Intervention in a museum encomprising a curatorial project, an editorial project, an installation artwork and a social process.
In this work, the social system and process, the existing federation of shepherds -a network of afects and co-responsabilities and commitments with a political aim-, is like the substance, the meeting is the state, and the installation is the shape or continent. The museum is also a continent of the intervention, therefore giving shape for the substance, and being modified by it.
The installation is formed by different elements:
- Assembly´s Module: a wood structure reproducing the Shepherd´s Council room in northern Spain mountains where shepherds meet once per year to rule the commons. Is a recognition monument to dialogue and self-organisation.
The wood cames entirely from a Rirkrit Tiravanija installation (The House the Cat Built -2009), originally reproducing his house in Thailand.
One day during the exhibition the module hold a meeting of the Spanish Federation of Shepherds (FEP) , an organisation I work for as promotor and co-ordinator.
- The FEP altar: logo designed by a shepherd, official constitutional forms and documentation of the federation and hymn.
- The first issue of FEP newsletter: Edited from contributions from shepherds all around the country and abroad, to be sent to the isolated shepherds as well as to be taken by visitors to the show.
- Comissioned visual artsworks curated by Fernando García Dory: pictures from Eduardo Diaz Hevia, drawings from Manu Griñón, artists who were supported to live with the shepherds for certain time.
These works suppose visual contemporary interpretation of the pastoral theme. This , together with the meeting and the propaganda apparat, are the 3rd component of this scale model of social movement generation: structure a symbolic identity, using cultural patterns from culture as a tool box, to develope another social perception of a certain social subject. It could be a way to challenge cultural assumptions in both worlds: contemporary art /urban culture and rural one. Develope a visual choreography that seduces both, build bridges and change those assumptions. To exorcize the pastoral genre or to recreate it nowadays?
After organising the World Gathering of Nomadic and Trashumant Pastoralists, the few spanish shepherds representatives there realised the need of getting together in a stronger organisation. A grassroot one that represents the problems of this collective, and also communicates their values and message to society. One shepherd said: " People need now to hear what we know", And another; "We have to be like Greenpeace, collecting support from a broader scope of the society for us to continue on the job".
I decided I would put my energy and support to create this organisation. In January 2008 was the 1st meeting. In June the official signature of the statutes. From the five initial ones now there are 20 grassroot shepherds associations interested in becoming associated.
For me, the creation of the National Federation of Shepherd ( FEP) , is a social system design that allow an excluded community to get together, share worldviews and problem analisys, pose alternatives for action and unite voices to get listened. Now shepherds have a voice, are visible, real, occupy a space in the world of decissions. Politics, the art of running the community (polis), represented in the self organisation process of a group, an assembly of commited, responsible citizens. This common sense has been the base of decission taking within the shepherds community. In Picos de Europa the shepherds are organised by areas choosing a representative. Those representatives together in a Council of Shepherds to choose a also a chief of the council for a year. This person will watch that the regulation of the commonal land is followed, and will represent the voice of the shepherds in any other context. The mountain pastures in Asturias, grazed since 6000 years ago, have been self-regulated by its inhabitants, the shepherds. A common property that gives the right of free use to any new comer. Here we can find the still standing up ruins of the " rustic civilisation" that Unamuno chanted.
FEP express its solidarity with other pastoralists communities all over the world, because all take part in the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Pastoralists ( WAMIP). Pastoralist realise they have to acquire certain knowledge and skills totally different from herding if they want to be able to preserve their culture and livestyle, as communication skills and new technologies.
Pastoralism is the epythome of rural europe: forgotten, abandonned, and close to dissapear. But pastoralism is a key practice for an environmentally sustainable agro-food model, for landscape management,culture, gastronomy, and many other values. The challenge is to aknowledge that heritage, and reinforce all its positive aspects enhancing it with new agroecological and communication technologies inputs and promote continuity by a mentoring programme amongst old shepherds and young pupils, reconnecting the old and the new, the rural and the urban culture.
Why this work?:
Years ago I started to be interested on visiting shepherds. I was attracted by their way of life: relation with nature, animals, rythm. Their carefull labour, openess and solidarity, always wellcoming visitors. Shepherds still exist very much in rural Spain, as an echo of the importance of this activity in the spanish national economy for centuries ( with the creation of the Concejo de la Mesta and the Network of Royal Sheeptracks in the Early Middle Age, today protected by 1997 Law). They carry their complex job at the margins, shepherding their animals on abandoned lots, railways sides, or remote mountains. People don´t pay much attention to this activity now, you can just find intringuing ,when driving at 120 km/h by highway, to see fleeting an almost static flock and a figure in the distance.
I was touched by the fact that the somehow inherent solitude of this profession make the collective to be unable to have a common position and defend their rights. It´s a fact that current agro-food system make many small herders and farmers to drop out their lifestyle. In the European Union there are 3 farms disappearing per day. This is a serious loss of food sovereignity, territorial balance, sustainability and landscape management, and culture. In a historical moment where the current economic and social model is in crisis we can´t afford this loss. The rural environment, alive and inhabited by people that manage resources is a key element for the future.
Shepherds are an indicator of the health of the local social tissue, and crucial for the conservation of agro-ecosystems. Recent scientific studies prove mobile pastoralism as the best strategies for certain environments conservation. This legitimation has not still arrived to the broad audiences. Today the public perception of the shepherd is on one hand still negative, framed in the general perception of the rural as backwarded and obsolet. On the other, forums, symposiums, ngo´s projects and publications on the topic are multiplied each year.
This apparent contradiction was referred by Prof. Maria Pía Graziani in the International Forum on Pastoralism of Foggia, Italy, 2007:
" I am convinced that pastoralism is a great metaphore from which probably we still don´t have all the meaning. It evoques an antique world that arouse something very significant they have lost. "
There is a long tradition on western culture of this projection of ideals on the shepherd´s activity and figure. From the Bucholics and Eglogues of Teocrito and Virgilium, a whole pastoral genre in arts, painting, music, poetry and literature, was broadly developed and in fashion untill its decline in late XVIII. Probably is related with the raise of deeper social conscience of the intellectuals on the economic conditions of the farming class.
Contemporary culture very often gives the back to other realities as the rural culture.