We live in a world where it has become gloriously passé to ask the question, "Is it art?" Notions of what is beautiful, what is didactic, what is science, and what simply exists because of a metabolic necessity all fit safely in the art world's spectrum. But when considering Land, Use at the David Brower Center, it is difficult not to ask this basic and tired question about the role of the gallery and the exhibitions it presents. Are we looking at a science experiment? Are we supposed to take arms after understanding some kind of experimental dialogue describing the state of the agricultural world? Are we to accept art as an appropriate venue to teach us anything at all in the first place?
Fortunately, the answer to all these questions is yes. Amy Franceschini and Fernando García-Dory, the two artists involved with this exhibition, intimately understand the edge of this dynamic and exploit it with abandon. More than a "this world is screwed" mentality that so often pervades discussions of ecology and global culture, this exhibit presents a visual and linguistic lexicon that describes a new, hopeful world of art and, yes, agriculture. We are invited to join an achievable movement of minds and hearts toward what is called "contemporary pastoralism."
Franceschini presents a system of technologies, including the subversive "This is Not a Trojan Horse" and "Victory Gardens (Microclimate Specific) Seed Library," both of which describe a path that has nothing to do with our current, gas-guzzling global culture. García-Dory seamlessly complements Franceschini's vision with a series of documents that record the artist's resonant meetings and efforts with shepherding cultures and modern nomads, demonstrating the triumph over huge, logistical challenges. The narrative that unfolds is a map of utopia, or ecotopia, but not one that is at all unrealistic — in fact, it is kind of familiar.
The enigma and promise of it all is exemplified by the collaborative painting by both artists "Shepherd's Wagon, a Blueprint." The sweeping scale of the simple composition bespeaks its epic nature, but what are we to make of it? It's like a hieroglyph from some lost culture that seemed to have it more together than we do — left in awe, we simply marvel. Ultimately, the artists understand that if they are overly explicit in their agenda, the art suffers. The genius of this show is its ability to maintain the difficult balance between spelling out the whole mystery and presenting a new and wonderful reality where our potential to live in harmony with a healthy earth is realized.
Land, Use runs through May 9 at the David Brower Center's Hazel Wolf Gallery (2150 Allston Way, Berkeley). 510-809-0909 or BrowerCenter.org