Gianfranco Baruchello was part of the European avant-garde movement of the 1960’s, spending time between New York, where he counted John Cage as a friend, and Paris, where he took part in the revolts of 1968, with friends Felix Guattari, Alain Jouffroy, and Jean Jacques Lebel. In the early sixties, in Milan, at the time of the birth of Arte Povera, he met and befriended Marcel Duchamp, who in turn became his mentor.
In the 1970’s, Baruchello moved to the Roman countryside and, in 1973, founded a small-scale farm, Agricola Cornelia S.p.A., where agricultural production was as much an artistic output as paintings, film, photographs, and publications, that the artist concurrently worked on. Agricola Cornelia S.p.A. functioned as a form of ‘tabula rasa’, a going back to the basics and questioning the very strategies of visual arts production, as well as a reckoning of what it means to work with the earth, both as a form of autonomy―a response to the cost of living―and a polemical stance on modern man’s ambitions to reach to outer space. By working on and with Agricola Cornelia S.p.A., Baruchello playfully proposed a transfer of value from art to farming; by growing plants, raising animals, working the land, he challenged the boundaries between seemingly oppositional processes: the mundane day-to-day muck of farming and the lofty world of the avant-garde.
As Baruchello wrote in his book How to Imagine, an encounter with Henry Martin, “Agricola Cornelia is like the anomalous objects or the photographs or the film of the empty room, it’s like all of the newspaper clippings, all of the things I’ve xeroxed, all of the various ideas I’ve had, all the notes where I’ve tried to make sense of it―notes on the earth as connected to grottos and speleology, on earth and death, earth as germinal primordial matter; notes on the things we’ve grown, the garden produce, sugar beets, wheat, barley, corn, the sheep, the pigs, the cows but especially, most especially, there have been all of these notes on grottos and caverns. The cavern as the world egg, the initiatic cavern as the image of the world; as a symbol of the heart and the central place of origin.”
In this spirit, a living archive of Agricola Cornelia S.p.A. will be presented at the Thessaloniki Biennial with notes, sketches, clippings, drawings, works, and a film of Agricola Cornelia S.p.A., Il Grano, representing the arduous task of working the farm as a process of accumulation, a collage of lived and visceral experiences. As Baruchello insisted, “it was also a question of farming… from a very particular point of view. I was interested in the idea that farming this land could also be considered a work of art. Even the produce was a work of art. Farming this land was supposed to be a way in which it was finally possible to see the full political significance of a work of art… sure growing potatoes may not be a very eloquent kind of protest, but that’s part of what I became involved with too. It was a question of pulling aesthetics into economy and of pulling the most rudimentary and fundamental forms of agricultural economy into aesthetics.”
Through Baruchello’s radical gesture of a humble return to the land, in stark opposition to the grandiose rhetoric of land art proposed by some of his peers, he posed questions that, in their imaginative humility, still resonate today. In his words, “What’s the nature of our relationship to the ground, to the earth, to dirt? What was the meaning of the discovery of agriculture? What’s a forest, a jungle? What’s grass?”