UPon Talk #3 with Centro Rural de Arte (Argentina)

Learning from the periphery. How can peripheral practice contribute to restoring and creating interconnected flows between rural and urban public space? (EN)

talk date: 16.12.2022

UPon: Right now, we are in the “Lobby”, the temporary space of Urbane Praxis in Berlin, sitting under a fake palm tree and enjoying the sunny vibes it is spreading. During the first talk of this series with the art collective OPAVIVARÁ! (Brazil), the audience asked about sensitive strategies for bringing urban practice into rural areas in order to activate public spaces and also public infrastructure outside of cities. Understanding public space within the categories urban / peripheral / rural as differing community dynamics of living together also is readable in differing methods and strategies of each practice. What can urban practitioners learn from rural practices and the other way around? How can peripheral practice reimagine narratives for the rural space and its non-human surroundings? How can disrupted flows be restored and how can peripheral and rural practice therefore (re)create interconnectivity and relationality?

We are glad to welcome today María José Trucco from CRA | Centro Rural de Arte from Argentina who presents their work in the periphery of the Province of Buenos Aires. 

CRA: Thank you very much for the invitation. It’s always interesting to have a conversation about distant projects and different contexts. So here we are. Centro Rural de Arte started in 2008 with four  people who were living in Buenos Aires City, Elina Rodríguez, Pablo Ramos, Luciano Bianchi and me. We wanted to leave the city and try out how art actions could work in a different context. Therefore we created a platform of eventual and nomadic projects as an operative interdisciplinary platform where people with different knowledge interact. The design of this platform is the basis and the start of each work. The type of formats that we’re working on are different residencies, workshops, talks, different creations, camps and we experiment on possible articulations between issues that are not previously associated. With this nomad path we have been working in vineyards, in a brick kiln, in a forestry station, in national parks, in plant nurseries, in mangrove swamps, in food fairs: different spaces that allow us to research some particular issues. Starting with CRA, the first action of leaving the city was about experimenting on how art can be produced and circulated in rural areas, getting out of the art institutions: finding yourself without any host of any kind, you have to create all the working frames first. 

We are working  in association with different institutional frameworks that don’t belong to the art world: educational institutions or with environmental assemblies or with local, national, regional or international governments, with the administration of national parks or with national institutes of agriculture. We’re constantly making contact with other institutions and co-create other working frames, other platforms.

The definition of going outside of the city was changing during the time that we started CRA, we would say “open air”, like: “We’re making an open air improvisation in the hills”. But then we started to think differently of naming our work or the places where we work. From “in nature” to “work in territory” to “site specific work”, then “in relation with the environment” or “with communities of differing natures”, always in recognition of global emergency. Now we are defining our work as being part of a continuity of nets and of a system that we have to raise awareness about.

UPon: In the description of CRA, you make a statement about the rural areas. Concretely, you say: “we do trust in rural areas”. Implicitly, there is a critique about a lack of trust. What is there to be trusted in and where do you see this lack of trust coming from?

CRA: Yes, it’s quite an old statement because now we feel more porosity between urban and rural. The categories of trust and distrust are mobile categories because it has to do with experience. When we go to rural areas to work we also encounter other ways of living. For 200 years, most of the population of the world has lived in cities. This modulates a sensibility that has to do with the design of space, with some choreographies within the space, with the use of time, comfort and also discomfort. But, there is a big part of the world where people live another everyday life. And many times, these areas are called “sacrificed zones” that enable the industrial consumption model. We put the body in another place, for a temporary time and see what’s happening there, how we feel and what inaugural actions can be done there. For example in Pampa Húmeda where we are located, we’re in an area where all the organisation is surrounded by a toxic agroindustrial model. It modified our sensibility, our way of life, our everyday life. Well, we like to stay there and to see what’s happening there. 

UPon: In the previous exchanges before our talk you remarked that you are a nomad association. What advantages and disadvantages do you see in the nomad approach?

CRA: The nomad approach gives us a freshness of the foreign visitor, like a certain distance and possibility of seeing things in a different way. We always create a platform with local people and this cooperation creates new views together. As actions are eventual it’s not very common that we return to the same place. There is no accumulation of social processes. We trust that with the action we leave some inspiration for the people there. Our actions are very concentrated and intense, sometimes around 15 days, one month, one week long, depending on the projects. Many things happen during a short period of time, a lot of new things and new practices for these spaces. So although there is no social process accumulating in a specific village, there is an accumulation without borders: feeding a consciousness without borders. Many times we return again and again in different time windows collaborating with people, artists and organisations that we have worked with before. Therefore, the accumulation is not in the territory but in the relations.

UPon: Referring to those nomadic spaces and community building: you studied in a big city and started your career there. How do you adapt your methods and strategies to rural contexts? 

