Eva Kekou interviews Hypercomf, a multi-disciplinary conceptual design artist identity, to traverse its collaborative practices, with a particular focus on the Film Seed Festival launched in spring 2022 on the island of Tinos as part of the European Commission’s S+T+ARTS initiative, in collaboration with Onassis Stegi. Th collective reveals the intentions behind the festival and its ‘ecological approach’ in exploring uses of technology to improve agricultural practices and make them models of sustainability and prosperity. The Festival is the start of a narrative that traces back the nature of the collective, established as a fictitious company profile in Athens in 2017, and is projected towards their vision of the future.
Eva Kekou: Can you please tell us how the idea about Smart agriculture for sustainable futures emerged and how it has been developed and embraced by the audience then?
Hypercomf: We live on the island of Tinos in the village of Komi one of the many small villages that surround the farming area of Leivadi, where Film Seed Festival takes place. We also cultivate in Leivadi to provide for our home and practice beekeeping more professionally.
Leivadi is a maze of tall wind-breaking reeds, divided into tiny “rooms” farmlands that have been passed down over generations, cultivating centuries worth of farming experience that has nourished thousands of locals. The past decades the farming profession has been on a downward spiral, taking along the nutritional independence of the sea-locked island and slowly erasing a very important social role, that also feeds local culture and empowers social resiliency whilst it nourishes. The farming profession is becoming less attractive to the younger generation due to its demanding and isolated nature which creates a felt sense of social and cultural seclusion, the economic viability of the profession, lack of helping hands as people leave rural areas for the cities, all accentuated by the seasonal economy of the tourism industry expanding at a rapid rate and creating a mono-career pathway for the residents. Small farming communities around the world are often left out and overlooked in terms of access to resources and infrastructure whilst so much is demanded of them in return. We felt more initiatives are required to empower cultural resiliency, bring people together to exchange and celebrate that don’t normally converse and provide truly exciting, engaging and motivating examples of the possibilities of sustainable progress
We encountered the Smart Agriculture problem in the S.T.+ARTS Repairing the Present program and applied to gain the opportunity to explore how a collaborative art-based approach could help tackle some of the aforementioned difficulties. When designing Film Seed Festival as a process we took into account issues such as the laboriousness of farming, the economic challenge to reduce costs or provide added value to the end product and the broken link between farmer and consumer, as well as between land and culture. We examined how art can use its powers of adding value, accentuating importance and engagingly communicating ideas to help with these aforementioned issues, but most importantly how the artistic process can build narratives that require interdisciplinary collaboration and opportunities for different actors to unexpected meetings. In this case these actors included farmers, local resident unions, local craftswomen, consultants in the environmental, engineering, technology and culture fields and on a different level the directors and participants in the documentaries that were projected as Film Seed Festival official selections .
Film Seed Festival is in short, a modern harvest ceremony. A thousand square meters were collectively cultivated by a group of farmers with peanuts Arachis Hypogea , we had the help of smart agriculture technology provided by Agenso, which significantly lowered the time, cost, and amount of water required. The resulting crop provided with energy for 3 nights of projections and more than 300 attendees who arrived at the peanut field turned cinema, walking on the snaking farm road that we had to take everyday to tend to the crop. Half of the crop was turned to peanut oil and then biodiesel to power a generator and provide electricity in this remote farm location, for a film projector, speakers and lights and the rest was turned in to cinema snacks cooked with different recipes and offered as a treat to the festival attendees. The biodiesel conversion was performed by Act4Energy technological spin-off of the Democritus University of Thrace, the film screen was sewn by a local seamstress, the chairs were on loan by a local resident Union who uses them for the villages festivities and dances, the peanuts cooked by local chefs and restauranteurs.
We were overwhelmed by people’s positive reaction, the festival ended in October and already in November they were excitedly asking us when the next one is coming up. People had to use their flashlights to make their way back to the main asphalt road because it was very wasteful for us to try to illuminate the entire path, we had concerns on what they might think of that, but they said walking in the dark star-lit farm lands ended up being one of their most interesting and enjoyable walks.
In the end we are just looking to provide for examples of how small communities can work towards regaining their cultural and energy autonomy. We hope it will inspire others to develop strategies tailored to their own communities and needs.
In which ways” ecologies of media” address a new way of approaching the audience and create new “ecologies of activism” around burning current issues?
Whilst working on the peanut field in the summer heat we often thought of how much work is going into this festival, months of work by humans and other species all for 3 nights of celebration. This added so much to the importance of the days, they had a past , they festival did not “grow out of nowhere”. It seemed to us similar with how people prepared for a family wedding in the past. You would announce your child’s wedding to take place in autumn and grow food and meat for months in preparation of inviting your community to celebrate with you. Slow celebration, or slow entertainment if you will.
In regards to entertainment in specific, people have always excused wastefulness because it is so pleasurable to consume and considered a “break” from such worries as your environmental impact and anything else. Additionally, people might seek to over-indulge and waste to actually feel they had a good time, or “show off” their wealth, all a reaction to horror vacui made easy by the accessibility of our over-producing culture and economy.
For this it essential that we tackle this issue of the sustainability of media and entertainment. Exactly because it would mean taking a harder look at the general philosophy of economy and of being that we are operating on.
What is the semiology around your work discussing sustainability in an innovative way and format?
Through our work we interrelate complexity with simplicity , technology with tradition, the local with the global, being designers of narratives and strategies between species, materials and energy forms. Often in our work we familiarize with the aesthetics, forms and narratives of “high-end” technologies and sciences, perhaps this is the most prominent aspect of our work where a play on semiology takes place . For example, all the technological components, and smart agriculture sensors we used to cultivate the peanut crop were housed in a four-legged sculptural structure that elevated them above the soil where they were out of the way of the cultivation. Later, during the festival, this same structure housed the film projector. The form of this structure is inspired by farming tools, insect legs but most importantly space exploration vehicles. Similarly, in a previous project called biosentinel.services themed around yeast, bread and space travel, we designed a transportable solar cooker, a very simple technology, in a shape resembling a lunar rover with a parabolic dish-cooker. This is a slight “trolling” of the constant promotion of new “high-end technologies ”, when we haven’t yet managed to properly incorporate existing knowledge and technologies in our life. Especially since the planet is not developing uniformly there are huge gaps between different populations and different urban and rural communities’ development, yet we are always looking for some next best thing to be mesmerized by.
How technology and nature meet here and why this is more than ever important
Technology can mostly, really be used to protect nature and this is the way we try to use it in every project.
What is your mission as Hypercomf and your next steps?
We have many existing projects in the works, such as Biosentinel, services, Anthemis, Film Seed Festival, Benthic terrazzo, they all engage communities with their local environment and biome researching the possibilities for a more sustainable life in every sense of the term, all are scalable with many possibilities for development . According to the funding opportunities that arise we devote our efforts to developing them, ideally aiming to bring them to a point that they can be taken over by other people.
Which is your vision for the future?
It is hard to say, there is no clear way or perfect solution to any issue, it definitely doesn’t help to superficially accelerate just because we enjoy feeding on “future-thinking” which seems to be what is happening in some fields . On any given day, the least we can try, is for things not to get worse, which is already a big task, if in parallel we can motivate some less-than-perfect but sufficiently better solutions to social and environmental issues, we could build on the small and slow progress that is being made in these sectors and multiply their effect to make a brighter future forecast.