Date: 01.06.2020 — 30.06.2020
Main screening online & at etc. gallery: 11. 6. 2020, 19:00
Trip to the Hraničář Gallery and to the lake Milada: 13. 6. 2020
Performance soil / dirt / earth (Nikola Brabcová, Karin Šrubařová, Barbora Dayef, Karel Kunc, Tomáš Hrůza, Veronika Čechmánková): 25. 6. 2020, 19:00
Curators: Anna Remešová, Alžběta Bačíková and Markéta Jonášová
In the second chapter of the year-long programme Imagined Community titled Sharing the Landscape, etc. gallery presents videos that capture the relation between communities and the natural landscape. Among the subjects discussed will be community-supported agriculture, various land associations, and cooperatives, which prioritise the needs of the nature over economic interests based on the exploitation of natural resources, human labour and people’s lives. The curated screening complements a group exhibition titled The Last Day of Creation, which is on display in the Hraničář Gallery in Ústí nad Labem until the end of summer. As well as the screening, the exhibition also consists mostly of moving image works, which pose questions about the relation between man and the landscape he or she inhabits. The sharing of images is reflected in the sharing of landscape.
The local endeavours to save the landscape, framed by the community aspect of coexistence, represent particular utopias of the present time, which are trying to escape the anthropocentric colonisation of nature and fix what still can be fixed. Nevertheless, the experience of the enclosure of land and commons, intensified by neoliberalism, shows that in the future, we will need much more than just the creation of communities. Are these concrete utopias the goal or rather the means of a political fight? How to accept the toxicity of the environment as necessary for our coexistence on the planet? And in what landscape will we live in a hundred years?
Marie Lukáčová: Pole Žin (2020), 8 min.
Marwa Arsanios: Who is Afraid of Ideology? – Part I (2017), 18 min.
Martin Dušek: Něco nad námi (2019), 7 min.
Pedro Neves Marques: Semente Exterminadora (2017), 28 min.
“Where is utopia today?” This is the question posed by political sociologist Ana Cecilia Dinerstein in her text on the Public Seminar platform. She begins with a statement about the social reproduction crisis, which has been escalating in intensity since the 2008 financial collapse. The continually degenerating conditions related to transformations in the character of labour and the decrease in sites where one can lead a satisfied life – not just in urban environments, but also in natural locations burdened by mining and recreational tourism – are closely related to the other crises of capitalism. Of course, this problem is not new. In Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, Silvia Federici recounts how in the 1970s, while working on the Wages for Housework campaign, she read Vandana Shiva’s work on the Chipko movement in India, which aimed to save the country’s forests, and news of the Zapatista protests in Mexico. Her texts formulated the connections between the emancipation of women and the struggle against the enclosure of the commons. Movements to protect areas that function as self-sufficient reproductive systems, providing food, medicine, protection, shelter, and sources of spirituality, enable us to conceive of various emancipatory efforts in a broad perspective without losing sight of specific socio-economic conditions. An important part of this politics is the consideration of humanity within natural ecosystems.
Not much has changed today. In the first part of Three (or more) Ecologies: A Feminist Articulation of Eco-intersectionality, a 2019 film by artist Angela Anderson, Federici says: “Capitalism communicates and imposes a view of the body like an island. Cut off. It’s a process of really impoverishment, because the body, our body extends and connects and draws its life, its energy from the surrounding atmosphere. That’s why there’re certain things in our body that if they’re not satisfied, we become very depressed. It’s part of a whole devaluation of processes that are reproducing life. These are seen as natural, having no value. Whereas everything that is productive with industry and etc, with effort, is valorised.” Federici is speaking about fracking in North Dakota, one of the most devastating forms of resource extraction, which works by splitting the inside of the earth using water and chemicals injected at high pressure. The natives of this land – specifically of the Fort Berthold Reservation, inhabited by the Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa tribes – are rightly afraid their waterways will be polluted and their sacred sites criss-crossed by pipelines.
