Futurefarmers is one of my favorite artist groups, and I have had the privilege of working with them on a number of projects (Free Soil Bus Tour, Sunshine Still/Speak Hard, A People Without a Voice Cannot Be Heard), so I was excited to see notice of this new project in Philadelphia, Soil Kitchen. The press release from the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy describes the project –
“[Soil Kitchen] will incorporate community involvement, naturally generated energy, local foods, food exchange, the creative reuse of a brownfield site, and brownfield mapping. This new site-specific public artwork will provide a stage for interaction, dialogue, and education on topics of sustainability that impact every Philadelphian.”
It’s a tall order for a kitchen, but the project builds on a related history of Futurefarmers’ work that bodes well for its success. Victory Gardens – “A local network of home gardens = A community of food producers!” – was an exemplary community involvement project, which sought to at least reference if not recreate the remarkable “community” success of World War II victory gardens. It was also the occasion for the creation of the photogenic Garden Trike, which you can see referenced in the sketch above. Rainwater Harvester/Greywater Feedback Loop was a DIY system not unrelated to the rooftop windmill for naturally generated energy (presumably).
The exterior sketch of Soil Kitchen reminds me of a place like Waffle Shop in Pittsburgh, where a normative architectural facade of a restaurant belies an interior experiment in creative sociability. Inside Soil Kitchen, it’s not just dour tree huggers expounding on the chemical propertiesof this and that agent. It’s a party! For Futurefarmers’ Sunshine Still/Speak Hard project as part of Out of the Garage Into the World, they appropriated the idea of the glamorous prohibition era speakeasy but made it a “speak hard,” where hard truths – or at least assertions in an ongoing debate between solar and bio fuel energy proponents – were debated in forums well lubricated by their sunshine still.
Abiding commitment, expert knowledge/knowledge of experts, social conviviality, a formally beautiful DIY aesthetic, and an uplifting playfulness distinguish Futurefarmers’ projects. I can’t wait to taste test in the Soil Kitchen.
Kudos to Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy for commissioning this project, but I can’t help but think that their press release headline “Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy Commissions FUTUREFARMERS for the City’s First-Ever Temporary Public Art Project” identifies just about the least interesting and unimportant aspect of the project. What’s up with that? We produced similarly unimaginative headlines for the 01SJ Biennial, and I also plead guilty as charged. The press is fascinated, of course, by “first,” “most,” “biggest,” and various other ests, but we cater to them in our short term desire for coverage at the peril of lack of understanding and ultimately support over the long term.