Arts Of The Working Class Logo


The lumbung interlokal and other forms of shaking the land.

  • Essay
  • Oct 04 2023
  • Fernando García-Dory
    ’s practice develops social systems, cooperatives and durational actions around the land as a space to rethink cultural conditions under post-Fordism, and to confront the eco-social collapse. These include Inland, a project about a para-institution he initiated in 2009. Based in the Northern Spanish Mountains, where he is resuscitating an abandoned village, he studied Fine Art and Rural Sociology, and he is currently working towards a Ph.D. in agroecology at the Institute of Sociology and Peasant Students at the University of Andalusia, Spain.

In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. This event was considered to be the origin of the shift from the science of ecology to the social movement of environmentalism. Since then, approaches, ecosophies, and political ecologies, from deep ecology to green corporatism, have multiplied. In those early years of environmentalism, where did artists, critics, gallery owners and the art milieu look for reference? After the depoliticisation of Abstract Expressionism, a growing anguish in the face of the nuclear threat, and the ideological polarization of the world, Pop Art emerged in the United States as a meta-entertainment identified with the consumer society, and, a few years later, drawing from conceptual art premises, Land Art and the earthworks proposed a form of public art existing beyond the gallery space. One could find therein veiled references to the ecological crisis, with the notion of entropy and Robert Smithson’s fascination with the crumbling anti-landscapes of Passaic, New Jersey — or any urban periphery after the Great Acceleration of Post-War thermocapitalism. But, in general, the group, a largely WASP male cohort, built the anthropocentric proposals on a conventional notion of the role of the art and the artists, blind, somehow, to the land as an eco-political subject, its histories and potential as substrate for life, not only for spectacle.

In those same years, some other proposals (such as those by Helen and Newton Harrison, Mierle Laderman-Ukeles, Hans Haacke, Gianfranco Baruchello or Joseph Beuys, and many other erased or elided contributors from the Global South) begin to reckon with the complex interaction of their present moment between people, models of production and consumption, and biomes, leading, for example, to involvement in forms of Social Plastic, and in the creation of Die Grüne, a strong grassroots organization that is a milestone in the anti-nuclear struggle in Europe. From then until today the bonanza of the 1990s and the first years of the 21st century have been distinguished by a triumphant neoliberalism, new economic growth cycles, monetary discipline, globalization and hypermobility which have fuelled the contemporary art production system, and the art fairair-Biennale industrial complex. The economic engine linked to the financial sector (driving the growing gap between elites and other social strata) seemed to falter after the crisis of 2007-2009. dOCUMENTA 12 (2013) unfolded a theoretical scaffolding defined in the realm of ideas and featuring Object-Oriented Ontology, New Materialisms, and a possible transmodernity, complete with hybrid sensibilities and bodies that transcend classical humanism (in the words of Dussel and Mignolo, and all thinkers who articulate feminisms) . T.J. Demos’s analysis of the trope of the garden at dOCUMENTA 13 explored what was becoming a trend in contemporary art. Demos writes: “As a result Christov-Bakargiev’s project betrayed a (non)position of uncommitted pluralism, a tendency familiar in the liberal milieu of contemporary art, happy to allude to crises and emergencies but take no clear stand in relation to them.” [1] Within such a transformative theoretical framework, art, once again, privileged aesthetic reflections that circulate, like memes, through channels of influence. This generated common points of reference, linking art and ecology, and criteria of validation that allow us to “authorize” (i.e. connect with an author)  proposals in a system still largely governed by the idea of the autonomy of art ingrained within a model of unquestioned growth, as well as a wide formal plurality and a spectacle that privileges simulacra over root-work and conscious change. Thus the question still remains: what could be the use of art in the heat of the climate crisis? 

In the present moment, the celebration of ecological wonders, such as the mycorrhizal fungi networks, or fluctuating gender behaviors in animals, are part of a necessary acknowledgment by the cultural field of the importance of building another civilizational paradigm beyond the dogma of economic growth. But that re-presentation (sometimes simplifying, to the ecological scientists’ dismay) if it’s not connected to a radical questioning of many aspects in which the art system functions, and the role of the cultural worker,  would only work to sublimate anxiety in times of eco-social breakdown and to green-wash institutions. 

As exhibitions on art and ecology keep coming, the frustration with their futility increases, as recently pointed by the art critic Marv Recinto in her text, Eco Exhibitions Won’t Save Us, [2] or as in Taru Elfving questioning of the artist-in-residency model. [3]
Another recent case is that of also documenta fifteen, last year, more polemical than any previous edition, and claiming a divergent perspective on how art exists and functions, Ruangrupa’s proposal looked at localized practices, sustained involvement, and radical approaches to art. 

Their take on the exhibition went beyond topical issues, but also involved exposing and turning upside down infrastructural aspects, such as the finances of the exhibition, the participants’ invitation process, and more broadly, the decission-making guding the exhibition. More than bringing eco-critical questions in art exhibitions, Ruangrupa’s dOCUMENTA showed the importance of questioning how art manifests today, and how it could be otherwise. Therefore, we must be able to acknowledge theoretical frameworks that are in need of constant redefinition, incorporating, for example, the analysis of the Anthropocene, or of the post-humanism from the perspective of racialized and indigenous identities, as in the work of Zakiyyah Iman Jackson and Zoe Todd, or how agroecology goes beyond western-centric notions of post-nature or Re-wilding. 

