Futurefarmers is an international artist collective practicing a form of cultural activism that exploits the interactive potential offered by new media and public spaces. Aligned around an “open practice of making work that is relevant to the time and space surrounding us,” they create work that explores a variety of social and environmental issues.
In 1995, Amy Franceschini founded Futurefarmers as a means to bring together multidisciplinary artists to create new work. The name, Futurefarmers, is a play off the nomenclature of an agricultural organization established in the early 20th century, the Future Farmers of America. The same year also marked the beginning of the Futurefarmers’ artist in residence (AIR) program that offers a platform for collaboration and research. The program has hosted over 22 artists from 12 countries and forms the basis of a distributed network of artists who make up the collective.
Futurefarmers‘ emphasis has been on channeling funds and technological resources from commercial design projects with such clients as MTV, NASA and Lucasfilm into self-generated works with deeper meaning.
There are currently six members of the Futurefarmers:
While this group of artists works across a variety of disciplines from web design and database development to interactive sculptures and installations, most of their works share the following core values:
Play and accessibility
The fact that many Futurefarmers come from a background in commercial design and advertising might explain why they feel the need to make their art an enjoyable experience. They are conscious of the fact that “playing around” offers up a way to let down ones guard when dealing with serious issues. For Futurefarmers, play provides their audience with a sense of freedom that cannot be found in a sanctioned panel discussion, meeting or classroom.
Right now I’m very much like: aesthetics are really important. That’s what people respond to, it lures people in, it lures in people who maybe wouldn’t have looked at it in the first place, and if they only get to that surface level, fine. At least they got there. - Amy Franceshini
Visualization of abstract ideas
Complex social and environmental issues are often illustrated through a visual, tactile, or spatial metaphor. Processes that remain invisible or seem very distant from our lives are rendered more present and immediate through a form of recontextualization.
The issues presented in various projects often pertain to issues affecting a particular locality or a specific community.
The power of connection
Their art aims to elicit and inform their viewership about the relationship between distinct yet related processes or entities. Their art also encourages collaboration between individuals in reaching a common goal. Franceshini considers their work to be "both artwork and democracy in action."
The People’s Roulette (2009)
The People's Roulette is a temporary, interactive public sculpture located in the Nashan District of Shenzhen, China as part of the 2009 Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture. Amy Franceschini and Dan Allende of Futurefarmers constructed an octagonal, rotating wooden sculpture measuring 30 feet in diameter and hosting a 9-foot spinning centerpiece.
The inspiration for the piece began with an image of the 1950s Human Roulette Wheel at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. The formal shape of the piece mirrors the literal aspect of Shenzhen as a sub-provincial or prefecture city as well as the physical layout of the city that is surrounded by the world-renowned factory area. Passengers are invited to sit upon the center piece while an operator controls an increasing rate of rotation. Passengers must stay close to the center point or will be tossed off to the periphery which is lined with used tires. Circling the piece are spectators who wait in anticipation to participate and to see who will survive the spinning of the center stage.
The sculpture is a dynamic response to what the city represents in terms of global capital and the changing economic landscape of China. In particular, the sculpture suggests the mass migrations that accompanied China’s urbanization. The event catalogue describes the installation as "part carnival-ride and part performance piece, personifying the endless movements of ‘the masses' between center and periphery under a paradigm in which such distinctions have grown increasingly diffuse." Whether the message behind the piece was in the forefront of the participants’ minds is questionable. However, the work functions as a place to pause, gather, and socialize in what would otherwise be an ordinary thruway. In doing so, the work encourages play but also encourages critical and progressive thinking on local contemporary issues. Similar to other Futurefarmers works such as Lofoten and Game for the Masses, the sculpture employs a playful, tangible and visual approach to the challenging issues facing the local population.
They Rule (2001)
They Rule is a flash-based interactive website designed by Josh On with the support of Futurefarmers. It seeks to explore ideas about information visualization and the Internet as a social construction, as well as to reveal an aspect of the relationships of the American ruling class. They Rule utilizes a database of information about corporate board members to visualize the connections between American companies.
They Rule takes as its focus the boards of some of the most powerful U.S. companies, a number of which share the same directors. Through diagrams of corporate power structures, specifically their boards of directors, the minimalist symbolism—CEOs are represented as an iconic male or female holding a briefcase—highlights connections and gives the ruling power elite a kind of uniformity. The directors’ weight increases proportional to the number of boards they sit on. They Rule allows users to browse through interlocking directories and run searches on the boards and companies. Additionally, a user can save a map of connections complete with their annotations and share their maps with others.
They Rule utilizes the Internet’s potential for universal access and transparency of data to create a qualitative description of these relationships, employing the features of networked technologies, such as dynamic mapping, hyperlinking, and instant searches, to create its own subnetworks of power systems. In doing so, Futurefarmers illustrates the Internet’s potential as a democratizing medium.
On and Futurefarmers were not the first to tackle the subject of corporate power in their artwork. They Rule’s aesthetics are similar to those of drawings by American artist Mark Lombardi who chartered suspicious ties connecting scandals, government officials and big business. On’s piece also invokes C. Wright Mills' book, The Power Elite (1956), which documented the interconnections among the most powerful people in the US at that time.
Victory Gardens (2006)
Victory Gardens is an ongoing civic works initiative devised by Futurefarmers artist/founder Amy Franceshini and developed in conjunction with the city authorities of San Francisco and the Garden for the Environment association. The title refers to the agricultural project set up by the US government during World War II to deal with the food shortages caused by the conflict. Inspired by the historical model of the Victory Gardens, the Futurefarmers project provides participating citizens with a kit to grow vegetables in their homes and workshops on how to best utilize the productive potential of their small urban spaces. The principal goal of the project - the promotion of alternative forms of urban agriculture based on reducing the production chain and using eco-compatible practices - explores a common environmental theme scattered throughout their body of work: the conflicting rituals of humans and nature.
Aside from the home gardening component, the initiative also consists of several “demonstration gardens” in visible public areas in the city of San Francisco. The summer of 2008 was the first time since 1943 that an edible garden found itself in the shadow of City Hall. This component of the project, like many other works by the collective, disseminates information through a “wonderful and fantastical image."
Futurefarmers announced the launch of GardenRegistry.org, a site that allows participants to register where they are growing, or list what kind of extras they have to share. Consider in addition the scheduled planting days and food donations to the needy, and the project begins to resemble the cooperative, community based nature of all the collective's projects.
- Rachel Greene, Internet Art, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2004
- Amy Franceschini, Victory Gardens 2007+,Gallery 16 Editions, 2008.
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