Angela Anderson’s video is part of The Last Day of Creation, an exhibition in the Hraničář Gallery in Ústí nad Labem (March 12 to August 28 2020), which, similar to the Sharing the Landscape programme in the etc. gallery, explores the relationship of people and landscape. The exhibition was instigated by the reclamation strategy of the landscape following coal mining in the Ústí region and the planned renovation of Milada Lake, located to the west of the city. The top floor of the exhibition space hosts moving-image works that interrogate our view of the landscape as an infinite source of material and land intended to be conquered by humans. In these works, the landscape is considered as a process that is transformed and formed by how people experience the world they live in and how they understand their position within it. The images that form our ideas of the landscape play an important part in this process.
When I look at photographs of a reclaimed landscape, I am struck by its distinct homogenisation; the obliteration of signs. The metabolic processes of the landscape are flattened; soil has only one purpose – to support plants; the diversity of the soil microbiome is suppressed. According to Tomáš Uhnák: “In a similar way, the metabolic processes and diversity of the microbial environment is flattened in post-industrial societies. Soil, however, should serve as a source of nourishment not only for plants, but – by extension – also for people. One of the ways in which this happens is through the consumption of bacteria living in the soil through the plants we eat, thanks to which we can acquire the immunity and diversity of the microbial landscape. To increase or decrease organic matter in the soil means to increase or decrease the diversity of microbial matter in the human body. Contemporary research provides further proof for the old assumption that the processes taking place around us correspond with what goes on inside us.”
Where is utopia today? Ana Cecilia Dinerstein responds with the concept known as concrete utopias, formulated by the philosopher Ernst Bloch as an opposition to grand utopian ideals, which are situated in the distant future and usually far removed from our everyday reality. Although such ideas can broaden our imagination and also form a critique of society, they generally remain on the level of abstraction or desire. Concrete utopias, however, should refer to all these realities, while also suggesting feasible and realistic paths to change. Concrete utopias are not only wishes, or longed-for paradises, but also allow us to live a different world right now. As examples of concrete utopias, we can cite agrarian movements such as La Via Campesina, which defends farmers’ rights and proposes high-quality groceries for everyone and extensive land protection. In our context, the community-supported agriculture movement has similar aims, creating a direct relationship between consumers and farmers. The consumer thus receives high-quality, ecologically cultivated foodstuffs at a reasonable price, while the farmer retains contact with his customers; a mutual relationship between the two is created. This model also benefits the soil, which does not need to be farmed as intensively, and farm animals, which don’t have to suffer the inhumane conditions of factory farms.
This detour to agriculture is not random; much can be shown by this example. It represents a direct relationship between people and the extraction of natural resources on which human lives depend. This is also why most of the works presented within Sharing the Landscape thematise agriculture and soil care from various perspectives. Marie Lukáčová’s video Pole Žin (Field of Žinas, 2020) is composed in part of interviews with ecological farmers. The screenplay was created directly as a response to a group of consumers who were brought together by community-supported agriculture. The video presents formally diverse images connected by themes such as sharing, community life, and a critique of monoculture farming. A group of women walk to a rapeseed field in order to share their frustrations over the actions of farmers. However, this is not idle chatter: gossip is conceived as a feminist tool that allows for important information to be shared and for women to conceive of themselves as a source of nourishment for the land. (It is said, for instance, that house plants can be fertilised by nutrients from our hair.) It is also important to pay attention to the forms of communication we use when considering our own behaviour in the landscape. This is why Ramona Duminiciou, an important figure in the Via Campesina movement, emphasises that the tendency towards technology and expertise in agriculture leads to the abandonment of locally transmitted experience and knowledge about the land and farming, which leads to people’s alienation from their means of subsistence.
Two other projects also focus on the creation of new communities and their operation under specific conditions: the yearlong activities of Prototyp studio, which in 2019 led to the creation of a group project, půda / hlína / zem (soil / earth / land), and Martin Dušek’s video Něco nad námi (Something Above Us, 2019). The first of these began as an initiative by the Prototyp collective (Nikola Brabcová, Karin Šrubařová), who brought together a group of artists (Barbora Dayef, Karel Kunc, Tomáš Hrůza, Veronika Čechmánková) and theorists (Rona Jankovičová and John Hill). Throughout 2019, the group met, discussed, and organised trips. The link between all these activities was soil, reflected through the diverse positions of the participants. A collective was created from people who did not know each other but shared an interest in working in accordance with natural processes. The performance they prepared for the etc. gallery demonstrates Prototyp’s diverse approaches. The participants used visual, verbal, and spatial means to articulate their interests within the work of the group – and to remind us of their trip to Mníšek pod Brdy, where they collected the characteristic red soil in the local forest and brought it to a fenced-off patch of newly planted trees. The workshop led to the creation of several material artefacts (various containers, for instance), and also helped establish important encounters based on collectively experiencing time within the group and on the environment provided by the material.
