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Visit People's Park Plinth

Ecologies of Sustenance


HTTP Gallery’s Summer exhibition, which is also a working cafe, is fittingly located in a residential area near Green Lanes in North London. This ‘longest street in the Capital’ is noted for its Greek, Turkish, Cypriot, and Kurdish traders and more recently has attracted migrant grocers and restaurateurs from Hungary, Bulgaria and beyond; establishments abounding with assorted goodies whose packaging conveys in a multitude of ways the distances they have travelled but very little about the journeys they have made.

Visitors to the Feral Trade Cafe may order snacks and refreshments from a menu composed of ingredients, first selected for their capacity to convey substantive data and then traded along social networks. Unorthodox supply chains are documented, mapped and displayed on packaging to provoke new conceptions of community and localness (simulating the space-folding properties of the social Web) to include a range of social networks: artworld denizens, family connections, migrant grocers and home farmers.

This 6-year retrospective of the Feral Trade project, by artist Kate Rich, kicks off’s Media Art Ecologies programme. An ecological approach pays special attention to the interrelation of technological and natural processes: beings and things, individuals and multitudes, matter and patterns. This awareness can be traced back along the art-historical roots of media art, through the political, anti-art of Dada, the communitarian Fluxus movement with its explorations of Intermedia, and the Situationist practices of detournement and derive. Contemporary artists, such as Rich, who are active across this terrain, display a talent for reworking the relationships between the core constitutive elements of society and culture, often reaching across established borders and boundaries, straddling media and disciplines. And so… an artist becomes the proprietor of a cafe. This work is not developed through formal business planning, strategising or goal setting, but by establishing priorities and street-level tactics on the fly, in response to immediate conditions and inter-personal negotiations. It utilises the concepts and tools of social media, computer software and global digital networks (the power-tools of our day) and works both with the material realities and the poetics of objects, people, places, systems and institutions to reflect and remake the world. Taking food (and its distribution systems) as its artistic media, Feral Trade performs a social hack, remediating mainstream artworld infrastructure (both operations and concepts) by engaging the imaginations, taste buds and surplus labour of one artworker at a time.

Transdisciplinary ecological approaches have been developing for nearly half a century, but their effects become especially compelling in the context of contemporary environmental and economic crises. Since the reality of global economic collapse became inescapable last September, there has been considerable discussion about the ‘sustainability’ of the art world. The economy of dramatically inflated prices for artworks, and more and bigger galleries for showing and selling them in, suddenly appears anachronistic. At the same time, the (un)ecological model on which this economy is based is beginning to be questioned, where artists and curators must constantly travel to international biennials, festivals, and fairs to exhibit and see art, and be seen doing both. For example, Gustav Metzger’s ‘Reduce Art Flights’ campaign, first introduced at Sculpture Projects Munster in 2007, and reiterated several times since, suggests that the art world ‘could or should diminish its use of aeroplanes.’

Feral Trade seems to have anticipated these developments. It is parasitical, feeding off the surplus energy emitted by the artworld, and using traveling artists and curators as couriers to carry food items between nodes in its network, mostly arts venues in Europe and North America. However this is neither utopian nor virtuous art. While, by surfing the excesses of the artworld, Feral Trade implies a critique of the mechanisms of growth economics, patterns of consumption and associated strategies for avoiding ethical discomfort; it takes pleasure in resisting a logically consistent alternative system design. Its materials and methods appear diverse, particular, non-standard and ungeneralisable, and yet in its apparent perversity it presents a delicious, tangy, but harmonious alternative view. It demonstrates a DIY approach for creating new paths and approaches to established ways of doing things, lightly scratching new connective grooves across engrained systems and behaviours.