“[…] AND THE EARTH OF HER OWN WILL, ALL THINGS MORE FREELY, NO MAN BIDDING, BORE. “
THE GEORGICS, VIRGIL
Orthós is the section dedicated to the fruits of labor in a matriarchal context, in which, with no man’s bidding, earth’s bounty was produced. The works of art engage with almost lost ideas of food production which are based upon symbiotic relationships and not solely on the greed of production. The harvest is the celebration of a moment that can also be repeated in the future because nature has been taken care of and not trashed. The association and alliance between plants is retraced to horticultural practices that have almost but disappeared. Orthós is about what is rect and correct and the agricultural structures or boundaries drawn on the land almost in a Cartesian grid needed to define patriarchal structures of production. The ethics of food and food production emerge from a vegetable patch that as innocuous as it may seem challenges at the core the structures of contemporary Western democracies.
Orthós is one of ten sections of Lanfranco Aceti’s installation titled Preferring Sinking to Surrender which was conceived by the artist for the Italian Pavilion, Resilient Communities, curated by Alessandro Melis for the Venice Architecture Biennale, 2021. The ten sections are: Tools for Catching Clouds; Preferring Sinking to Surrender, Part I; Preferring Sinking to Surrender, Part II; Sacred Waters; Le Schiavone; Orthós; Seven Veils; Signs; Rehearsal; and The Ending of the End. These sections, singularly and collectively, create a complex narrative that responds to this year’s theme How Will We Live Together? set by Hashim Sarkis, curator of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale.
The works of art — realized as a series of performances, installations, sculptures, video, and painting contributions — are part of the installation at the Italian Pavilion from May 21, 2021, to November 21, 2021, the opening and closing dates of the Venice Architecture Biennale.
The matriarchal values and methods of food production are at the core of Orthós. The works of art present in this section are intertwined with issues of food production, democratic participation in and sharing of resources, aesthetics of the land and produce, and cultural politics of food.
The politics of work, in particular matriarchal structures and working methods, are a challenge to the established and enforced politics of patriarchal capitalistic values that define what is worthy and what is unworthy. These are systems that are challenged by methods of food production that are based on intergenerational exchanges of knowledge and strength, familial participation in production and harvesting, and in an symbiotic engagement with the land that coexists trough a precarious but inclusive equilibrium of a multiplicity of life forms.
It is through mutualism, association, and alliance that a vegetable patch becomes an architectural construct for something rather different, a re-imagining of life based on millenarian understandings that only in recent decades have become more widely accepted although always exploited for the maximum short term gains. The methodology does not necessary alter the objectives and a repositioning of the final goal, away from exploitation for disastrous economic formulas of greed, needs to be envisioned and achieved.
In this context of post-postmodern rejection of social values the politics of Orthós show the resistance and resilience of matriarchal values, albeit absconded and subconsciously transmitted from one generation to the next. These are values that continue to survive in spite of patriarchal aggression and capitalistic demeaning across belittled communities and ravaged lands.
Orthós makes use of plants and vegetables as works of art linking the politics of food production to the politics of art. The white cube has been reduced to a white wall completely opened and exposed to the countryside. The wall, stolen from the Venice Biennale, exists as a backdrop upon which humanity observes itself, while life in its multitude of forms exists outside and beyond it.
The paintings, realized with the juices of Prunus Cerasus and Prunus Avium, belong to autochthonous species which are all but disappearing. From the 1960s onward, Italian countryside has gone through a process of industrialization that in an attempt to compete with global agricultural industries has sacrificed local varieties of vegetables as well as animals to the altar of corporate greed. The mechanization of the land has entailed the cutting down of fruit trees to make space to automated processes that would facilitate the movement of large tractors on small pieces of land.
The views are now of barren fields deprived of the variety of life that would sustain plants, animals, and people alike. The monotony of the landscape through the passing season is no longer signed by the flowering of a variety of fruit trees across the seasons, but by a sameness of the land that is no longer comparable to the complexity of agricultural landscapes in the 1960s. Attempts at preserving the complex ecology of these landscapes across Italy are left to the politics of local administrations which easily succumb to corporate and state interests. What are left are surviving relics and mementos, varieties that have escaped the cull because of their distance and isolations, unworthy of any effort, or few specimens that have been privately collected in order to avert their extinction.
The politics of a cherry fruit become complex and twisted, reflecting the complexity of an imperial period imposed as Pax Augustae but that in reality has ushered in an age of total abjection and rejection of cultural practice unworthy of capitalism’s short-termist greed.