Realty

Episode 12:

VILLEGGIATURA
Rural gentrification, contemporary art, and other options, old and new

29 Nov–02 Dec 2019
KW Institute for Contemporary Art & Werkstatt Haus der Statistik, Berlin, DE

How do urban and rural patterns of gentrification and population displacement differ? For all the discrepancies, can city and country resort to common sociopolitical strategies to overcome these patterns? And which role might the cultural sector play in all this —in terms of business as usual, and as a best-case scenario?

With this symposium, a curatorial collaboration with Marion von Osten, VILLEGGIATURA touches on an oft-underestimated aspect of the gentrification debate. Most city dwellers are indeed aware of the absurdities of EU agricultural policy, and regret the huge swathes of land being sold off to far-flung investors. Given the colossal challenges posed by ecological degradation, there is, after all, more at stake than a neighborhood. Nevertheless, we are more familiar with rent levels in Kreuzberg than with the wholesale commodification of the Brandenburg Region.

At present, the very idea of town and country as two separate entities is increasingly under fire. The apparent urbanization of rural areas is seen as proof that there are outdated categories at play; particularly within art and architecture circles. From here, we take in the landscape and think: “Maybe we’re not so different after all.” Our event aims to counter this casual generalization, with narratives based not only on urban fantasies, but also on painful historical, geopolitical, and ecological fact.

Since time immemorial, the pastoral has served cosmopolitan urban elites as a helpful metaphor to gain a sense of self. For the grand bourgeoisie of the Renaissance, villegiatura was a summer retreat in the style of Ancient Rome, the country estate as arcadia incarnate. The imperial nonchalance of such aspirations still lives on, at least in some parts, and VILLEGGIATURA addresses these time-honored abstractions alongside the infrastructures that uphold them. Importantly, it moves beyond (self-)criticism and aims for models, even visions, of viable future scenarios.

Which role has art played—historically and up to the present—in stylizing the rural into an object of mythological and commercial appetites? Contemporary art still sees itself—in Euroamerica and beyond—as an inherently urban phenomenon. And its own definition of the urban is bound up, in turn, with bohemian ideals that stand in the way of a sustainable notion of the city. The urban is seldom thought of as one part of a systemic whole, but rather, as an avant-garde island within a sea of landscapes, beautiful or boring.

The city has an advantage over rural areas inasmuch as urban displacement patterns are meanwhile a hot topic, with an identifiable iconographic profile that regularly makes headlines. This is thanks to the numerous networks that have turned Berlin, for example, into a battleground for the “Right to the City.” Meanwhile, the absence of rural gentrification patterns within mainstream debate has bitter consequences for hot-button “identity” crises, and the Heimat sentiments that come with it. Is there any chance of turning political contrasts between city and countryside into tactical coalitions? Our event is concerned with scalability, with strategies of visualization, and with the planetary processes that keep make them possible—technologically, ideologically, financially.

Language: English, German