If Newcity were to report that three California eco-advocacy artists will descend on Chicago July 21 for a save-the-world conference, you may sooner stay cool by the hum of your air conditioner and the comfort of your pimped-out MySpace page. Hold on, is what I say to you skeptics, and give the “Energy Plans” exhibit a chance.
“We would love for this to turn into a monthly soapbox,” lead Future Farmers artist Amy Franceschini says. Before you hit the road to Lincoln Park, don’t forget to turn off the kitchen light and bring your own ideas to share. This collaborative project by Future Farmers of San Francisco is all about getting away from your laptop to create and talk about energy independence. In the span of two days, three artists will create displays to promote energy talk with University of Chicago scientists, teenage students and the public.
Chicago is the only stop for this Future Farmers installment. It is, however, by no means the first big-name collaboration of Franceschini and her counterpart Michael Swaine as well as their family of twenty-five eco-advocacy artists from coast to coast and Europe.
Over a crackly telephone line at Franceschini’s studio, the two modest artists explain the concept’s conflicting beginnings. “Amy is the center of the hub, although she does not want to be in the center at all,” teases Swaine of his long-time artistic partner. Franceschini started Future Farmers in 1995 after growing up in rural central California. Her father worked for an agricultural pesticide company while her divorced mother later opened up an organic farm. Franceschini said her father still does not fully understand her relationship with eco-advocacy through art. “For better or for worse he does not know how much he inspired me.”
Franceschini teaches art at Stanford University and the San Francisco Art Institute. Swaine teaches at the California College of the Arts. Through her work, Franceschini has already created a dialogue. Her clever sculptural works include Pogostick Shovel, Seed Library, Homeland Security Blanket and Botanical Gameboy. Perhaps the most impressive artistic gadgetry of all is a functional masterpiece that conserves excess water from an everyday sink with the use of wood, plastic, rope and bicycle wheels. The saved runoff is designed to water the household plants with the flip of a lever!
Future Farmers’ Photosynthesis Robot is another scientific art wonder. Here, a plant sits atop a small-wheeled wagon that is designed to roll toward the window as its vines reach for the sun over time.
Soon, scientific wonders like these will be on exhibit with workshop interaction plus an actual soapbox construction activity. The event’s mission is to take a logical way of dealing with the global energy issues our world faces in the wake of the 2008 presidential election. Swaine says, “[Among the] visible and invisible walls we’re creating… we have to escape the rat race and all of these empires.”
Making the exhibit even timelier is the talk of energy efficiency practices in the midst of record-high prices at the pump. The artists may be the only two in America who have a positive spin on the hike. “People have to shop at local stores because there is no gas to get to Wal-Mart,” Swaine says. Both agree that little changes are key to spending all sorts of energy wiser, including your own energy. Franceschini: “Comfort creates illusions that will keep you inside, while not getting to know your [next-door] neighbor… comfort like air conditioners, cell phones and sitting on your computer inside all day.”
Franceschini feels that part of her artistic drive is an ideal for nomadic life. “…To refrain from becoming a robot. It’s so easy to fall into a trap of spending your life just working.” She said the other half of her driving force isn’t for advocacy or for art. “It is the connection between people that drives this. The love of collaborating and sharing what you’re thinking whether it’s for a garden or a gallery project.” The artist recites a Brazilian folk song: “If you dream alone it’s just a dream. If you dream together it’s a reality.”
“Energy Plans” is part of the national Brushfire Project, which will host a festival of science exhibitions and eco-advocacy art in Washington, DC during September. Future Farmer Stijn Schiffeleers will also contribute to the Chicago show, along with Chicago organizer Daniel Tucker. The project is co-sponsored by The Public Square at the IHC.
“Future Farmers” shows at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 North Cannon, (773)755-5100, July 21 and July 22, from 2pm-5pm.