BlackBook Interview: Guggenheim’s Francesca Lavazza on Rem Koolhaas + the New Eco-Centric ‘Countryside, The Future’ Exhibition
At its best, art rises to meet the socio-political crises of its time—think, dada’s anti-war agitating during WWI, or the rise of Guerrilla Girls in the ’80s, in fervent protest of institutionalized sexism and racism.
Of course, we could point to any number of extant, exigent situations around the globe in 2020. But none are as universal as that of the climate crisis, with ocean- and wildlife perishing at alarming rates, and massive ice shelf collapses as regular features of the contemporary news day. Yet, as populations gravitate to urban areas at unprecedented levels, a new exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, intriguingly titled, Countryside, The Future, urges us to look away from cities to conceive a way forward through this arguably often overwhelming predicament.
Under the auspices of iconic Italian coffee purveyors Lavazza, the exhibit was co-curated by exalted architect and committed urbanist Rem Koolhaas, together with Samir Bantal, Director of AMO, the think tank founded by the former in 1998. Via thought-provoking narratives and striking visuals, it creates a near-historical journey through important developments outside of our cities—which we tend to think of as the primary incubators for innovative problem-solving—which offer clues to the possible resolution of our own environmental downfall.
Lavazza have long been ardent supporters of art as relevant social commentary, as well as being one of the most recognized practitioners of sustainable/responsible business…so there is a visceral foundation to their involvement in Countryside, The Future. For further insight, we caught up with the company’s Francesca Lavazza, who is also a Guggenheim board member, to discuss what it all means.
What was the original impetus for the Countryside, the Future?
It marks a shift from a focus on the urban to the rural, remote, territories collectively investigated in the exhibition as “countryside,” or the 98% of the earth’s surface not occupied by cities. It’s a new standpoint in the collaboration with the Guggenheim. Lavazza has always thought of art and architecture as places of reflection in which to explore the present with a critical eye. Year after year, our partnership with the Guggenheim Foundation has confirmed its fundamental importance in developing projects that embrace a strong culture of awareness, creation and innovation. For this year, this exhibition was aligned with our entrepreneurial vision and the attention we have towards responsible and sustainable development culture.
Rem Koolhaas is primarily known for his iconic urban builds – what made him the right person to be at the center of this exhibition?
Koolhaas developed the Countryside, The Future exhibition with the research studio AMO—think tank of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture—its director Samir Bantal, and a series of collaborators, with the specific aim to highlight advancements in rural areas through a series of case studies. Koolhaas was the right person for such an exhibition as he chose to move his focus away from cities, as the “massive neglect of the countryside” had made him “nervous” and “dissatisfied” in the past 10 years and the Guggenheim exhibition aims to rectify this. It’s been since 2013 that Koolhaas has shifted away from cities to non-urban areas. Indeed, with most architects increasingly concerned with urbanization, Koolhaas saw the countryside as an opportunity. It’s the time to rethink the countryside as a place for technological and social development.
Do you feel like we have come to a moment where art must interact with science in order to cultivate a new kind of relevance?
For Lavazza, finding convergence between different disciplines and creating dialogue and exchange between apparently distant worlds like art and science, but also economics and nature, forms part of the cross-sectoral approach that encourages the Group to take a systemwide approach through excellent partnerships, in line with SDG 17 of the UN 2030 Agenda.
In this specific occasion Countryside. The Future also represents the logical evolution of the long partnership between Lavazza and the Guggenheim. It is a way to pursue the concept of an art that is not an end unto itself, but that is responsible, able to raise awareness among people, inspire them and motivate them towards sustainable behaviors.
What are some of the highlights of the exhibit for you?
Overall the exhibition’s idea/concept of a story, wherein the countryside is a place of social, technological and environmental innovation. This idea is in line with the vision that has always underpinned Lavazza’s concrete actions towards coffee producing areas.
We are impressed by the unique way this exhibition addresses urgent environmental, political, and socioeconomic issues: by documenting real examples from the world of the radical transformations that have taken place in the countryside. The exhibition teaches us that a return to the countryside, with a contemporary sharpness, is a return to rethink it as a place of technological, social and human innovation.
Finally, the complexity and authenticity of these cases: artificial intelligence and automation, the effects of science and research, global warming, mass and micro migration, large-scale territorial management, human-animal ecosystems, the impact of the digital on the physical world, and other elements that are reshaping landscapes across the globe.
Do you worry that the knowledge and subsequent action needed to take on climate change head on are being overwhelmed by political pandering and opportunism?
People are more and more committed to sustainability and responsible development. In Lavazza, as a family-run company, we have always had an approach for these topics handed down from generation to generation. We have always been on a strategic path for sustainable development, trying to create shared value for the whole supply chain. Indeed, sustainability is a shared responsibility that must be supported through innovation.
In 2004, the company set up the Giuseppe and Pericle Lavazza Foundation; the nonprofit designs and implements international projects to support coffee-growing communities in coffee producing countries and, at the same time, engages in fostering the improvement of their social and economic conditions. To date, the Lavazza Foundation supports 24 projects in 17 countries and on three continents, involving more than 94,000 coffee farmers. Moreover, Lavazza received a top ranking in the 2019 Global CR RepTrak among the largest brands. The Reputation Institute, which is behind the study, reports on Lavazza’s progress in this year’s highlights; it is the top-ranked food business, and overall had gone from no. 32 in 2018 to 9th place in 2019.
How does Countryside, the Future fit with Lavazza’s mission to support, shall we say, enlightenment through art?
The exhibition perfectly meets the Guggenheim’s mission to raise awareness about global concerns and Lavazza’s goal of tackling environmental and social issues through cultural projects at international level. Our goal is to find inspiration in the great cultural and artistic movements, and design our path for future development, in order to face the great challenges of tomorrow.