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Installation view of FERNANDO GARCÍA-DORY’s INLAND, Recovery-regress system – 6 Hectares, 2021, printing on adhesive paper and blown glass ampoules, dimensions variable, at “Sustaining Assembly: Artistic Practices for a Grassroots Ecological Transition,” Parco d’Arte Vivente (PAV), Turin. All images courtesy the artist and PAV.

“Sustaining Assembly: Artistic Practices for a Grassroots Ecological Transition”

Parco D’Arte Vivente
Italy Hong Kong Australia Brazil

For “Sustaining Assembly: Artistic Practices for a Grassroots Ecological Transition” at Parco d’Arte Vivente (PAV) in Turin, co-curators Piero Gilardi and Marco Scotini gathered 11 international artists and collectives whose community-based projects support a grassroots-led ecological transition, as an alternative to the “solutions of green, liberal economies that blindly concentrate only on the West.” Throughout the show, a red thread of vegetation led viewers on a journey of the pluralistic possibilities of eco-sustainability across five continents.

Installation view of ZHENG BO’s té égalité fr, 2017, convallaria and begonias, 20 × 100 cm, at “Sustaining Assembly: Artistic Practices for a Grassroots Ecological Transition,” PAV, Turin.

Detailed installation view of ZHENG BO’s té égalité fr, 2017, convallaria and begonias, 20 × 100 cm, at “Sustaining Assembly: Artistic Practices for a Grassroots Ecological Transition,” PAV, Turin.

Zheng Bo’s égalité fr (2017), a rectangular patch of wild weeds sprouting from a well-pruned lawn, greeted visitors in the park. Presented in its first iteration in Shenzhen in 2017, the work follows a series of vegetal slogans sown as flowerbeds, addressing nature’s power of overcoming the constraints of human ideology. When first installed, the flowerbed read the French revolutionary motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” a cornerstone of Western anthropocentric thought, laid out in crimson begonia seedlings. In the following weeks, the floral motto gradually became overgrown by weed—literal agents of a nonhuman, grassroots revolution. Concisely and poetically, Zheng Bo’s installation expresses the idea that revolution often comes from marginalized interventions.

Fernando García-Dory’s INLAND, Recovery-regress system – 6 Hectares (2021) explores the ecological footprint of the politics underlying forestry in Europe. Two copper purifiers and several glass jars connected by jumbled wires distilled aromatic oils from eucalyptus leaves. Behind this sculptural mechanism, a large poster depicting a eucalyptus forest is superimposed with captioned images of forest fires, timber factories, and paper-related objects, such as typewriters. The texts explain Italy’s extensive usage of eucalyptus—a highly inflammable, soil-drying plant—in the 1930s to reclaim swamps, a workhorse of Mussolini’s Fascist political campaign, based on colonial and homeland territorial expansion. Likewise, General Francisco Franco of Spain planted eucalyptus on an industrial scale for timber and paper production in the post-industrial era to feed the growth of the service sector and office automation in the 1970s. An ecological time bomb, eucalyptus woods recently became responsible for the spread of devastating fires in Italy, Spain, and Portugal, in the wake of climate change.

YASMIN SMITH, Terra Dei Fuochi, 2021, Limoges porcelain and poplar wood ash, 20 pieces, 110 × 400 × 300 cm.

In the same room, Terra dei Fuochi (2021), by Sydney-born Yasmin Smith, similarly engaged with a wounded land. Twenty off-white, porcelain reproductions of poplar tree trunks were arranged in a grid on a white platform. Poplar trees have the ability to accumulate heavy metals and clean contaminants out of the soil. In 2015, as part of an experimental project, the University of Naples Federico II began planting poplar trees in the Terra dei Fuochi following decades of Mafia-led illegal waste disposal in the area, which leaked cancerogenic substances into cultivated fields and aquifers. Reflecting on this process of nonhuman rehabilitation, Smith made ceramic casts of poplar specimens and infused the ashes from burnt poplar leaves and branches into the glaze, resulting in different hues and textures depending on the degree of chemical accumulation. Somber but compelling, the installation recalled a military cemetery, inducing a reflection on the countless of deaths prompted by the criminal use of land.

Still image from MARIA THEREZA ALVES’s To See the Forest Standing, 2019, 19-channel video installation, color, sound: 3 hr 3 min.
Still image from MARIA THEREZA ALVES’s To See the Forest Standing, 2019, 19-channel video installation, color, sound: 3 hr 3 min.
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Environmental exploitation for economic ends also underlies To See the Forest Standing (2017) by Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves, a video installation featuring interviews with 34 Indigenous activists in an agroforestry training center in Acre. Projected simultaneously on four different screens to create an immersive experience, interviewees share the constant threats to the survival of the forest and its communities: highway projects, mining, the wood industry, and unsustainable cattle ranching. Their polyphony of voices and mosaic of images powerfully convey the rich heritage of communities who are often targets of land-grabbing and killings by settlers, under the complicit gaze of the present Brazilian government.  The Indigenous populations of Acre receive no recognition or funds for managing reforestation, supervising animal life, and protecting water sources in the Amazon rainforest, a vital resource for humanity and for the entire biosphere.

A timely, engaging, and layered exhibition, “Sustaining Assembly” confronted head on the looming environmental crisis while emphasizing that there are possible solutions, if often marginalized voices from the ground are taken into account when rethinking—on a planetary scale—our relationship with ecology.

“Sustaining Assembly: Artistic Practices for a Grassroots Ecological Transition” was on view at Parco d’Arte Vivente, Turin until October 24, 2021.

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