipment. Heavy concrete objects with shapes reminiscent of engines are adorned with intricate ceramic vegetal growth. Plants lean over your head, their monumental size the result of some accidental or engineered genetic modification, or – as it may well be – a humbling of a human perspective and privilege. From a fusion of the organic and technological emerges a vision of post-anthropogenic nature; a perhaps monstrous, perhaps fantastic, feral garden. The common rural landscape is home to edible cultivated wheat, the beautiful feral daffodil, and the untamed thistle. To Anna, they symbolise various material, species, cultural, and economic interactions and overlapping interests that shape agrarian ecosystems. “Plants are better gardeners than we are,” she echoes Emmanuelle Coccia. These solar-powered terraforming alchemists have the capability to influence and shape their environment, creating the conditions necessary for life as we know it. They have also found numerous ways to lure and utilise other organisms as their gardeners and means of transportation and dissemination. In this reciprocal, co-evolutionary relationship both with plants and the machines we use to cultivate them, we too have been – unwittingly – cultivated and transformed. We are but a temporary medium of planetary metabolism and our gardens a site of what seems like some kind of plant-machine conspiracy, secretly co-directing our (agri)cultural (hi)story and imagination. Now, the anthropocentric spell that made the garden seem tamed is broken and a mysterious techno-organic entanglement of a phantasmagoric landscape machine is revealed. Animated not by fossil fuels but living vegetation, farm engines mutate into plant habitats and ships decorated by abstract patterns. Loosely based on the hydraulic mechanism which modernised agriculture in the early 20th century and turned fields into factories, these diagrams now convey a structure of some different, as yet unknown, technological or star system. Or perhaps a cosmogram? Amidst the furrows, a lone alien(ated) hybrid creature, a “human bumblebee” (as M. Pollan calls us), contemplates its predicament. Three unknown flying organisms – the pollinators – arrive or depart. A crop circle forms, and dances. The scene seems to loop. In the wake of looming eco-collapse, the paranormal mingles with the agricultural. Traditional crafts and materials blend with science fiction, modernist design with gothic ornamentation, ancient myths with folk traditions and popular beliefs, and the esoteric with Christian symbolism. A two-headed human figure observes this exhibition of mutations. They may be terrifying, but they might also be necessary. In this garden, or rather greenhouse, aesthetics and ideas of bygone times, such as failed modernist and Soviet utopias and 90s retro futurism, when technological advancement promised a brighter future, morph as well. But the atmosphere is not pessimistic. Alien and haunted by the spirits of industrialization, nature no longer provides an idyllic refuge or a return to a pristine “natural state” (and it never did). More akin to Area X than paradise, Anna’s garden cultivates the idea of nature as an interdependent ecosystem – a natureculture – shaped by ongoing mutual adaptations and transformations. You are standing in a field of an ecologically fragile, perhaps catastrophic but not apocalyptic world that calls for reimagining of rural life – a new kind of agro-futurism, one shaped not by the horizon of utopian promises or idealizations of the countryside, but an open future of unknown possibilities. * Solo show Edible, Beautiful, Untamed is the first episode of an exhibition project titled Under This Strange Sun. The second episode of this project will open at Kunsthalle Bratislava on 20 April 2023.