THE GLEANERS, 9.6. – 26.8.2023
Fri, 9.6.23, 18:00
La récup’ est rentrée dans le marché de l’art et quand je dis marché je ne dis pas bon marché (NB: recuperation has entered the art market and when I say market I don't mean cheap market) – Agnès Varda, “The Gleaners and I” (2000)
The word “Abfall” in German is a combination of the suffix ab- (away) and the word Fallen (fall), meaning “waste, trash” – literally the things that have fallen down or been thrown away. Does everything that touches the ground become automatically unwanted, poor, or rubbish? The semiotics of waste seems intrinsically rooted in a dynamic of verticality, in bringing things down. It is no surprise, then, that the politics of class and culture are similarly modelled on a spectrum of high and low.
Interested in reversing the gesture in an opposed verticality (down and up), French nouvelle-vague filmmaker Agnès Varda developed a particular taste for “gleaning”, the act of picking up remains from the ground. In her iconic documentary film “The Gleaners and I”, she travels to rural and urban regions of France to capture the realities of gleaners, finders, collectors, pickers. From fields to markets’ scraps and artist studios, Varda poetically examines the practice of gleaning on a social, cultural and political level, funnelling it into a large sphere of interpretations.
Originally, the word “gleaning” came from agriculture when gleaners – mostly women – were gathering leftovers from the field after harvest, like ears of wheat or heads of potatoes. Today, the practice of gleaning inherently echoes an alternative system of distribution and supply – a secondary economy based on the thrown-away and unwanted, which reveals social disparities but also responds to a form of circularity and the amplification of resource potential, sustainability and reuse.
Could gleaning be a vehicle for transformation and subversion? As early as 1913, Marcel Duchamp scribbled a note asking “Can works be made which aren’t “of art”?”. By fishing visuals, concepts and objects, artists are at the centre of that bottom-up practice, elevating the “ordinary-object-to-art” while at the same time challenging notions of appropriation and shaking establishment and institutional patterns. The collective exhibition THE GLEANERS investigates the art of gleaning and how it renegotiates systems of production, symbols and values. It looks at the unorthodox and serendipitous assemblages, the found objects that tell other stories, and the gleaning economy that allows us to tackle some of today’s most pressing and critical questions.