CRA: Yes, there are many adaptations that we include in our practice. One adaptation lies in our nomadic practice because there usually are no theatres or galleries or residency spaces with all the facilities in rural spaces. We have to invent everything when we go to work. We  temporarily activate empty spaces, subverting their original use, adapting the space for its new purpose and putting in some furniture: creating the conditions for a workplace, space of exhibition or living or meeting. For example we have worked in an abandoned train station which was huge. We cleaned everything and transformed it into a residency for artists. We readapted many spaces for this use, for example the volunteer house of a national park or an abandoned house in the forestry station. We make alliances with institutions as partners that allow us to use this infrastructure.

We also create strategies to meet people because rural areas in Argentina are quite isolated. There is a long distance between spaces where people are on site together. The space in between isn’t empty but not planned for gathering, sometimes people are isolated on their farms. We meet people by going to places where people are already together: schools, work spaces, stores and events like fairs or traditional festivals. We join these local temporary gatherings and usually all these space and time variations change the mode of the artistic work because the context changes. We usually have a moment of sharing the process and these meetings. Sometimes we make a bonfire and we bring food, some things that are recognizable as such and we give new meaning to them.

UPon: Talking about the residencies that CRA is offering: You organised residences with international artists in rural areas. How do the artists in residence refer to the rural surroundings? Are participatory formats part of the residents’ art practices, do they engage with the local community?

CRA: Well, for example the project TRANS ACCIONES UTÓPICAS (2016) which was a programme of activities: labs, workshops, a creative residency for artists and a fair created an experimental field about collaborative economies, regarding alternative ways of circulation and socialisation from the research and resources found on site, in the territory. It took place in Cazón and we made it in collaboration with the organisation DESISLACIONES. We noticed that there were many things, buildings, actions and time in Cazón that were not taken advantage of. We created this platform to think and act together, researching collaborative economies and trying out alternative ways of circulation. How can we catalyse (self-)organisation and sustainability from community processes? How can we make use of those, not only for now, but also in the future? We made some open labs about self-building of ephemeral infrastructures, food production and harvesting wild vegetables. And for that we invited the Cazón Primary and Secondary School, a teacher training institute, an environmental assembly and an agro-ecological garden. Many people were working with different ways of exchange. An artist residency was also part of the programme. 

UPon: Were those the invited artists or the residents?

CRA: To the labs just local people participated and then Alexandra Villanueva Tamayo from Colombia who coordinated all the buildings and infrastructures. And Rosa Apablaza from Chile, who is part of DESISLACIONES activated the community and the construction for the dome that we were going to use later. The residency was an international call for research into the economy. People from Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Italy, Sweden and Australia participated. During the residency which was 15 days long each artist, all women, engaged and connected with the community and co-created this platform. Each project was a specific work with different people contributing. For example, one of the artists, Anamaya Farthing-Kohl, did some work about the relation of weight and value of things to understand if  the notion of weight has to do with the perception of value. She used the playground to play the project by hanging things on a device that she found in the village, asking the people about the value of those and the relationality between those things. Another artist, Nilda Rosemberg, worked on clothes and about how to take care of them. Some people from the village donated clothes and there were many workshops about how to reuse and redo these clothes. Afterwards the participants could wear them and take them home. With the school we worked on the narration of stories. And one project that Natalie Wuerth worked on was reflecting the relation with the community’s use of time. She is very interested in domestic work and care. She noticed that when you arrive at a house here you’d clap with your hands as a sign to raise attention from the people that are inside of the house. This seemed rather curious to her and she mixed this gesture of the clapping with domestic work, working with the cleaning and kitchen staff of the school. She questioned the use of time for domestic activities using the circular shape of the clock as a partiture creating moments of silence and sound depending on the use of time. Each worker had one partiture that would play together in a symphony of applause. This symphony was played during the fair, for example. The fair is also a device that we replicated from the village because Cazón is a village that is specialised in plant nurseries. There is a huge municipal nursery of 300 hectares and there are many, many other private plant nurseries. There is a big fair that is called Expo Vivero. People here cultivate plants and therefore easily recognize the situation. We organised a fair based on this local event and changed one element: it was not possible to use money for making the exchange. The artist in residency showed the works including the process and we invited other people who wanted to share something that has to do with exchanges. We put the same billboard that is used for the Expo Vivero on the road saying “trans acciones utópicas”, it’s quite a big one. We made the fair in a big public space where there were eucalyptus trees and we spent all day there offering workshops and presenting Natalie’s clapping partiture. 

UPon: A part of your work relates to the Río Salado (Salado River) and how to transform social imaginaries that relate to it. Which is the context of the Río Salado? Which imaginaries do you see as problematic and which methods and strategies do you use to change those imaginaries? How can the new imaginaries generate new approaches and restore or create flows?

