Sara Cattin: Maintenance of What? Part 2

20 minute presentation for AEROPONIC ACTS  - growing roots in air, DAI's 3 day marathon of lecture-perfomance acts, May 2019.

In this reading you will listen to some of the conversations I had with two sheep roaming shepherds. They are about my age, and I’ve met them in the Alpine valleys of the North-West of Italy, that is where we live. Theconversations had been first recorded and then manipulated by the undersigned. I asked them questions that go from “Do you listen to music when you are at the grazing?” to “How does Europe undermine your autonomy by supporting the development of pastoralism in the so called rural areas?” The shepherds agreed to the terms in which their words will be used.

Ana Teixeira Pinto, Anselm Franke, Laura Harris and Rachel O’Reilly responded to the question:

What does the maintenance of life ask for? How material does life need to be to be maintained? And, maintenance of what? A place, a thing, an idea?

Report by Ayesha Hameed:

Three figures seated in the front of the room are staggered diagonally on stage. The introduction sets up the study’s context of roaming pastoralism in northern Italy, and how subsistence interacts with the ecosystem and survives in the cracks of the state –  the clash between pre-industrialized rural spaces and post-industrial urban spaces. Two interviews with two shepherds are staged between three performers, two of whom narrate the first interview on flock size, the shepherd’s work in a factory and its time as compared to shepherding, his pastimes as a tattooist (which he likens to being a shepherd) and in a band, the alertness needed and boredom of tending sheep, and how to pass the time and listen to the sheep. The third performer leaves and the remaining two read the second interview aloud on wool shearing costs, surplus wool, subsidies, grazing, logistics, the bureaucracy of shepherding, the inability to have collective organizations, the differences between settled and nomadic shepherding, and the solitude of shepherding. Some statements contradict one another. 

Anselm Franke likened the staging to a refuted ethnography. ‘We get a sense of the history of the land and its epic scale as it is recounted,’ he said. ‘It is here where foundational narratives of early capitalism take place.’

Ana Texeira Pinto said the research opened a new world to her that refers to ‘a foundational moment of capitalism and its relation to the commons where these figures now become perpetual trespassers.’ ‘It inhabits the original violence of primitive accumulation,’ she said. ‘In this moment we see a clash of temporalities, juxtaposing these narratives with drones and Google Earth. These are ways to map territory that are related more poetic registers.’ 

Laura Harris wondered about the thinking behind this notion of maintenance depicted in the staging and also asked: ‘What is the role of the music in this piece, and its variants and what do they refer to?’

Rachel O’Reilly thought about the maintenance of work in reference to Marina Vishmidt’s essay on this. ‘What is wonderful about this presentation, is how ornate the social is in in a landed economy, where things are not fully made fungible,’ she said. ‘This is revealed in the process of editing the conversations to find densities to present in this live format.’ She was glad the artist did not try to bring shepherds into the DAI, but rather made the distance palpable – a sensitivity in the obliquely phrased research questions that do not capitalize on the exoticization of these figures.