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‘Countryside, the Future’A neglected realm is the future of 21st century

Putting the countryside back on the agenda through Guggenheims latest exhibition. In conversation with Samir Bantal, AMO’s creative Director

Guggenheim’s ongoing exhibition – Countryside, The Future – is led by Dutch architect and urbanist Rem Koolhaas, the first architect to exhibit in the Guggenheim in 1978. Koolhaas is now pivoting his career away from cities and towards the countryside with Samir Bantal, Director of AMO. 

The investigation conducted leading up to the exhibition by AMO and Koolhaas along with students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, Wageningen University, Netherlands, and the University of Nairobi addresses various fields. Bantal explains «Through our combination of curiosity, we would collaborate with scientists, philosophers, writers, on a global scale. Each of them would present an idea or something that might be of interest to report; we would then contact a specific person, and ask if they would report on it from their side, as we are not specialists or experts in food production. Over five years, we have met numerous people and had discussions that we are becoming specialists in food production». 

From a political standpoint, for many years, the countryside has been a force for modernization. The country’s development was imperative for the future: «often leaders looked at the countryside in an attempt to secure food or maintain political security. Through Stalin’s Soviet Union, a network of shelterbelts was created in the form of strips to slow down the cold winds of Siberia. «It was an effort to make farming happen in areas where climate created obstacles. The realization was that for the country to move forward, the countryside was the place to modernize or experiment. It seems now we have disregarded this idea because we have moved away from having politics involved, leaving it to the market, but with that also comes the policy of what the countryside could mean for a country. Nature, farming, food production isn’t something that happens far away and out of our sight but is, in fact, an intricate part of our lives». 

The notion that everyone should live or eventually live in cities, for the reason of it being a platform of opportunities or the place where the growth lies for a thriving future, is called for a revaluation. «There is already a sense of community happening in the countryside, but it is often separated from an urban community. We should criticize that notion: is total urbanization the path that we want? If not, then we should look at the way we compose communities in the city in a way to reanimate the countryside not as a place where people would leave but as a place where people would want to stay or return to». Statistically speaking, the population in cities seems to increase steadily, rather than segregating the planet by its urban and rural lands, a new outlook should be presented where it is seen as one: «there are two strategies around preserving earth: the half earth theory and the whole earth theory. The half earth theorizes that to survive, we need to save or preserve fifty percent of the earth’s surface. Right now, we are up to around fifteen percent. Fifty percent is a large amount which will have consequences on countries, which countries need to preserve and which cannot, creating inequality between nations. The second theory is the whole earth theory, where you, as a modern society, find the merger between technology and an indigenous way of living with nature. Due to the increased amount of observation, monitoring, and remote areas, we are able to study them and their species better. This new idea of nature perhaps is not that pristine, and perhaps there is a way to rediscover and reuse the same mentality as the ancient civilizations who were able to live in balance with natural conditions still providing them food and everything that people would need».

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Off-Grid Utopia Ohio Library of Congress, Image Arthur Rothstein, 1940 

In separate fields, climate change has been the protagonist for research to reverse the course of the planet’s environmental state, whether it may be in the fields of nuclear energy, recycling, urban forestation, or through food reproduction. «Looking at the whole earth strategy, we see it is a whole combination of knowledge, experience, indigenous forms of managing nature while using the latest technology to harvest energy or produce food. As soon as people see a question to be addressed, there will be an acceleration in the development. Once we understand there is no time to continue using twentieth-century forms of living, we will be able to get rid of fossil fuels and depleting soil through our agriculture. Our goal was to show that despite people moving towards the city, there are people who want to retreat from the city». 

«One speculation on our end would be to question if there would be a future possible where the same technology that disassembles a city, like social media, for example, could be a way to apply it in nature and by that recalibrating our position and preserving nature».

Once you enter the exhibition, the introductory gallery’s two walls confront you with a large-scale essay comprising one thousand questions. «When we started the project, we questioned ourselves: ‘Where do you start?’. Do you start to define what the countryside is, or do you observe and answer these questions as you go? Some of these issues we never thought of but were almost a collection of questions we had in our head as we went along this research». Every ramp inside the exhibition has its theme, and each one has its starting point and conclusion: having all these themes connected is where the unfolding of the story happens. «The wall of questions was a collection of questions and also interests and speculations on our end. Apart from providing answers, we are pushing people to ask more questions, adding to what we have summed up». 

The analyses and transformations done on the countryside project leading up to the exhibition are emphasized along with the six floors of the Guggenheim’s rotunda. Each level illustrates its subject using different imageries, films, wallpaper graphics, objects, text, reproduced artworks, and robotic sculptures. The building itself offers a display surface where the conspicuity of the exhibition is traced in its wholeness from the rotunda floor center. «As we move up the ramps onto the sixth floor, we have an idea that climate change should be solved right now as humanity. There has been and still is efforts on how to mitigate its effects». 

Looking back onto historical civilizations like the ancient Romans or the Chinese, «even though these two civilizations are quite remote from each other, they had a similar set of ideologies and approach to the countryside as it was the place where you develop creativity and contemplate. We showed what the world of the countryside could offer you, which has more or less diminished from a place of production to a place of consumption».

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Celerina, Petra Blaisse, 2009

Countryside, The Future hypothesizes the compelling environmental, political, and socioeconomic issues and rectifies the notion that the process of urbanization is inevitable. Putting the country back on the list, it revises the misconception towards the planet’s natural surfaces and sets them the protagonist for the future. 

IMAGE GALLERY

Countryside, The Future
February 20, 2020–February 15, 2021
Gugghenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10128
[email protected]

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