Issue 9

Future
farmers Time–Place–Situation

Photos by carlos chavarría Words by sarah dorkenwald

Studio Futurefarmers, founded by Amy Franceschini in 1995, is a platform for artists, designers, architects, anthropologists, writers and farmers with a common interest in exchanging moments of not-knowing. nomad talked to the Futurefarmers about what that involves, and what results the process delivers.

 

 

An interview with
Amy Franceschini & Lode Vranken

Amy, you founded Futurefarmers in 1995—that’s 25 years ago. What has changed since then?

 

A

F

Well, the air quality right now is a lot like when Futurefarmers started in 1995 because of the coronavirus. There’s less traffic, there are fewer container ships, and I can actually see mountains I haven’t seen for years. So that’s something that has gone full circle.

 

Futurefarmers started as a design studio, but it was actually a hiding-place from another design studio called Atlas. In 1994 we created a project called Atlas Magazine that became quite popular. I was the designer. But it was too much of an audience, and I needed a place to freak out and do things where people weren’t looking—or at least I thought they weren’t looking. And so I started Futurefarmers as a space where I could experiment. But it was kind of lonely there, so I started an artist-in-residency programme. At that time we were building websites for large clients like Lucasfilm, Adobe and Swatch. The resi­dency programme ended up as a strong project lasting for about ten years. Residents would come and work on corporate projects, but then we would take time to make money  and do experimental projects together. And that led ­into doing less commercial work and more artwork.

-

-

-

-

What does the studio comprise now?

 

A

F

At this point, we’re not a conventional design studio. We’e a hybrid practice between many things, between research, architecture, design, conceptual art and alternative education. None of those terms are a perfect match, but they help to establish some frameworks for the collective spirit of enquiry among the various constellations of people that make up Futurefarmers. We share a common interest to extend this spirit of enquiry into action—how do we make it participatory and turn enquiry into a tangible material articulation?

-

-

-

-

Has there always been a core group of people you have collaborated with, or how is Futurefar­mers organised?

 

A

F

We’ve had a core group since 1994, and a growing, shifting group over the years. Myself and Michael Swaine have worked together since 1998. The artist-in-­residency programme really brought in new collaborators. So there were periods where specific people took part, and you can identify a certain issue or mode of working. For example, designer Josh On was ­initially an artist-in-residence, but then became a partner in the design studio for seven or eight years. From 2003 to the present, architect Lode Vranken, myself, media producer Stijn Schiffeleers, in­ventor Michael Swaine and cyberfeminist Marthe Van Dessel have been a constant group. The constellations, or let’s say working groups, have a lot to do with a mixture of comfort and discomfort—we agree to disagree and chal­lenge our assumptions. Sometimes the constellation is based on proximity, which is a very practical basis, but sometimes if we’re ­located in San Francisco, a different constellation is formed than in Belgium or other places.

-

-

-

-

What are the challenges if you work together in a collaborative way? How do you push the project in a certain direction?

 

L

V

I suppose it’s more that the collaborators push it rather than there being a way of collaborating. It depends on the constellation, on who’s present and what happens. It’s an overlap of skills and interests where something pops up and the project can go in a certain direction. Sometimes someone with certain skills is needed to join us and the constellation grows. It is like a process of kneading together.

 

A

F

I think the kneading together is important, kneading as in dough. There is a reciprocal relation. For example, a motto in a project we did in Oslo was bread kneads hands. There is always a back and forth. We have a history of working in a very intensive way, where we live together in very close proximity when we’re working on a project—sharing meals, going on walks and encountering new things together. For example, we met Lode in Ghent, Belgium, in 2003; he was our landlord and upstairs neighbour, and out of sheer proximity we started to do projects together. Futurefarmers works best when the ideas come out of a walk or a coffee where the intention isn’t to have a meeting, but things just come by chance and spontaneously.

-

-

-

-

Can you give an example?

 

A

F

When we did the Flatbread Society project in Oslo, we all took time out of our everyday lives and were in a sort of Futurefarmers petri dish: living in a single apartment where we didn’t have the distractions of our daily lives, but were fully focused in a place and situation where every conversation and act fed into the project—kneading and wandering ­together. Futurefarmers calls this notion of time and place a situation, whereby operating within a framework of physical proximity in a situation opens up momentum for unexpected encounters, the ethos of engagement with others and collectively bearing witness.

-

-

-

-

How do you start a project?

 

A

F

We often start with an action, not an invitation from a cultural institution. Most of the collaborations start with a very formal exchange, which is often a way of being together. We are all quite shy or aw­k­­­ward and making something is a way of being together.

 

L

V

I don’t know how they start. If we go back to this idea of a constellation of people, most of the projects start by just hanging around. We meet people, something starts and it becomes physical. But then because something happens, people get enthusiastic and the projects that started small begin to grow. Possibilities grow as well, and quite often the support then grows in terms of budget and scope.

-

-

-

-

This sounds very intuitive, or let’s say unconventional, but you work in a very professional way as well, don’t you?

 

A

F

Of course we’re very lucky; the people who have invited us contri­bute a level of trust because they see that we’ve demonstrated our accounta­bility for long-term, dynamic and unconventional work. At the beginning of our process it might not be clear where we are going, even to ourselves, but we have been lucky enough to work with curators and commissioners who  value the process of the work, the space of questioning and not knowing as much as the product. Our projects need time and space; we need to be present, we need to be together in a place, and have that trust that something will come out of our wandering. It might seem aimless or not make any sense for a while, but out of that senselessness, something starts to happen. And I think it’s also about kind of feeling at home in the process.

 

L

V

I was thinking about the idea of ‘present’ versus ‘presenting’… it’s not that our aim is presenting something, it’s more that we hang around or wander around in order to make present what is there. Also making visible what is present. I like to think that as Amy says, Futurefarmers is a group of activists, but then it’s more interesting to think of how you can be part of some manifestation. So our work is not made and ’presented’, it’s more about making something visible which is already there.

-

-

-

-

So what was the first project you two worked on together?

 

A

F

I think it was Neighborhood Beautification Act in 2003.

 

L

V

We made a bench and a little table in Ghent. That was the first thing we did together—Neighborhood Beautification Act. The city had taken away the benches in the neighbourhood where we lived because apparently people were making too much noise at night drinking and gathering around the benches. So we came up with the idea of designing a new bench and a new table. The table was specially designed to cover the existing hexagonal structure that had formerly supported the bench. It was painted with chalkboard paint, and we provided chalk and an eraser.

-

-

-

-

So this project was already some sort of intervention or action in order to engage people in activism?

 

L

V

The project was an intervention, yes. It re-affirmed our interest in creating a work that has the potential to surprise ourselves. The bench became a picnic area, a meeting point, a stage during a neighbourhood festival; and eventually the city placed permanent benches back in the park again. So the small intervention, this relational object, did the work of making the invisible visible.

 

A

F

The idea was that everybody can perform some sort of Neighborhood Beautification Act. It was an invitation to act, to imagine new ways to use the work, or simply to have a place to sit. I think we hope our work has many forms and, especially, can surprise us.

Whistling Tea Kettle

The “Whistling Tea Kettle” is a relational object made in collaboration with the Astronomy Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and Noah Murphy Reinhertz. The mirrored surface of the glass-blown kettle is made from the groundbreaking material used in the adaptive optics of astronomical telescopes. The Kettle was used to draw people together during Futurefarmers Wandering Seminar in 2020.

Please select an offer and read the Complete Article Issue No 9 Collection Issues No 10—7 Subscriptions