In this blog post, I want to share the text that I presented as part of the ‘Little Pieces’ component of the FEINART Summer School held at the Zeppelin University during 23-24 September 2022, with some revisions of course.
I decided to take the five-minute slot as an opportunity to share a sort of snapshot from Puglia which involves self-organized groups rooted in environmental thinking and action and artist-led projects committed to thinking and acting together for healthier and more equitable ecologies. My encounter with the Apulian cultural scene coincides with my secondment at Vessel, a nomadic curatorial organization co-coordinated by the curators Viviana Checchia and Anna Santomauro and the program coordinator Benedetta d´Ettore.
At the time of the secondment, I had the chance to join Vessel in observing and mapping the cultural landscape within the region to understand the current local eco-social realities and the ways in which different organizations, platforms, artists respond and relate to the territories in which they operate. After much observation, I would not be wrong describing Puglia both as a landing and departure point for the practices of those whom we met for a conversation to share, learn, and reflect together.
Puglia is located in the southern Italian peninsula and is part of the Mediterranean basin. There are different stories about the etymological origin of the word ´Puglia´(Apulia). One opinion is that it means land without rain, a-pluvia; a land that sometimes is so dry that the soil loses all its richness and produces poor crops. Another viewpoint is, the name derives from Iapudia and refers to the land inhabited by Iapyges migrated from the north Illyria to the far southern tips of Italy. In any case, the real meaning may seem to be lost over time, but the earthbound undertone remains the same.
Today, there is a growing and more urgent search for generating new ways of thinking and acting around acute ecological issues within the region. One reason for this is the deep environmental crisis Salenta province of Puglia has been facing since 2013 with the appearance of the bacteria Xylella, being classified as a high-risk pathogen, on the olive trees. During the first outbreak, alongside olive trees, plant species endemic to that region were infected and this subsequently put the entire ecosystem and economy of the whole local community at risk, which is unfortunately still the case today.
Since the spread of the bacterium could not be taken under control and the increasing extent of the infection has become a threat to the wider flora, the EU decided to implement urgent control measures: the removal of the infected and host plants situated within a range of a hundred meters of those infected – even in the absence of any symptoms of infection – and the growing of xylella resistance species as a kind of replacement.
On the decisions taken by scientific and legislative bodies, the pathogen has been considered as the only cause of the persistent epidemic. No mention has been made of the unsustainable agricultural activities which are connected to the shift towards industrialized agriculture with a highly intensive monocultural approach, abandonment of traditional agricultural methods, and massive use of pesticides and herbicides, all of which are greatly responsible for the weakening of the immune system of the olive trees and the contamination of the environment. So, no responsibility seems to be taken by those who created the conditions that has caused the epidemic to rise to its full potential.
Entirely different from the policy and research & development responses, ecological and social actions entangling with artistic practices, such as Parco Commune dei Frutti Minor; Mercato dei Frutii Minori; Notte Verde: Agriculture, utopie e comunità; Il molino comunale; vivaio della biodiversità, have drawn attention to wider issues of concern brought on by the xylella epidemic, and encourage new thinking and doing anchored in local practices and methods which could lead to an expanded understanding of multi-species co-existence and living together in a rapidly changing world. Entities like Casa delle Agriculture, Free Home University, Lamia Santolina, Scuola di Agriculture, and many others foster an imaginary outside of official forms, financial relations, and state disciplines, that is sensitive to the realities of the land and the depths of time embodied in soil. This imaginary is now being translated into an action of restoring biodiversity, through the cultivation of the memory of the soil. Rewilding, repairing, commoning, caring, experimentation, the sharing of knowledge, tools, skills and resources, collectivization, and celebration, strengthen the immune system of the olive trees.
During the secondment, through engagement with different organisations, collectives, artists, and individuals I learned so many new things about Puglia, the Italian deep South, the Mediterranean, and myself. I thus not only explored the Apulian (cultural) ecosystem and its Earthly realities but also rediscovered the (my) ground.
I sincerely thank Vessel (Anna, Benedetta and Viviana) for their time, concern and generosity in making the secondment engaging, productive and lively. For their time and hospitality, I also want to thank the artists, practitioners and individuals who generously shared their practices, insights and experiences with us.