Martin Dušek’s video Something Above Us, which was originally conceived as a multimedia installation, presents another community in space and time. Once again, the central topic is the very existence of a community that responds to the natural environment and lives in symbiosis with it. Dušek’s piece tells the story of his grandparents and other family members: in the 1970s, they were searching for a place where they could spend time together, finding a shared joy. The images are accompanied by records from the family chronicle, read by the actor Zdeněk Maryška, which describe how their idyll was spoiled by the construction of a high-voltage transmission line. Something foreign enters the life of the community, taking away a part of the forest, and the people are left with no other option than to make their peace with the new situation. In Dušek’s video, the cohabitation of people, technology, and other forces (alluded to by the two-hundred-year-old chapel) represents a microcosm in which various entities and forms of life constantly collide and interpenetrate.
Today, cohabitation with the non-human – but also with the toxic – is an important part of the formation of every community. And it is not always straightforward. In Commonism: A New Aesthetics of the Real, Pascal Gielen claims that life that develops based on the principle of the commons does not always mean conflict-free social dynamics; on the contrary, sharing involves constant convulsion – in conflict, in love, and in hate. Community is no romantic rapture under the starry sky: “Commonism is a quest for new forms of living together, and such changes rarely take place without fits and starts. Passion and suffering – like that of the growing precariat – go hand in hand, making collective enterprise somewhat tragicomical. There is a lot of laughter in the commons, but also a lot of shouting, screaming, and … sweating.” All the physical aspects that take part in the operation of communities and shared resources must be understood as a crucial component of the struggle against the abstraction of processes and social interactions that take place under neoliberalism. Gielen demonstrates this model of abstraction by means of the current financialisation of every aspect of human life – from conceiving of a human being as a measurable unit to the movement of financial capital, without territory or borders and expressed by algorithms, symbols, and numbers. Of course the model of abstraction is also inscribed in politics and the relationship between the state and the individual. Gielen pits the ideology of commonism against neoliberalism. This is partly a reaction to the increased interest in the commons in the social sciences and the arts, which Gielen interprets as a reaction to the gradually more significant social inequalities around the world and an increasing desire for the real. This is why he and Nico Dockx (co-editor of Commonism) use the subtitle “aesthetics of the real”. How does such an aesthetics of the real work in practice?
Gielen continues: “Compared to the smooth and monochromic, marble aesthetics of neoliberalism and virtual capital, commonism at first sight seems to be giving birth to a particularly ungainly child. What it presents is truly a monster, reconciling everything that is in fact irreconcilable.” Communities in which people deny their privileged position and acknowledge the hybrid nature of these communities are also seemingly contradictory. In Semente Exterminadora(2017), a video by Pedro Neves Marques, we witness the birth of a highly unlikely alliance between Capivara, an oil rig worker, and Ywy, a female android. Capivara returns to Rio de Janeiro after catastrophe strikes the oil rig. He meets Ywy, who tempts him to come to southwestern Brazil to find work on the soy and corn monoculture plantations. The outcome of Capivara and Ywy’s story is ambiguous. Perhaps reconciliation is the answer? Accept the situation as it is? Ywy links genetically modified crops with the repression of the female body; gender is a construct, a tool of control and oppression, and perhaps we need to abandon these limiting categories and learn to live within the complexity of relationships found on planet Earth. Only then will we be able to create ‘oddkin’ and communities as formulated by Donna J. Haraway in her 2016 book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Cthulhu – a hybrid being somewhere between animal, monster, and human – is a symbol for the interconnection of diverse forms of life. The creation of communities and commons must be understood as assemblages of life that allow us all to exist equally within the conditions provided by a devastated and exhausted planet.
Who’s Afraid of Ideology?