CRA:  Río Salado is a river of plains. It’s 640 kilometres long and like all rivers in flooded territories the movement of the water leads to the sea but before it follows a lot of horizontal movements that sometimes create wetlands. Big wetlands are sometimes very problematic for economic uses because of the flooding. This imaginary around the river is a problem, to see the river as a frontier or as a border. Also the river is a place to throw all the industrial and city’s waste. It’s not well taken care of and not understood as a habitat, there is no coexistence with the river and only a few people stay with the river. Our first way of restoration is to stay there. It’s not easy to reach the river because the coasts lie in private properties that you can not enter although in the Argentine constitution the borders of the rivers are public- but there is no access to it. This is why the only way to access the coast is when the river crosses a road by going down the bridge next to it. This is where a lot of fishermen go. For us, staying with the river is a way of re-sensibilisation. Right now the river is undergoing a process of dredging because of the flooding, with the intention of  shaping the river so the water flows directly into the sea. This alters its ecosystem because the wetlands disappear without inundations. We see this as a terrible process of desertification caused by the agro-industry that cultivates mono-cultures and uses a lot of pesticides. These are creating extreme conditions because the water flows off and a lot of living things die and disappear. We have been there and created a video about this. Now, we are in another stage of the research about Río Salado with a sound clip. It’s a fiction about the river and about how to reconnect with vital forces, trying to go further than this temporary disaster and trusting that there is this force, old and wise, having a lot of things to share. The co-presence is one of the ways of reconnection. 

UPon: And how did you compose this? Because if I recall what I saw on your website, there were many people on some boats, singing. Is this what the song is about?

CRA: This performance is a different action in a wetland that is very close, Indio Muerto Lagoon, it’s in the Río Salado basin and it’s just as problematic because this lagoon ends in the Saladillo River, that ends in Río Salado. The water flows off quickly into the sea because of undercover canals. Wetlands are said to be the kidney of the planet because they take care of the filtration. We composed a song for it, created an icon and put it there and made a collective procession.

UPon: Referring to the bodies of a landscape as an organism to parts of the human body: on your website, we read that you match your bodies to cycles. Do you also mean human bodies with this? And if yes, do you think this is better practised in rural areas where the connection to the elements is more present than in urban space?

CRA: We feel the relation with cyclic times as something very concrete. Of course this relationality happens wherever you are, because if not, there is no survival. It doesn’t matter where we are but of course it always occurs that everywhere there are different forces that join together. In some places the quantity and diversity of these living and interacting forces invites you to a more complex or amplified experience. It’s a concrete and material experience so we try to make this co-presence the most active that we can. The more active it is, the relation of continuity with other forces and the knowledge of the interdependence is more clear and you will take better care of it. It’s about survival in some way. We are of the same flesh as that of a worm and we’re trying to stay conscious of the fact that we are different kinds of the earth. It’s just that. 

UPon: I would like to make kind of a bridge from urban practice and the association that hosts us today. You already talked a bit about different places that you activated. How was the experience of activating them in terms of the bureaucracy that is related to that such as asking for permissions or looking for the owners? How was your experience on the level of the contact, again with the community or the people that are in relation with those spaces?

CRA: So far, the situation was quite easy because we usually present the proposal of what we’re planning to do and as new and strange as it is we were always lucky with that. We experience a good reception in general. Here, some things are complicated but other ones are easy because bureaucracy and the legal frame can be negotiable.The fact that the projects are temporary also plays a role. Also because the projects are temporary as well. Usually we work together with the hosts involving them  in the activities and sometimes they are also participating in the design process. That makes it easy. With the National Park, for example, there were many things that we designed together, the everyday activities. In the forestry station, every morning we shared the time planning of work. We did the same work of the operation and of the workers there. So we were thinking together with them how to implement the plans, they were always involved. 

UPon: Where do you see the long term impact of your work?

CRA: We think that there is a need for recognition of being part of the same thing. So the impact is there, in contributing to a general matter. We also see an impact inside of the art field that with the work of Centro Rural de Arte many other experiences in rural landscapes start. We feel that this is part of opening a dialogue and the inauguration of new actions that start to be possible. We start to think about all the modes of work and choose how to do the things, with whom and where and how. 

UPon: Maybe it could be said that the expansion of consciousness and the expansion of the art world are your contribution. 

CRA: (laughing) Yes, maybe, thank you.

Hybrid talk with Centro Rural de Arte (María José Trucco), UPon (Lorène Blanche Goesele, Valeria Schwarz) and the UP audience

Transcript editing: Lorène Blanche Goesele

Translation EN to ES: Daniel Izquierdo

Graphic design: Stephanie Becker

Public Relations: Lorène Blanche Goesele, Tomma Suki Hinrichsen

This series of talks is supported by the Senate Department for Urban Development, Building and Housing as part of the expansion of the Netzwerkstelle Urbane Praxis, carried out by Urbane Praxis e.V.