The Future Farmers’ Future Problem

My permaculture friend Todd always likes to pepper everyday conversation, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with the term “pollution”. You see, in the course we did together, we were given a new perspective on the concept of pollution – which was redefined – not as something absolute and evil, but rather as a surplus of any resource for which a use has yet to be found.

To offer an example of how this works: in a forum I attended a few days ago in Bundanon, Pia Winberg, an environmental scientist at University of Wollongong drew attention to the untapped potential of seeweed as an Australian Industry. For Pia, seeweed is great because you can grow a lot of it in salty water (sidestepping the salinity problem), and it can be used to mop up some of the destructive nitrogen and phosphorus “pollution” created by fish farming industries. In other words, if you locate a seeweed farm near a fish farm, the pollution from the fish farm becomes, rather, a resource for the seeweed farm.

On a smaller and slightly more absurd scale, Todd, who has a lot of chickens in his south-coast backyard, likes to brag that he has an “egg pollution” problem. Which he, very kindly, solves by giving eggs away. Even better, he offers to help others solve their “empty egg carton pollution” problem, which helps him package his eggy pollutants. You get the idea…

Which brings me to a looming issue. There’s only one month to go on the In the Balance exhibition at the MCA. What will happen with all the stuff used to put together the show, when it finishes?

Obviously, many of the artworks are discrete entities which will be packaged up and freighted home to their owners (yes, with all the associated resource use and carbon emissions and so on). Some works, however, were created on-site, and will have to be dismantled, and/or re-housed come the start of November.

One such work is this one, by the Future Farmers:

future farmers finished piece

future farmers finished piece

It’s their “SUNSHINE STILL” and “SUN RUNNER” – a prototype, three dimensional, non-working model for a hypothetical system which takes trash and turns it into hooch, and biodiesel. I worked with the artists to do an audit on the project, which you can read about here.

Dan and Ian built it on site at the MCA (and while they were in residence at the National Art School where they were hosted in the lead up to the show). But shortly after the show opened, they returned to America, to move on to the next chapter of their ongoing Sunshine Still project.

And now, discussions are beginning about what is to be done with their MCA piece. Here’s an email I received from Anna, the curator who looked after the Future Farmers during their time here:

Hi Lucas

I’m not exactly sure why I’m sending you this – perhaps its in your auditor capacity or maybe its because you have lots of great ideas and know lots of people…

Anyway below are some emails between me and Amy (Futurefarmers) discussing what will happen to their work at the end of the show.

Unfortunately our budget doesn’t have allowances to ship it anywhere – but we could deliver it (or parts of it) in our truck somewhere local.

I am trying to think of possibilities – I think I’ll ask Katie at the National Art School in case the sculpture department wants the Sun Runner – I guess the main issue is really where to keep it as it is pretty big.

So yeah if you have any bright ideas I’d love to hear them and then I can pass them on to the Futurefarmers to see what they think. Amy lists the kinds of things she’d ideally like below



I’m not going to reproduce her whole conversation with Amy from the Future Farmers, but I will share a few of the things that Amy has in mind for the work.

She writes:

It seems like some good scenarios would be:
-it goes somewhere where many people can enjoy it
– a collector acquire it for a nice sum that can fund future projects (and a plane ticket for anna and elmar to come visit )
-it gets donated to a go-cart contest

Other obvious scenarios which occur to me might involve the work being broken down into its constituent parts and re-used in some way. There’s plenty of nice perspex and plywood in the piece, not to mention those large “demijohn” bottles which a home brewer could use … and the bike wheels, which came from the Nunnery Bike Workshop in the first place, and could probably go back there … Freecycle could help with re-housing some of these bits.

But this kind of work – breaking it down, making it useful again, finding new homes – involves a lot of nitpicky labour – entropy in action! In fact, it could potentially add up to a similar amount of time and effort as was used to find the materials and construct the work in the first place. Will the museum see this as a worthwhile venture, given the theme and focus of this particular exhibition? Or will time be too crucial? Will the skip-bin be called to the rescue? Can we come up with a more interesting solution to the art of pollution?
Do you, dear reader, have any suggestions?

5 thoughts on “The Future Farmers’ Future Problem

  1. Disassembly? Isn’t that a waste of ‘aesthetic labour’?. As a sculptural installation, the works’ aesthetic value is more than the sum of its component parts…. especially as these prototypes do not actually work instrumentally (while they are creative, they do not actually create hooch or biodeisel). Their only value lies in their status as clever museum installations. Might not the commissioning body – the MCA (or NAS, even better) – want to purchase these scuptural prototypes? In the case of Biennale ‘on-sells’, the institution (or actually the artists’ gallery) takes on this job.