At the beginning of their book, Dockx and Gielen claim that we need to understand commonism as an ideology. It is not merely an idea or a wish but rather an aim to conceive of a whole new ideological system and describe it from various positions. They certainly do not aim low, and perhaps their goals seem more like a proclamation than an elaborated political system. Culture plays an important role too, including the production of (moving) images: “We see culture as the base (and not as superstructure), because culture stands for the whole process of giving meaning to ourselves and to the societal environment and its economies, ecologies, jurisdictions, and politics in which we are living. In that sense we follow the arguments of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, who stress the role of discourse in ideological constructions. We only enlarge the concept of discourse by using the notion of culture, which also gives a place to other cultural expressions besides language, such as visuals, sounds, smells, and touch or all the senses of aesthesis/aesthetics that contribute to processes of signification, ideological or not.”
If we aim to create communities and care for the landscape, it is impossible to avoid situating ourselves socially and politically. Filmmaker Marwa Arsanios is well aware of this, as is apparent from her work Who is afraid of ideology? – Part I & Part II (2017–2019), in which she explores the methods of self-organisation employed by the autonomous communes established by Kurdish women. The first part is a short film that sees the women sharing their experiences of guerrilla warfare in the mountains and the difficulties they share. The second part is a more traditional documentary about the female village of Jinwar, in northern Syria, and a cooperative in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, near the Syrian border, which has become a haven for refugees. Part I, which was selected for the Sharing the Landscapeprogramme, includes observational shots of the mountains interspersed with views of the author walking through the landscape or traversing it by car. In this manner, Arsanios declares that we are watching a video composed from her perspective, purposefully aimed at several key topics: ecology, feminism, and social organisation. All three topics intersect: in their spoken commentary, the women describe both their experiences of living in the mountains and the creation of local wisdom, reflecting a mutual relationship with the environment. “We are not outside observers of the world. Nor are we simply located in the particular places of the world,” Arsanios says at the beginning of the video, adding that conceiving of oneself and one’s thought as part of nature is crucial. Looking at images of the landscape can lead to passive observation. The important thing is to realise what we are looking at, and how. And also what we wish to look at – and be a part of – in the future.
 Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, Concrete Utopia: (Re)producing life in, against and beyond the open veins of capital, Public Seminar 7.12.2017, available online: https://publicseminar.org/2017/12/concrete-utopia/?fbclid=IwAR2a3WlNtEHgJBlN9oCso3WlhCQBTYvxbV0pTJF4hEZgh1JyKXXiQ8i3oAE (accessed 24.5.2020).
 Silvia Federici, Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2019, p. 2.
 Tomáš Uhnák, Úvod do politické ekologie trávení [An Introduction to the Political Ecology of Digestion], Kapitál 11.2.2019, available online: https://kapital-noviny.sk/uvod-do-politicke-ekologie-traveni/ (accessed 27.5.2020).
 See also Jakub Ort, Konkrétní utopie jako koncept pro radikální politiku [Concrete Utopia as a Concept for Radical Politics], Alarm 26.8.2019, available online: https://a2larm.cz/2019/08/konkretni-utopie-jako-koncept-pro-radikalni-politiku/ (accessed 24.5.2020).
 Silvia Federici, Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women, Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2018, chapter 5, “On the Meaning of ‘Gossip’”, pp. 35–43.
 See Tomáš Uhnák, interview with Ramona Duminiciou, Rolníci jako prekariát mezi zemědělci. Stabilizace lidí a klimatu spočívá ve stabilizaci rolníků [Farmers as the Proletariat of Agriculture: The Stabilisation of People and the Climate Consists of a Stabilisation of Farmers], Kapitál 11.2.2020, available online: https://kapital-noviny.sk/rolnici-jako-prekariat-mezi-zemedelci-stabilizace-lidi-a-klimatu-spociva-ve-stabilizaci-rolniku/ (accessed 24.5.2020); and David Přílučík and Anna Remešová, Umění antropocénu [The Art of the Anthropocene], episode 1: POJMY [TERMS], available online: https://artycok.tv/43396/umeni-antropocenu (accessed 24.5.2020).
 Pascal Gielen, Common Aesthetics: The Shape of a New Meta-Ideology, in Commonism: A New Aesthetics of the Real (eds. Nico Dockx & Pascal Gielen), Amsterdam: Valiz, 2018, p. 82.
 Nico Dockx & Pascal Gielen, Introduction: Ideology & Aesthetics of the Real, in Commonism, pp. 56–57.
Financial support was provided by the Czech Ministry of Culture and Prague City Hall.