Futurefarmers is a multidisciplinary group of diverse practitioners which include artists, designers, architects, anthropologists, writers, computer programmers and farmers all aligned through an interest in making work that is relevant to our present time and place. With a common interest in creating frameworks for exchanges that catalyse moments of "not knowing", the group engages in participatory projects, through which they create spaces and experiences where the logic of a situation disappears and where encounters that broaden, rather than narrow perspectives occur. It is exactly with these premises and ambitions that Futurefarmers participated in the Design Campus Summer School 2022: School of the Untold at the Kunstgewerbemusem - Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden with the project “The Untold River Composing Forces Among Us” which we had the pleasure of discussing with founder Amy Franceschini and architect Lode Vranken.
KOOZ Let’s start with a brief introduction to Future Farmers. Who is Future Farmers and what are your ambitions?
AF I am an artist, and I started the design studio Future Farmers in 1994. At its offset Future farmers was predominantly designing online platforms for sociability where people with different positions and perspectives could meet around topics of concern. The project then transitioned into a more physical practice structured around the creation of tangible spaces and places where, similarly to its online predecessor, people could engage with each other.
The name Future Farmers adopts a new meaning with every project we develop, although originally it was quite literal and stemmed from a personal wish to live on a farm, which I thought would be accelerated as a process if it were to become the name of our enterprise. From the offset it became quite clear that the notion of “farm” was deeply tied to a way of practice, an ethos, an approach to thinking about a system and an ecology of people that needed to come together to undertake the projects we embarked on.
As a more personal anecdote, when growing up, my parents exposed me to two very distinct types of farms, one adopted by my mother with a purely biological and quite an activist bent working against conventional agriculture and the another, presented by my father, that was more industrial, since he owned a pesticide company. Growing up in between these two ideologies informed my interest in trying to create a platform where people with contrasting ideas and views could meet in a common space to constructively discuss themes as food or farming, for example.
The notion of “farm” was deeply tied to a way of practice, an ethos, an approach to thinking about a system and an ecology of people that needed to come together to undertake the projects we embarked on.
LV I am an architect and a philosopher. I have worked as an architect for the past thirty-five years and have mainly focused on the development and creation of ecological structures and buildings.
KOOZ You describe yourself as a multidisciplinary team of individuals that work together to propose alternatives to the social, political and environmental organisation of space. How do you approach and define space?
AFThe first thing that comes to mind when you ask to define “space” is the opening sequence of Star Trek… “space…the final frontier”. As individuals with diverse backgrounds and training we have different understandings of space, although in Future Farmers we do not pre-define what a space is, but rather want to create a platform where that definition is continuously re-defined and challenged in response to specific projects and conditions.
For example, within the first project that both Lode and I worked on “This is Not a Trojan Horse” (2010) we pushed around a large mobile horse through different villages in the Abruzzo region (in Italy) as a way of engaging in local discussions on the future of farming at a time when people did not talk about this anymore as they did not believe that there was a future in farming. This physical horse arriving in villages unannounced, developed temporary spaces and situations where people gathered and gained the courage and will to talk about this almost forgotten topic.
LV I think there exists both a social space and physical space, one could call it “conceptual space”, and I do not believe that one can exist without the other. At the time of the Abruzzo project we defined that kind of space as centric, since it was characterised by attraction rather than inhabitation. When talking about space, for us it’s important that the projects that we imagine affect and inform peoples’ interactions amongst themselves and with their immediate surroundings. This was also quite evident throughout projects as for example the “Canoe Oven” made for a project in Oslo, which was similarly a travelling work which sought to bring people and networks together through time.
Although we work through a variety of open processes, our projects do also stem from specific aesthetic considerations.
AF Although we work through a variety of open processes, our projects do also stem from specific aesthetic considerations. The image of the horse did not come from nowhere but was rather born in response to a series of conversations undertaken with people before commencing this project. The specific image of a horse, which we conjured with the hope that it would resonate locally, was developed in response to the (for the past 10 years) absence of wild horses in the area which, according to many, was a phenomenon that marked a change in the social, geopolitical climate of that region.
