Fruit is a sharing matter. Relationships between people and cities.
(María Bella y Suset Sánchez)
Fallen Fruit is an art collaboration formed by David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young based in Los Angeles working together since 2004. They raise issues about urban spaces, ideas of neighborhood and new forms of located citizenship and community. They often work in public space, galleries and museums and have been recently commissioned by institutions like LACMA (Los Angeles), Lugar a dudas, (Cali, Colombia), Intermediae-Matadero Madrid (Madrid) or the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (California). Their approach touches social activism through everyday life rituals that captivate the attention of people engaging them in an active participatory creation. This interview points at how this art practices can expand our views about the fields in which art should be involved.
«New genre public art», a term coined by Suzanne Lacy, «calls for an integrative critical language through which values, ethics and social responsibility can be discussed in terms of art», referring to a working model based on relations between people, social creativity, cooperation, community-based, socially engaged, interactive, creative participation and process. How do you position your practice within this term?
Social practice for us means that we try as much as possible to get the artist out the equation. To discuss the world “in terms of art” still prioritizes art over the world, and our primary interest is in the world: who the work is about (the public), its site (public space), and the collective way in which is authored (which defines a public practice for us). The genres of photography, video, installation and collaborative performance (which you might compare to Allan Kaprow’s happenings) may not be new genres at all, though the ways in which they can be combined have the potential for seeming new or at least unexpected. We like to challenge both the idea of what art is and also who the artist is, and one way is to breakdown the distinction between artist and audience.
Regarding your concerns about public space how do the Public Fruit Maps -your first explorations into your closest context- have evolved in later projects?
Creating Public Fruit Maps was our first work, and it was essential in opening our eyes and getting us to think and see in new ways. First it was a way to prove that what we were interested in – public fruit, and the way it could be used to talk about the city – already existed. We soon saw that just describing a thing that fascinated us was not enough. Public fruit did already exist, in pockets here and there. We decided we needed to make more of it, plant trees, give them to people to adopt, create new public spaces and especially to create new events and rituals that allow people to connect in unexpected ways. The Public Fruit Jam is our favorite example: strangers and friends bring fruit from their gardens or the city streets. They sit together without recipes to negotiate a jam out of a combination of available ingredients. Ultimately it’s less about the end product (remarkable collective and experimental jams) than about the experiences and connections the participants make. The last jam we held was at a college and included a group of women who were in prison. What resulted from the mix of people was even more dynamic than the mix of fruit.
Thanks to the experience gained through this type of works, how do you think a critical awareness increases in relation to the integration of nature and its potential functionality in the design of cities?
While it may appear that fruit and fruit trees are at the heart of our project, the real core is the relationships between people and the city. These relationships are actual but also immanent: they are the ground from which everything else grows. We love fruit because it offers us a common ground, a thing of beauty, a metaphor and a symbol of goodness. We are of course interested in nature and the city – and nature doesn’t just have to be functional to be important. We love the usefulness of the fruit tree, but also its symbolism. A new example of how we rethink the city is in our current piece at LACMA, Public Fruit Theater. The “drama” is the performance of the fruit tree, which we witness in a theater built of broken pieces of city sidewalk. We move the margins (the sidewalk and its trees) to the center. Our favorite character in this theater is the stranger or the passer-by, and this character might contemplate the relationship between the built and often broken urban environment and this archetypal other thing, the fruit tree.
How would you define your approximations to the value of publicness employed in your work and how do you think this is perceived in a society driven by a tendency to privatization?
While many things like water, energy (our planet’s oil), and even education have been privatized, there are others that have not. We are interested in things that often came under the category of the commons, like the mushrooms in a forest, the shells on a beach and the berries on a hill. The commons famously began to disappear with industrialization and urbanization, but the idea that some things must be shared is still with us. Food and the rules of sharing and hospitality are an example of this. One aspect of the art museum that continues to interest us is how many of them are truly public spaces, owned in trust for everyone and available to all, sometimes even for free. These notions of sharing, the commons and public life are a key for us as we think through our work.
How do you value unconventional practices that give the possibility of empowerment to people, lets say “guerrilla movements” for example, to activate new approaches towards a redefinition of publicness?
Guerilla movements inspire us but we do not believe we are emulating them. Our method is always completely transparent. In Madrid, our plan to plant fruit trees in public ran into opposition from the City Hall and rather than choose to plant the trees secretly we engaged with the process. The short-term result was frustrating (the trees sat in pots in the gallery) but the final result was very satisfying. The trees were planted in a new community space (Esta es una plaza) and perhaps even more importantly, the publicity created a whole local consciousness of the questions about public space that are important to us. The conversation remains one of the highest forms of public life. It’s the way ideas come to light and grow.
In some of your projects it is possible to trace a reconstruction of the social and cultural values of fruit as object of representation, how would you refer to this idea in United Fruits or The Colonial History of Fruit for example?
After beginning with mapping public fruit trees and moving into planting new ones, we became very interested in the history of the fruit we were returning to again and again. While fruit appears to be a natural object, it is actually a collaboration between humans and nature, a product of centuries of selection and hybridization. Each fruit has a dynamic economic history that helps explain where it was grown and who ate it. Often this reflects colonialism: whose tree was it first, who controls it now, who profits from it and who eats its fruits? The Colonial History of Fruit is an ongoing project we have to look at these questions. We began with the complex history of the banana in the Americas and we’re moving into other fruits. This project examines colonialism in another way as well. Much of our personal relationships to fruit are through our families and their histories, especially through immigration. With the history of immigration in the United States, this has a particular force: everything has a root somewhere else.
EATLACMA, the project you are involved at the moment -probably one of the largest until today-, combines the different strategies and knowledge accumulated through your collaborative practice, can you tell us about how did this initiative started and how it is taking shape? And what about your expectations?
EATLACMA is our largest project to date. In it we are both artists and curators, and the focus has expanded from fruit to all food and the rituals of eating and sharing, the way food is grown, and the way in which this forms the basis of our social relationships. There are six artist’s gardens installed on the grounds of the museum, each of which push the boundaries of what you might expect a garden to do or to look like. An exhibition of work we’ve pulled from the museum’s permanent collection examines the persistence of fruit in art, creating new narratives of fruit’s relationship to art but also a social history of what people ate and what it might have meant to them. Let Them Eat LACMA, on the last day of EATLACMA, involves over fifty artists and collectives who will activate and intervene in the entire campus. Mostly the artists will neither be serving food nor making representations of it. Their performances, installations and interventions will all examine aspects of food and eating as it relates to the world and the museum. EATLACMA is a year long investigation of food, art, culture and politics.
Based in your own experience and that of others around you working in similar initiatives, how do you see the art institutions are incorporating practices that go beyond traditional representations within the rituals of exhibition?
It is interesting to see how institutions change as art practices change. In Los Angeles there has been a dynamic and innovative movement of art practices, many of which involve collectives. Our colleagues are Machine Project, The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, the LA Urban Rangers, Finishing School, The Public School, My Barbarian and many others. We’re thrilled that LACMA is taking on a project as unconventional as EATLACMA, but there are echoes of this elsewhere in Los Angeles. The Hammer Museum has Machine Project in residency for year, MOCA has a monthly series of interventions by local artists and collectives called the Engagement Party, and MCA/San Diego has a similar series called TNT –Thursday Night Thing. The Getty Museum is sponsoring an enormous collective project, Pacific Standard Time, in which a range of alternative institutions is documenting the incredible range of art in Los Angeles since 1945.