The Rural School of Economics has been founded by Kathrin Böhm and Wapke Feenstra, where everyone is a teacher and learner. The inter-generational and trans-local school is organised around those who create and use rural economics. It started in five European regions in 2021, among them Pushkino (Russia) where young people led the classrooms, and developed the bottom-up open source brand Pushkino-Style, to translate local knowledge into possibilities for their futures.
What’s the main driving force behind your work? What makes you stay up at night, wanting to change the world?
I entered the arts because there was a promise of freedom, the promise to do what’s important to you. Our current European idea of art clearly ascribes the right to self-expression and autonomy to artists, with the second one having created an ivory tower situation for art. Art is seen as remote and removed from what matters in life. In my opinion this needs to come to an end. At the same time, we need those fundamental rights to self-expression and autonomy for everyone. My motivation is to expand and share them within wider society.
Speaking of privileges, in one of your texts you talk about de-colonized activism. What does that mean?
The art world has become extremely international over the last decades, with biennale hoping to be just one phenomenon. At the same time, a new criticality and a new thinking about locality and localized practice has evolved that, for me, comes along with a demand for de-colonization. I often borrow a short and poignant explanation from the sociologist Rolando Vázquez of how to understand colonialism in the current debate: local European rational has become global design. As an artist, I use “de-colonizing” as a concept to become aware of my Western understanding of art, of the European tradition which creates binaries, such as art and non-art, good and bad, culture and the everyday.
You also mention the “dig where you stand” approach.
Yes, it means critically analyzing where you stand, and whether you should act or listen first. It’s about understanding that the lived experience of a place holds more knowledge for action than the place one occupies as a guest or visitor.
Summarizing your thoughts, can art change the world?
I wouldn’t use the word change. I think art is an important part of actively dissolving and overcoming binaries.
Art is just one of many voices, movements or histories that try to overcome this pattern of othering and claiming space for cultural values that resist neo-liberalism and colonialism and ultimately serve the exploitation of others and the planet.
Which initiatives, groups, books or authors inspire your work?
There are many other movements like La Via Campesina, uniting the voices of small farmers and Indigenous groups worldwide, or the Community Economies Institute with researchers, practitioners and activities worldwide who support diverse localized economies. Those are important large-scale movements. Art can, but doesn’t have to, operate on that scale. What makes art strong is that it operates on a one-to-one scale, on the scale of life.