Similarly, in Oslo we decided to craft this hybrid of a canoe and oven which one could row around in the water and then go out and bake. This practice anticipated the “Flatbread Society Bakehouse (2017)" project which itself stemmed from numerous conversations undertaken with people from different villages and areas across Norway. The conversation verged towards how there used to be numerous bakehouses throughout the country, and how these also existed as very social spaces where people met, processed food, and shared knowledge. These proposed charismatic images are very important in how they can excite imagination in different ways and how they inspire the creation of places that are not purely devoted to social gatherings but are also something else.
KOOZ You do not seem to understand space as something that is static, but which is rather always born from a participatory experience or performance and whose primary aim is that of generating conversations, ideas and experiences. To what extent are these spaces always in constant flux and evolution?
LV The spaces with and through which we operate are indeed spaces of performance. We could say that the object and structure devised are themselves the main actors that generate and initiate the performance before it then unfolds as a truly limitless participatory social experience.
AF Things starts to happen when one is in a place and for us presence is a big part of creating space.It is important that the actors actively and collectively engage with the making of space. We are very much interested in the idea of space as always being in a status of becoming. This is what worked very well within the context of Oslo because of the community farm; the farm was always in a state of change and flux, in a constant need of change and harvesting. The farm really grounded the project in a space and place which is in constant need of attention.
The spaces with and through which we operate are indeed spaces of performance. We could say that the object and structure devised are themselves the main actors that generate and initiate the performance before it then unfolds as a truly limitless participatory social experience.
KOOZ How does the multidisciplinary skillset of the collective inform the methodology through which you operate? To what extent was this varied skillset part of how you have shaped and grown the network and team of Future Farmers throughout the years?
AF When we first started our core wish was to bring together people with diverse skillsets to really challenge that difference. This is not necessarily something that we continued to seek out and, in fact, a lot of the collaborations which still exist in Future Farmers stemmed from an eagerness to play and engage in meaningful friendships rather than directly focusing on shaping a multidisciplinary team. Nonetheless, since Lode joined the group, we started both working with larger scale projects and exploring new spatial challenges compared to our previous endeavours, which were more modest in their scale.
Although at the offset we all pitch into the development of the project, our diverse expertise then means that we all contribute to a specific work in a very distinct and personal manner. Throughout the evolution of a project, we enjoy maintaining a certain openness to the unknown to steer the works in specific directions which we could not have imagined at the beginning. This is particularly evident in projects such as the “Trojan Horse” that was the very first time we were given the freedom to experiment with the process without having to finalize a tangible outcome. We are very much interested in nurturing and continue to explore this methodology of thinking and making.
KOOZ It is quite fascinating because, differently from numerous practices where the research component and the more architecture or design-oriented elements are clearly distinct, within Future Farmers it seems as though these are deeply intertwined and research occurs through architecture and vice versa. Is this effectively the case?
AF This is exactly what we are trying to do and to teach through our programme, although I question the idea of “teaching” our methodology.
KOOZ How was this methodology then applied in workshops such as “The Untold River Composing Forces Among Us”? Could you tell us a bit more on this initiative?
AF This was a very interesting case study as it developed through quite a short time (five days) and was initiated by us having to respond to a specific element which belonged to the Museum’s collection, something that was very hard for us at the beginning. Although we did not know what our intervention would look like and what it would make, we came with quite a concrete ambition of making a printing press powered by the river.
LV We decided to focus on the work of the once Dresden-based neo-classicist architect Gottfried Semper who delivered the concept for an "ideal museum" and organised the collection, in a pre-arts and crafts approach, through the notion of materials. As a group that was very much interested in the decorative arts around the campus, we were keen to explore the possibility of printing a big wallpaper.