Within the innumerable discussions around the concept of lumbung, [4] those within the network directly involved in ecological practices came to create the Lumbung Land Group, with the central idea of liberating land to transform it into territory. The lumbung interlokal aims to create an interdependent collective economy based on lumbung values of generosity, regeneration, independence, humor and self-sufficiency. Between June 2020 and September 2021, the lumbung economy working group has held discussions to define collective values, ways of governing the collective rice barn, and projects that would build the collective economy. As part of the latter, the lumbung created the Kios and Gallery as a  way of using documenta fifteen to “transvest” money for the lumbung collective, and for local ecosystems through rethinking the sales of merchandise and artwork. Alongside this, we developed both the lumbung land and lumbung currency, which are seen as projects that can build a lumbung-value based economy in the long term.

Since the origins of the lumbung land working group we have realized the importance of looking at land-based projects and economies as a political commitment to divest from the dependence of art as a service-sector activity funded by the public or by private investment. The vision involves a form of care for the land as a living support structure with whom we co-exist. In this sense the projects have in mind the agency of the land as living aspect of the biosphere, and, therefore, the need arises to root our practices in allying to peasant and indigenous communities and becoming custodians of the land to prevent extractivism and speculation. Members have been working for many years in this direction and started to exchange their practices and knowledge on these approaches include Jatiwangi Art Factory, Wajukuu, INLAND, and Mama. The discussion has been focussed on collective governance of land, and development models that start from community, as well as the non-human needs combining agriculture, biodiversity, human culture and the spiritual. Also, we think about how to see “investment” of the lumbung in specific pieces of members’ land: what would be the return, financial and symbolic? Meanwhile, a land-discursive working group started to come into being. This group focuses on connecting the differing public programs of lumbung collectives that look at reconnecting to the memory of the land, and how to build an imagery connected to land which is based on artistic processes and indigenous poetry, songs, and images in order to move beyond extractivist modernist uses, as well as to think about restitution of land and what that means for ownership, collective re-creation of narratives, and memories. These two groups became intertwined as learning processes. 

Currently we continue looking at the importance of schools, as developed by, amongst others, Inland (Shepherds School and the Inland Academy) [5], Wajukuu and Jatiwangi Art Factory (New Rural School), and we are discussing the possible form of a collective Lumbung Land School. The focus we take for the proposed projects for this lumbung interlokal land project is aligned with our vision of agroecology, which has a holistic approach and encompasses the social, economic, environmental, and cultural dimensions. This is not a school in the classic sense, but rather it is a container where the collective learning, harvesting, and experimentation happens, to be brought to the lumbung rice barn. The project has three major strands:

  1. Collective harvest and learning from specific land development projects in the lumbung that focus on creating autonomy for communities and holistic development of land combining culture, agroecology, nature, spiritual, and the social; and/or that look into the relation to non-human histories and cultural practices around land, memories, and restitution. We started with three case studies, JaF, Inland and Wajukuu. Each has specific land-based projects with much in common, but also different starting points. Inland starts from the need to experiment with and develop tools for land cultivation based on agroecology as a way to overcome the confined realm of contemporary art, and the academic incorporation of ecological concerns using shallower approaches. Placing the rural in the center as a space to explore non-hegemonic models to live, we are experimenting with the transition from a eucalyptus monoculture to a biodiverse forest, the coordination of a World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Pastoralists/Nomads, or beekeeping as multilevel healing. Jatiwangi Art Factory, based in Indonesia, builds on the concept of soil (tanah) as a starting point for a life in balance with nature and community. From this origin they look at reforestation, ecology, agriculture, spirituality, and memory in relation to land, and community led entrepreneurship. Currently, it has two small plots of land on which it experiments: the soil bank and the sacred forest. They want to expand these two plots in the school to create a New Rural Agenda in the midst of a rapid land-grab and mega-development. Wajukuu is developing a farm project in rural Kenya. The farm is the sustainability model for its community and collective. A place where the community can reclaim its autonomy, create a livelihood, and where the children of Mukuru, an important slum of Nairobi where they are based, can reconnect to their family histories and to nature.

  2. Development of the lumbung economy and the idea of collective harvest and governance of specific pieces of land within the lumbung. We look into the economic side of the collective governance of the three land projects mentioned above. The idea of a possible rotative land fund, where the productive and non-productive return from the land would be defined and assessed collectively and returned to the lumbung rice barn to then be distributed to other members in the lumbung, is also being tested at Inland’s project, the Office for Direct Cultivation. ODC offers accompaniment for art projects in the rural areas, looking at conceptual, social, and economic aspects with the intention of developing further the existing network of the Confederacy of Villages. [6] For example, working with the Palestinian street theater collective Basta to set up a base in rural areas, between Palestine and Spain, which is financed by the production and commercialization of Habibi Tahini sesame paste, which is processed in the Old City of Jerusalem.

  3. Further exchange of creation and experimentation with imagery, knowledge, spirituality and cultural production in relation to the land, to develop collective publications, public programs or exhibitions anchored in the practices mentioned above. 

This form of a collaborative grassroots system that connects with its respective localities and contexts might be just an attempt, a form of questioning and learning by doing, in moments that pull us back — feet on the Earth — to reconsider the place of art.




To improve our website for you, please allow a cookie from Google Analytics to be set.

Basic cookies that are necessary for the correct function of the website are always set.

The cookie settings can be changed at any time on the Date Privacy page.