The rhetoric of war loses meaning when the enemy’s “last throes” are announced years before actual victory, and when the citizen “war effort” involves a presidential plea for more shopping.
So it’s refreshing to see artists picking up the shells of apparently discarded terminology and refilling them. Case in point, Amy Franceschini’s efforts to revive Victory Gardens, the citizen-maintained gardens of World War I and II that grew some eight billion pounds of food nationwide. On our last day in San Francisco this week, we dropped by Gallery 16 to see a show by Franceschini, a nice counterpoint to her work on view in SFMOMA’s current 2006 SECA Art Award show.
A founding member of Free Soil and Future Farmers (she also contributed interviews to the book Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook and collaborated on the follow-the-money website They Rule), Franceschini’s work melds activism, graphic design and community organizing. And gardening. For her Victory Gardens 2007 project, she created a system for San Franciscans to seed their own gardens in backyards, rooftops, and vacant lots through the help of seed banks, training, materials, and the ancillary publicity her art can bring. (Her pogo shovel, a Duchamp-meets-Beuys symbol of the fun of gardening, could be seen as emblematic of the project’s goal of connecting pragmatism and play.)
Like Beuys or Tiravanija, Franceschini’s work is environmental but also inherently process-based, a fact former (and future?) Green Party mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez picked up on in a San Francisco Chronicle article (he helped Franceschini get the project off the ground). “Art is not all oil and canvas; it can be about the transformation of an idea,” he said. “An artistic idea, which is like a political act, is now re-characterized as art.”
Her G16 show features used (and restitched) gloves in pristine museum frames, seed bag labels, and a system the artist and Michael Swaine devised to recycle gray water and harvest rainwater for agricultural use (left). Her section of the SFMOMA show included the Bikebarrow, a flat-green bicycle fused with a wheelbarrow front, allegedly to be ridden by “secret gardeners.”
The Victory Garden project has signed up gardeners at plots located in each of San Francisco’s three microclimates (sun belt, fog belt, transition belt). Each garden team leader received a starter kit (delivered by a VG2007 tricycle), plus a lesson and follow-up instruction on harvesting and seed-saving. Three gardens is a great start, but well short of San Francisco’s World War II Victory Garden production, when 200 gardens were maintained in Golden Gate Park alone.
But as VG2007 web site states, victory isn’t about total domination but about connecting communities to each other and to their natural surroundings. It also defines “victory” in terms of “independence from corporate food systems,” a definition of freedom presumably at odds with the one used by those prosecuting the war in Iraq.