Agriculture of Entanglement

Jan Gerits is an architecture student working on his Master’s thesis at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. He has taken the idea of the vertical farm and turned it into a quite different model for a growing space that owns itself, a place where humans and non-humans, synthetic and organic, can participate in a symbiotic self-sustaining existence. In bringing his ideas to The Common Table, Jan is sharing his vision in the hope that others will join him in the conversation: contact supplied.

If we are completely honest with ourselves, then we have to admit that the way we produce and consume the food most people eat on a daily basis is harming the planet. And yes, you might be outraged and think “But I eat organic, seasonal and vegan food from a little packaging-free shop around the corner!” And although doing that might even be a good start, it unfortunately only makes you a tiny exception to the dominant status quo. 

The 10 challenges of global food production. Image courtesy Jan Gerits
Image courtesy Jan Gerits

There is plenty of evidence that it is perfectly possible to provide ten billion people with sufficient nutrition without pushing non-human life on this planet to the edge of extinction. So why aren’t people protesting on the streets demanding agriculture without exploitation if lack of ability to do so is not the problem? I would suggest that the main reason is a lack of banality((“Banal” here in its original meaning “communal, open to everyone“,  from the Old French banel.)), of a sense of the communal, as well as a lack of transparency. I would also suggest that a dramatic increase in visibility with respect to food production would lead to the necessary political momentum to change production and consumption.

Since the growing and production of food became an abstract product following industrialisation and the urbanisation of humankind, the, once highly intricate, connection between spaces of consumption and production has been lost almost entirely. The same technology that has provided the human race with a sedentary lifestyle is also, slowly but surely, alienating agricultural production from the consumer. Technology has enabled an obscure system that hides its destructive mechanisms behind the shiny facades of supermarkets and fast-food restaurants.

Tecnocratic technocritic Image courtesy Jan Gerits
Image courtesy Jan Gerits

How is it possible that despite the Achilles heel of technology being exposed to the world by Karl Marx in his “Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of the Political Economy” over 100 years ago, we are still operating within a dichotomy of technocrats and technocritics? The former blindly praising technology as the saviour that will overcome our collective aberrations((See: Dickson Despommier, The Vertical Farm – Feeding the world in the 21st Century (New York, St.Martins Press, 2010), for a descriptive example of technocratic thought.)), and the latter romanticising the avoidance of all technology in order to raise the “quality” of certain foodstuffs to almost sacred levels((See: René Redzepi, Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, (Berlin, PHAIDON, 2010), for a prominent example of the technocritical approach towards food production.)).

Luckily we can observe a steady rise in resistance towards this form of binary thinking. In the face of a dying planet, an increasing number of people are finally starting to listen to the Donna Haraways((Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2016).)) and Tobias Reeses((Tobias Rees, “From the Anthroprocene to the Microbiocene”, NOEMA Magazine Issue no.1: The Great Acceleration (Los Angeles, The Berggruen Institute, 2020).)) of this world who have been telling us for years that there is no such distinction between man, machine and nature but that there is only one big gooey, complex, multi-species assemblage that should be studied and embraced to the fullest extent.

The anthropocene; the microbiocene Image courtesy Jan Gerits
Image courtesy Jan Gerits

This, and only this, is my daily source of optimism when it comes to the looming crisis of food scarcity that the entire planet will eventually have to face. So allow me to wallow for a little in thoughts and dreams about a future in which humans and non-humans can actually co-exist.

As an architecture student I am of course inclined to seek solutions in physical space. What if the future of entangled food production lies in a space that owns itself? A space that is not a tool for anthropocentric profit and exploitation but a place for exchange between a variety of human and non-human agents.  

what if the future of food security lies in an intelligent space of production. Image courtesy Jan Gerits
Image courtesy Jan Gerits

This future I dream of is one that lifts the veil on the obscure practices of industrial agriculture. It is one that entangles food production and consumption once again in order to create platforms for exchange across all agents involved. These future spaces of food production become havens for cross-species symbioses instead of revenue-generating black boxes((See: Ludo Groen and Marten Kuijpers “Automated Landscapes and the Human Dream of Relentlessness”, Strelka Mag, March 3, 2020.)). They are coral reef-like structures that are freed from the human desire for profit. These spaces allow a multitude of species to attach themselves within them. Like Deleuze and Guattari’s “body without organs”((Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus – Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translation by Brian Massumi (London and Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp 149-166.)), they attract other desiring-machines such as insects, plants, animals, AIs, cyborgs, microbes – and humans, so they can form symbioses without the prevailing organism‘s regime. 

And maybe, just maybe, in this future we will even overcome one of capitalism’s biggest flaws: it’s exclusivity to the human race. Because actively leaving the Anthropocene and offering personhood and self-ownership((See: Seidler, Kolling and Hampshire terra0 – Can an augmented forest own and utilize itself?, white paper (University of the Arts Berlin, Germany, May 2016) for the possibility of non-humans owning themselves.)) to non-humans – organic and synthetic alike – will eventually allow proper eye-level exchanges. This step could be a change in disposition that might facilitate sustaining life between all of Earth’s inhabitants for centuries to come.

what if real agency for non-humans is the right to own something?
Image courtesy Jan Gerits

But enough of the dreaming and back to the now: We need to take the first steps towards this kind of future. And for me, entanglement will lead the way. The first step is to entangle a multitude of thoughts and voices. So please allow me to ask you, the reader, these questions – not rhetorically but actually.

What are the strategies or tactics that will lead towards such a future? Who are the people we need to involve? What consequences do we need to anticipate? And (most importantly for me as an architect) how do these spaces manifest themselves? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Contact me here to continue the conversation.

PS: If anyone finds a way, I’d be more than happy to include various non-humans in this conversation. A sunflower, a sheep and maybe a bee would be nice. 

Jan Gerits is an architect entangled in critical and political thought, trying find his own unconventional way in this rather conservative profession. After studying in Germany, Czech Republic and Belgium he is now finishing his education in Copenhagen at the Royal Academy. His areas of focus are the productive city, the diminishing threshold between the virtual and the “real” and human/non-human co-existence.

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