No. 110: Agriculture
Deadline September 1, 2023

Nothing is quiet in the countryside. Large-scale industrial monocrop agribusinesses are suffocating biodiverse ecosystems, causing soil erosion and water depletion, while dispossessing rural farmers and Indigenous peoples from their lands and threatening their ways of life, knowledges, and sovereignties. As huge areas of forest are burned or cleared to make space for crops and livestock, the climate emergency accelerates. Attempts to nurture collective food production and agrarian reform have been met with state violence in the Global South. In the Global North—and Quebec in particular, as Dominic Lamontagne argues in La ferme impossible—small-scale, resilient agriculture is discouraged by legislation that supports large-scale industrial structures.

Against this backdrop of entwined climatic and social horrors, artists and activists are producing other agrarian futures. From Black radical traditions of freedom farming and guerrilla gardening, through the Indigenous-led Landback movements across Turtle Island, agriculture harbours rich counter-histories of resistance. Focusing on strategies of collaboration, artists are working in partnership with agricultural associations, activist networks, and rural communities to regenerate sustainable approaches to food production. For issue no. 110 of Esse art + opinions, we invite authors and artists to contribute texts that cultivate alternative practices and knowledges of growing and tending to land.

In “Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions,” cultural theorists Ros Gray and Shela Sheikh remind us that today’s industrial agriculture cannot be decoupled from the history of colonialism and the racial capitalism that make some humans more vulnerable than others to the effects of anthropogenic climate change. Colonialism is deeply entwined with cultivation practices, and today’s large-scale agribusinesses are rooted in an earlier era of plantation economies. Proposing the “Plantationocene” as an alternate name for the era known as the Anthropocene, Donna Haraway dates its origins to the onset of settler colonialism in the Americas. Over a five-hundred-year period, the plantation—a disciplining of plants and human labour—created the conditions for the proliferation of some and the removal of others, while radically interrupting the capacity to care for place. This issue asks us to pay attention to the growing of food as a system of multispecies forced labour—a legacy so naturalized that many argue that it is the only meaning of agriculture.

The field of art practices emerging in collaboration with activists and workers on the ground helps us to imagine other ways to farm. Engaging in everyday practices of growing, seeding, planting, ploughing, weeding, harvesting, composting, fermenting, cooking, and eating builds forms of commoning. These long-term participatory projects are as much about the ephemeral process of gathering people as they are about the soil and food that they take as their raw material. How can artistic approaches help to regenerate situated, agricultural knowledge systems and deepen connections to the land?

What sorts of social relations and soil cultures emerge from community-based agricultural projects and how can participatory, community-based projects produce economic and production systems otherwise? What other imaginaries of agrarian life, ecological sustainability, and political sovereignty can emerge from them? What socio-collective labour formations and agroecological methods can artists help to develop to materialize these imaginaries even as industrial agricultural formations continue to organize life and labour to reproduce plantation economies?  Esse solicits works about autonomous farming collectives, interventionist strategies of (post-) land art, performative art practices, the politics of Indigenous food sovereignty movements, the reclamation of food systems and urban spaces, environmental and food justice, seed saving, permaculture, carbon-neutral production processes, foraging, and food (in)security. Breaking sedimented divisions between rural and urban, this issue centres agricultural imaginaries and human-soil relations that challenge us to rethink our understanding of agriculture, its relation to histories of colonization, and the futures of agroecology, as well as our connection to land itself.

No. 111: Tourism
Deadline January 10, 2024

From space tourism to recreational exploration of the ocean depths to conquest of the tallest peaks in the world, tourism has taken a turn for what can only be called the extreme in recent years. Whether paeans to “human genius” or pure megalomaniacal delirium, these costly undertakings are often detrimental to both the human beings and the flora and fauna at their destinations. Such extravagant adventures are the prerogative of a wealthy minority that is constantly expanding the very definition of tourism, but one can’t say the same for “ordinary” tourism, which is becoming more and more popular (and lucrative for its purveyors). The tourism sector tops the rankings of global industries; the number of international tourists will reach 1.8 billion by 2030. In an era of discount flights and massive Airbnbification of housing, tourism is becoming synonymous with exploitation, raising ethical questions and paradoxically engendering tourismophobia and the emergence of new, alternative forms of organized travel (solidarity tourism, eco-volunteerism, slow tourism, and so on).

With tourism expanding as a complex social, cultural, and economic phenomenon, today more than ever it is exceeding the globe’s capacity for ecological absorption and endangering human and natural environments many of which are already fragile. The connections between colonialism and the idea of tourism are also at the very core of its definition; modern tourism has its roots in the spread of colonial empires, which imposed a form of cultural and political imperialism that is still perceptible in how we construct the concepts of identity, alterity, exoticism, and folklore.

Far from lagging behind these latest trends, art, not to be outdone, ingeniously competes within this frenzy of recreation and tourism. Which isolated or improbable spot will host the next artist residency? Which art biennial will draw the most traffic? Which work of public art or great museum will draw the most visitors? Which open-air museum will be home to the most ambitious installations or sculptures? All bets are off; unbelievably, Jeff Koons’s project Moon Phases will feature 125 small sculptures on the moon. Literally, the sky is the limit!

Although we may criticize its origins and inner workings, tourism remains an essential lever for the development and survival of devitalized cities, regions, and institutions, and its contribution to the health of art ecosystems is undeniable, as exemplified by policies for integrating arts with architecture, local crafts, and the artistic and cultural sovereignty of certain communities. Today, tourism and art are natural allies in global touristification, offering artists and many art institutions opportunities or a platform for showcasing their work in an exchange of good practices. Tourism’s essentially visual nature—we travel to see other places, as the saying goes—connects it, seemingly irrevocably, to photography, the preferred medium for documentation and memory. Landscape, an indispensable motif of tourism, has itself become a site of museumification and appropriation (cultural, natural, historical), as if the constantly increasing pressure of neoliberalism has caused a reversal in the way we look at things: it is not enough simply to contemplate the immensity of the mountain, we have to conquer it at all costs—as evidenced by the huge throngs of climbers (and of rubbish) on Mount Everest.

The backlash from the pandemic has highlighted the burden placed by over-tourism on certain sites, including the world’s leading centres of contemporary art, such as New York, Paris, and Venice. The waters of the Serenissima have returned to their old colours as the hordes of tourists have left its canals, moving on to more local destinations, as tourism never exhausts its resources—except those of the environments that its denizens invade en masse.

In light of these many issues at the intersection of contemporary art, leisure, ecology and “destination culture” as a whole, this thematic issue seeks to uncover the strategies that artists and critical thinkers deploy to revisit the very notion of tourism. Esse arts + opinions invites authors to propose texts that make tourism the basis for theoretical explorations and artistic research. What is the role of artists, art institutions, and governmental organizations in the era of “touristic worldophagy,” to use the sociologist Rodolphe Christin’s expression? Could contemporary tourism be the springboard to a new awareness of alterity? How is the desire for counter-tourism or “nano-tourism” manifested in the field of contemporary art? What should we think of new, “eco-responsible” or “sustainable” forms of tourism? Can they offer an opportunity for a more embodied relationship between humans and their environment? All of these questions and many more will be the subject of this issue.