AF The first day we were taken to see this wonderful giant Camellia tree which is covered every winter, originally through the erection of a barn, then with a greenhouse and ultimately now with a very elaborate octagonal glass house on rails. We were very much blown away by the way that humans had and continued to tend to a specific tree. We thus started questioning at what cost this was being done, and the absurdity of it all. When looking away from the tree to the surrounding landscape we were able to see how many old trees were drying because of the incredible draught of this year and how new trees were being planted. What fascinated us about the latter was the specific three-way armature that we have devised as humans to help in the trees’ initial growth, and we wanted to play with this idea and symbol in the creation of our work. We started brainstorming on how this structure could be implemented in the turning wheel of the printing press. Once completed, the wheel was put in the water and, funnily enough, only operated for three minutes as we were soon stopped by the water police who instantly enquired as to whether we had permits to engage with the river as the ecosystem was completely protected. This was an incredibly important moment for the workshop as it informed the design of the printing press scaffolding as a lifeguard chair which was designed for both the police and for the research team in a humorous questioning of who was guarding who. Positioned on the shore of the river, this was soon used as a proposition for people to come together and question and discuss their relationship with water.The entire structure was to be dismantled at the end of the workshop, but during the public opening, a woman from the city library was so charmed by it that she offered to host it. She has had second thoughts, so we are now in conversation with Kunstgewerbemuseum about possible formats for presentation and enactment of the project.
LV For us it is beautiful to see how by working with process, this enables people, even those who are not directly engaged, to become enchanted. One of the students made a book about it, and we do not yet know where this story will lead us. Objects exist and they bring people together, opening the imagination.
Most schools are stuck in this trajectory of the final form, and it is very hard to propose more process-oriented approaches.
KOOZ As a practice which works with the generative potential of the process for the creation of architecture, what are your biggest challenges within the academic sector where students are frequently asked to design objects and finished buildings?
AF Most schools are stuck in this trajectory of the final form, and it is very hard to propose more process-oriented approaches. I believe it almost is a matter of de-schooling the students who seem so tied to the steps they need to take to get to the final form. For us it is about slowly introducing them to the undetermined practice and letting them see the wonder of creating spaces without preconceptions or presumptions.
I believe this can be more easily achieved when working in situ. In the classroom there is not much space for the unexpected and if we are working with publics, we should start right away in being comfortable with the mess of life and the unexpected interactions one can have with passers-by and how one can prepare to interface with those people in an open way and almost let them guide the process. I like to work with materials and let the site inform the way these are assembled and how they can be used.
I think another challenge is that the term of a semester is such a small timeframe for these kinds of practices which need time to build trust with people and with a place.
KOOZ Your work has been exhibited internationally within numerous cultural institutions and contexts which range from the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, to the MAXXI in Rome, and the Taipei Biennale (amongst others). What is for you the value and power of exhibiting your work within these spaces? How and in what ways can these institutions engage in the notion of continuous becoming tied to your works?
AF We could not survive without museums; they are important partners which I view as platforms to animate and broadcast our work further. When we present our work inside important cultural institutions, we try to steer away from the purely documentational approach, but we rather try to push the museum in showing our approach and as windows into our processes and tools which the audience can permeate. I have come to appreciate the attempt of curators to position our work within a canon of practice.
LV What is being in situ? Can we exist through different scales at the same time? How can we generate local conversations which are part of a larger globally discourse?
Futurefarmers is a group of diverse practitioners aligned through an interest in making work that is relevant to the time and place surrounding us. Founded in 1995, a design studio serves as a platform to support art projects and an artist in residence program. Futurefarmers founder Amy Franceschini (b. 1970) received her MFA from Stanford University and teaches in the MA Eco-Social Design in the faculty of Art and Design and the Free University of Bolzano/Bozen. Lode Vranken, architect and philosopher, (b. 1962) studied at KU Leuven. Michael Swaine, Artist/Ceramicist studied at the University of California, Berkeley and currently is a professor at the University of Washington, Seattle.