  2. Indeed, I like how you’re thinking Catriona.

    The position is this: that plywood (for example), when assembled in a particular fashion and within a particular social context by the Future Farmers, is “worth” more than plywood, the raw material. That’s the ole Duchampian art trick, eh?

    But is this always the case?

    Is it not also true that from the point of view of the plywood, the Future Farmers’ installation is just one stop in its eternal journey through the nutrient and mineral cycle?

    Will we one day decide that the rusty steel (the material itself) which makes up those colossal Richard Serra sculptures is “worth” more than their art value, and melt-em down for re-forging into something more practically functional?

  3. Sure, Lucas! I doubt, though, whether too many artists and museum curators would opt for the plywood’s point of view over that of Duchamp, despite its merits. In a broader sense, therefore, this issue courts the problem of whether ‘In the Balance’ set out to be more than ‘just another exhibition’. With this in mind, and in the interests of your audit, how did the artists and curators factor in this international ‘art-miles’ /recycling of materials issue? & why this choice of international participants?

  4. UPDATE from Anna the curator – the following series of emails, which are presented in reverse chronological order, tell the story of what happened next. Note Dan’s trademark sense of humour here. (These emails have been slightly edited to protect the correspondents’ personal details).

    I’ll post some pictures of the dismantling soon…

    – – –

    Hi Lucas

    sorry I kept meaning to forward you this email from Dan but… well you know… time…

    Anyway in the end Amy, Dan, Ian and I decided to go down the dismantling then recycling / re-using / returning route for the Sunshine Still and Sun Runner. It is a pity because I would have liked to see the sculptures kept intact – but on the other hand this is what we had always planned to do.

    Thanks for all your help with this and for incorporating it into your project – which has been a great success.



    – – –

    From: Dan from Future Farmers
    Sent: Wednesday, 27 October 2010 7:05 PM
    To: Anna at the MCA

    Hi Anna,

    Great to hear from you!

    I came up with some possible plans:

    1. Fiberglass the sun runner cover, turning it into the hull for a ship, use the still as the mast for the sail. Sail back to the US

    2. Sink the sculptures on the great barrier reef, creating habitats for fish and coral. Go scuba diving, spearfishing and take pictures with it.

    3. Leave on Julia Gillard’s doorstep in the middle of the night.

    In all seriousness, after seeing how things are recycled in the museum, i think it is a great idea to reuse that material in house. Much of the material that went into it was reused and it would be good to see it go once more through the cycle. I know that the bike place would love those bike parts, The art school would love that steel,, MCA could use most of that wood all over again, chris probably wants that awesome gear system that he spent so much time on 🙂 tell chris i said hi

    I think it would nice to see how much the sculptures could be reused, lucas could take pictures for his blog, its not often that people get to see that part of the process.

    Also, I don’t think its necessary to return the sun runner cover, unless amy has any objection, ( i know that there is a possibility that it could be recreated in the near future). I would like some copies of Lucas’s print of our audit drawing.

    Anna, Thanks so much for a great experience, we had fun, caused a little trouble, and everything worked out. You were truly a pleasure to work with 🙂 THANK YOUU!!!


    – – –

    On Oct 26, 2010, at 11:48 PM, Anna wrote:

    Hi Amy, Dan and Ian

    I hope you’re all happy and well.

    So the time has finally come for the In the Balance exhibition to come down – it will finish on Sunday. Unfortunately, after a lot of local enquiries we have not been able to find a suitable home for the Sunshine Still. It a real pity but on the other hand it has been an absolute pleasure having it on display at the MCA for all this time.

    As I said, it has been a real crowd pleaser and staff favourite. Starting from Monday the install crew will dismantle the work, salvaging and re-using as many of the materials as we can. If you like, I can see if there are any small parts of the sculpture that we might be able send to you in the US — I was thinking perhaps we could send the fabric covering for the Sun Runner and the alcohol moonshining instruments – along with (as discussed): Dan’s drawings, the laptop and dynamo . Please let me know if this is something you’d like to look into?

    Anyway, hopefully this is not too much of a sad ending!

    It has been a real pleasure working with you all and Im really looking forward to hearing about your new works in the pipeline.

    All the best


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