Saturday, November 6, 2010

Not DIY, but DIO

Community orchard in Detroit (Photo by aur2899, downloaded from Flickr, Creative Commons attribution-noncommercial-sharealike 2.0 license)

A couple of weeks ago, The New York Times Sunday Magazine ran an article by food editor Christine Muhlke about urban farming that included coverage of what's happening these days in the D, AKA the town formerly known as the Motor City. The article dealt primarily with the idea of food communities of which Detroit was cited as the premier example. In fact, the article was illustrated with a photo of a vegetable garden being tended in an inner-city Detroit neighborhood with the requisite vista of ruin porn in the background.

Food communities rely on reciprocal, and in many respects mutually obligated, relationships among producers, distributors, consumers, and everyone else associated with bringing nature's bounty to the table. It's the opposite of the system of alienated transactions that occurs under commodity capitalism where exchange is anonymous, self-interested, and contingent. English historian E.P. Thompson terms this other way of circulating goods and services "the moral economy," which actually was what prevailed in the premodern era. And as Muhlke notes, it's not about the individual  but the group -- Do It Ourselves rather than Do It Yourself. (You don't really do anything yourself; we're all embedded in this thing called society for better or worse.)

It's also important to recognize that the urban agriculture movement isn't a utopian escape into the past. Rather it's more properly related to the alternatives that have arisen in response to modernity as it's currently unfolding under the global regime of neoliberalism, or what Tony Negri and Michael Hardt in their book Commonwealth term "altermodernity." Altermodernity seeks to reclaim the commons, that space that is neither public nor private but collectively shared, something I've noted as a significant factor in recent Detroit art. (I won't rehearse those ideas again in this post but click here, here, and here if you're interested in more on the topic.)

To this idea of food community, I'd like to add a similar notion, namely, aesthetic community. It's an idea put forth by French philosopher Jacques Ranciere, for one. As he notes in a 2006 lecture, the aesthetic community isn't a community of aesthetes but a community of sense, that is, a network of relationships of people and things that anticipates new forms of socialization, of being-together, in this case where there isn't a separation between something called art and something called life, a vision of the possibilities of existence after the fall of the Fordist system of mass manufacturing and commodity consumption.

Aesthetic community is something my second-year seminar students in the CCS MFA program are mapping out in the research they're conducting this term at The Russell Industrial Center. As they negotiate the cavernous 2.2 million square foot facility surveying the various artists, designers, crafts persons, artisans, and other cultural producers at work there, the term they encounter time again and again is "community." A woodworker offers framing solutions for the seemingly odd installation needs of a graphic artist down the hall, an illustrator hooks up a fashion designer with a photographer on another floor, a documentary filmmaker provides performance space for an otherwise homeless underground theater group, the whole motley crew gets together to put on a public showcase whatever wackiness they're up to, and so on. One informant terms it "functional anarchy," and it's an apt description of the way things work in art and culture in Detroit.

*  *  *

Click here to view a video posted this summer on The Guardian's website on urban agriculture in Detroit. Also, below is a 2008 interview with Jeanette Pierce of Inside Detroit that really stresses the community aspect of urban farming:

Here is a clip of Nicolas Bourriand, curator of 2009 Triennial at the Tate Gallery in London and also the guy who gave us the concept of relational aesthetics, talking about altermodernity in art.

No comments:

Post a Comment