Dsn 546: Black Contemporary
Over the course of a semester long studio, through diverse platforms of exhibitions, inquiries, conversations, dinners, debates, publications, interfaces and atmospheres, students re-considered the space of the family farm and the way it is framed, expressed and understood. It is our assertion that artist, architects and farmers can play a critical role in the production of the seen and un-seen – spaces made and re-made. We seek to demonstrate that such performative platforms of production can play a crucial role in the re-occupation and re-configuration of the Midwestern landscape.
The space of Iowa has been reinvented in the twenty-first century as a reflection of the modern rationality of capital production. Communities in Iowa continuously adapt to changes in agricultural production processes. Since the start of industrialization of farming in the nineteenth century, this production process was lead by family farmers–a form of farming in which labor is supplied primarily by family members on small holdings. The family farm is an important social symbol for Iowans. This symbol represents several ideals the foremost of which are the importance of family and the independence of the family unit. These ideals are greatly influenced by the Homestead Acts. The Homestead Acts defined rectilinear units of private property ownership creating social distance whereby farmsteads are equally spread across the landscape leaving ample space between farming families. This sense of spatial and symbolic independence has largely defined the quality of life in Iowa. However, this spatial and federally advocated form of independence is associated with an economic dependence on market forces, food industries and federal policies.
Higher startup and maintenance costs associated with the mechanization of farming coupled with the falling price of produce requires farmers to expand their holdings to maintain profitability. Resulting in ‘successful’ farmers purchasing production ground from other less successful farmers. Making the family farmer’s space unstable as it is consistently under pressure from market competition and turbulent federal policies. This economic condition produces spatial and communal instability because it causes frequent reconfigurations in the living space. For instance, some farmers rent their production grounds and continue to live on their farmsteads away from the public services and employment opportunities on which they depend. The impact of farming development has been even more apparent whereby vacant farm sites along the various roads are a common scene.
The inscriptions of labor are written all across the Iowa landscape. There are deep memories etched into field’s and forests, cities and structures. South of Ames, there is a seed-drying chamber, unused for decades. Its surfaces are testament, texture, and time of a labor now lost. By constructing anew, we remember scale and intimacy, heat and air, darkness and gravity. We construct new worlds of memory and labor.