[-empyre-] In Reply

margaretha haughwout margaretha.anne.haughwout at gmail.com
Mon May 23 04:06:08 AEST 2016

Dear Margaret,

Thank you for these thoughtful questions. I don't have a total vision for
the city. I used to, but I've decided it's not useful. Rather I am
interested in cultivating exchanges where I can, and perhaps creating the
context for new relationships (in the case of the Guerrilla Grafters,
between fruit eaters) where possible. In some ways we resist some of the
fundamentals of permaculture here, which definitely is in dialog with and
influenced by mid-century cybernetics, and espouses a totalizing view of
systems. I am more interested in theorizing and exploring on the ground
what happens in hyperlocal, subjective exchanges regarding hyperlocal
resources and waste. This is why I bring up an ethics of difference as a
way to orient and guide the work; I would say this is what guides the work
in place of a vision. In the case of Hayes Valley Farm, we started with a
totalizing view of our process, but as the "freeway food forest" took
shape, and there were so many people coming on and off the site on any
given day, all of our best laid plans were not useful for navigating
varying agendas and needs. What worked the best was a radical and fearless
approach to conflict. I don't want to paint a picture of a utopian scene,
quite the contrary; these kinds of anarchist, lateral projects are messy
and fraught and fail more often than they succeed. But I do think there is
untapped potential for stakeholders when we make space for conflict and
radical difference and grief, because capital relies on their avoidance and
squelching. That's why, for example movements like Occupy are characterized
as lacking unity or mocked for their differing agendas -- I think this is
their strength. From a permaculture lens, cultivating difference means
making habitat and food for many different species, which also means a
better habitat for us.

I guess I wonder if an urban commons can be a step out of scarcity models.
I don't think it's an end in itself, as commons are usually exceptions that
prove the rule of capital.

I do worry about a nature-engaged relational practice and the ways it might
contribute to gentrification. In the 80s it's been argued that the artists
in Manhattan paved the way for gentrification. In San Francisco 5 years
ago, I think it was the local food movement. I do worry about the city's
support of urban gardens only being conducted when they want to "clean up"
a site, and generally how cultivating plant life leads to increased
property values... This is why increasing community is so important, and
also why I'm interested in pushing projects that exist outside of a binary
of public and private. If we are working outside of legally sanctioned
spaces the art category affords some protection, both institutionally and
in terms of popular support.

I like that you asked about hands. As academics, I think sometimes we
undervalue the kinds of embodied thinking that can happen with and plants,
animals, pollinators and living microbial-rich soil. I do see this work of
grafting and cultivating, even foraging as filled with embodied decisions
and multi-species collaboration. An example of the kinds of cultivations
that create more abundance and more difference is, when possible, cutting
stems and branches at nodes so as to make more branches. Also, working side
by side on projects like these, with youth, neighborhood folks, friends --
having an activity enables our bodies to stay absorbed while we have deeper
conversations. The best conversations I've had have been on compost heaps,
making seedballs and while grafting trees. And a lot of our work with the
Guerrilla Grafters involves meeting neighbors of nearby trees, running
workshops and facilitating local connections.

There is also an interesting dynamic in this project between the
information we share online and what we share on the ground because it is a
scofflaw project, and our grafts are vulnerable if the wrong people know
about them. I think often in projects like ours, there is a trumpeting of
transparency, but that's not something we espouse. Rather, we keep
information about the grafts rooted in the neighborhood close to the tree,
and only share information about where to find the graftable trees online.
If we are dedicated dissolving boundaries between public and private,
information that supports these promiscuous cultivations can't be totally
accessible to everyone.

Thank you for your good questions and generous insights! I look forward to
hearing more of your thoughts on the nodal points of discussion and Miracle
by Helen Hall.

Margaretha Haughwout
unclique, disconnect

> Some questions for now:
> How do you imagine the city, as remapped and connected by way of nature?
> Can you tell me a bit more, about how nature became central to your
social art practice?
> Are there any limitations to working with nature in social practice?
> Can you share a bit more on hands? When I think of your inspiring work, I
am thinking about hands grappling with seeds and dirt, hands grafting, and
hands offering others fruit to share. This may be a strange question, but
can you talk about hands, and the work hands do in your projects of social
engagement? Why may it be important for participants and artist/activists
to use their hands for movement building/social change?
> --
> Margaret Rhee, Ph.D.
> Visiting Assistant Professor
> Women's and Gender Studies
> University of Oregon
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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