Italian multimedia artist, philosopher and cultural anthropologist Leone Contini studies heritage, intercultural contacts and hierarchical power relations as consequences of transnational migration. Constructed Landscapes explores the interplay of circumstances in which the idea of an authentic Tuscan landscape in the surroundings of Prato, a town mainly known for its textile industry, meets the land cultivation practices of migrant small-scale farmers from Southeast China.
It was the fast fashion industry that strategically attracted them to Prato as cheap workforce, replacing the business strategy of relocating the textile industry to China that was lucrative a few decades before. Being one of the European areas that is most densely populated with Chinese immigrants, their completely practical need of having specific home produce for their cuisine caused the growth of house vegetable gardens and allotments. These practices clashed with the local Tuscan agrarian politics, which started to penalise them.
The exhibition Constructed Landscapes therefore explains how the contemporary iconography of Tuscany was constructed, which was driven by tourism, the food and wine industries, and supported by the international film industry. But, beneath this patina, the local agrarian ideology is based on the hundred-year-old fascist rural policies, which provided a kind of autarkic bone-structure for the currently commodified Tuscan landscape.
Buzzwords such as ecology, self-provisioning and invasiveness are often used by neo traditionalists as a demagogic narrative against newcomers when they talk about a "parallel agriculture" to define Chinese agricultural activities as an unregulated and environmentally dangerous foreign element that is different from the official, supposedly legitimate one, where migrants also dominate the workforce in the large-scale monoculture food processing industry, which also produces "non-native" and genetically modified crops for multinational corporations.
Leone Contini, a local resident in the countryside near Prato, has been researching this contact for several years. He carries out his contemporary anthropological research almost in his own home, with his neighbours, both immigrants and locals, and with his relatives. For his own situating in the research, it is perhaps important to note that his family is Sicilian on his mother’s side and that he is also a southerner by Tuscan standards.
The exhibition at the Match Gallery functions as an informative bio-laboratory, a systemic and spatial adaptation for the display of both landscape constructs. It is an imitation, an emulation of the unromantic adaptive and practical constructions of Chinese vegetable gardening in the constructed narrative of the "authentic" Tuscan countryside.
Production: Muzej in galerije mesta Ljubljane
Exhibition curator: Jani Pirnat
Artist: Leone Contini
This project has been supported by: Mestna občina Ljubljana
Thanks to: Cinzia Delnevo, Institut d'art contemporain
1 January, 1 November, 25 December: Closed
24 and 31 December: 10:00–14:00