Usufructuaries of earth
Design: Sean van den Steenhoven
Convened by BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht with artist Marwa Arsanios
7 March–2 June 2024
Convened by BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht together with artist Marwa Arsanios, Usufructuaries of earth is a project that inquires into the practice of ethically sharing the earth’s usufruct. Unfolding in three eponymous chapters, it consists of an exhibition with artworks by Arsanios; a publication on BAK’s online publishing forum Prospections, which functions as a public research and learning curriculum brought to life together with a federation of reading groups in Rotterdam, London, and Berlin; and a convention with artists, as well as other thinkers and social actors, gathering to share and learn on usufruct as a way of undoing property from the regimes of privatization that perpetually usurp the earth’s resources for the interests of a select few.
Usufructuary—from usufruct and the Latin usus et fructus, translating literally as “use of the fruits”—refers to the shared usership and enjoyment of an earthly resource, be it land, air, sunlight, or water. But if, within bourgeois justifications of property, the notion of usufruct is based on a connection between use and ownership—and thus the understanding that they who “own” or are granted use of a land will utilize it for capital gain or productivity—Usufructuaries of earth proposes instead to reclaim its radical potential that grounds earth’s life over capital’s. By learning with the existing practices of transgenerational using of earth while protecting it from exhaustion, depletion, and destruction, the project puts the question of individuated possession and unequal distribution of resources both into question and under pressure. Imagining and practicing usufructuaries as communal assemblages, Usufructuaries of earth echo Frantz Fanon’s call upon the wretched of the earth to rise up against imperialism and create a new, affirmative world that departs from the hypocrisies and violence of settler colonialism, neocolonialism, and capitalist exploitation.
Chapter one of the project—the exhibition with works by Arsanios—includes the work Falling is not collapsing, falling is extending (2016) and four films from the ongoing series entitled Who is Afraid of Ideology?, which began in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2017. In dialogue with the film installations are works of various media—tapestries, prints, drawings, archival material, and landfill models—that foreground the artist’s ongoing inquiry into property and, in turn, the subversion of property regimes through shared practices of use. The second chapter includes a “slow” reader on BAK’s online publishing forum Prospections that undergirds the project as an usufructuary of knowledges and turning the project’s research into a collective resource. These texts are both read and further assembled through a federated structure of reading groups in Amman, Berlin, and Rotterdam. This process folds into the convention to take place at BAK on 24 and 25 May 2024—chapter three of Usufructuaries of earth—brought to life to narrate, learn, and unpack the histories and potentials of usufruct in workshops, trainings, and common discussions.
Summoned with an intense sense of urgency—given that the world is drenched in wars and climate catastrophe, both of which are about greed for land while destroying earth’s generous offer—Usufructuaries of earth calls on forms, tactics, and shared practices of “use” to think through, imagine, and embody a livable life in common with the earth. It seeks to throw regimes of private property—and the financial and colonial logics that sustain them—under pressure and into question by practicing forms of life that are driven by relational ethics of reciprocity and by nurturing for all.
Usufructuaries of earth has been conceptualized by Marwa Arsanios and BAK’s curator for research and publications Wietske Maas, in conversation with respective contributors to the project’s three chapters and the BAK team.
For more information and registration, visit bakonline.org/program.
The activities of BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht are made possible with the financial support of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the City Council, Utrecht. Usufructuaries of earth is part of the long-term BAK research itinerary Propositions for Non-Fascist Living (2017–2024).