Radio Robida


Modelling Future Ruralism: estado límbico

on: 23/03/2024
by: Aljaž Škrlep

Modelling Future Ruralism

estado Límbico is a site-speculative fairytale, which proposes a method of joyous meddling with spaces and things of the past — stubbornly stuck in the past — and of affirming the possibility of telling their story in other, playful, almost child-like ways in which only futures exist. A novel story can be told by a simple gesture of re-ordering and re-configuring the established order of things. It is also a highly political method, which fits with the overarching program of the Robida Collective, the host of the residency which resulted in Estado Límbico. Recently, Hugo Reis reminded me of a conversation we had during their first stay in Topolò. He asked: Could Robida’s project of imagining new ways of inhabiting the village of Topolò by means of culture and art become a model that could be transferred in other contexts? The question left me with a sense of unease and at a loss for words. Are all rural areas inhabitable in the same way? Could our project be universalized?

The first response to the questions was a disappointing one. There is no model. I can only provide you with the basic wisdom: The first step to inhabiting the rural areas is to move there. But as the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the coming of the dusk my answer too started taking shape over time, after posing myself some how-questions: How can a collective cultural/artistic practice simultaneously respond to the historical context of a specific place and the contemporary needs of its inhabitants? How to put into play the seeming opposition between the traditional and the contemporaneous? And how to participate and be situated in the past, present and future of a place, all at the same time?

The first piece of the puzzle: Every place builds its own internal oppositions. Topolò/Topolove and Benečija — a small mountainous region in northeastern Italy, bordering Slovenia — are no exceptions to this mechanism. History of the 20th century used the borderland as the background of some of the most violent First World War operations; fascism also oppressed the Slovene minority of the area and the Cold War completely transformed the territory into a military zone that should be emptied of its inhabitants: this history brought to the almost complete loss of population, loss of language and identity and the destruction of a community. 

Viljem Černo, a Slovene poet from Benečija, spoke many times about life on this border and the measures that made life on the border impossible. He talked about how the inhabitants of the village of Lusevera/Bardo had to go to Padova to get permission to cut down trees in their own forests. Each tree played an important role on the military playground. Or that the bell, which announced that the inhabitants of the village must not leave their houses, rang just when they should have gone harvesting potatoes and other field crops. Taking photographs was prohibited in Topolò. Any such photography could reveal important information about the area that Italy had to protect against a possible Yugoslav invasion and therefore make it invisible. All the systemic measures were accompanied by strong anti-Slavic, anti-Yugoslavian, and anti-Slovenian propaganda, that tried to anchor the tragic principle of self-denial in the Slovenian-speaking inhabitants of this area.

Therefore, the basic question is: How to react to the conceptual and life oppositions that have arisen throughout this violent history. How to mitigate or even eliminate them? A simple return is not possible as historical processes carry out a “re-ordering of life” and render “the traditional way of life no longer a viable option for our continued existence and apprehension of the world” wrote the Nigerian philosopher Abiola Irele in his essay In Praise of Alienation (1987).

How then? What to do and how to do it?

The first thing is to map these historically formed inner oppositions of a specific place. Don’t try to impose big questions onto it. Your environment is filled with small, localized questions. The smaller the question, the more concise the answer.

This mapping of oppositions should then be followed by their contemporization. Don’t import questions. Import tools: contemporary discourses, theories, practices, minds and bodies to help answering your questions.

Upper stories describing the shrinking of liveable space in Benečija and the banning of photography in Topolò both speak of a process of disconnecting people from their lived environment, disabling social, cultural, economic, and political activities and intimate intra-action with the place they live in. Alienation from our lived environments, posed in this way, is certainly a contemporary and ubiquitous problem. Robida’s reaction to this problem is a radical one: Make a home out of the whole of our surrounding environment. Turn a village into a house, its paths into corridors, landscape into a space of continual negotiation. Extend the concept of the inhabitant to its non-human residents, animals, and plants, who actively build the landscape in which we live together. Re-claim space, re-claim sociality.

An opposition you will surely find is the one between the urban and the rural, which is mostly connected to a specific conception of time: For the rural, future is not an option. It is always a representation of the past. The city is a portal to the future, an entrance into the open. Therefore, future story-telling and the possibility of worlding also belong solely to the urban. Robida and Estado Límbico are both actively striving towards reclaiming futurity of the rural. The prohibition of taking photographs in Topolò was an interference in the time structure of the village, and denying anything of its own time “amounts to robbing it of its being,” wrote Michael Marder. Working with time, on the other hand, as FAHR 021.3 did in Topolò, folding the past, the present and the future one over the other, is a radically different matter, feeding into Robida’s model. It tries to keep our research situated and located. But also make it displaced and on the move. To keep it somewhere and anywhere — at the same time. To remind us, that rural possibilities are endless. The future, after all, belongs to the rural.

This text was first published as part of the publication estado lìmbico (2024, FAHR 021.3), which was published as one of the final results of FAHR 021.3's residency in Topolò/Topolove.