by Devanshi ShahApr 22, 2022
Rafael Perez Evans is a Spanish-Welsh artist who lives and works between the UK and Spain. Evans’s artworks are usually associated with questions around sculpture, rurality, the urban and conditions of the South. Evans also looks into shame in queer and rural communities, drawing out evocative installations which are often charged with anger and hope.
Evans’s work really caught my eye at the recent exhibition Handful at the Henry Moore Institute, an exhibition which brought the global food crisis to the forefront. The work on display highlighted the distance between the producers and consumers of food, a gap widened by the relationship between rural and urban environments. Handful was on view from May 18 to August 29, 2021. Evans, coming from a family of agricultural farmers who were exposed to rapid urbanisation of their farmlands for the sake of tourism, finds a deep connection between his practice, his life and food itself. In Handful he discusses means of production, as well as the industrial scale chaos and corruption which separates the farmer from the buyer.
With regard to his lived experiences which led to this concern in his practice, Evans said, “My relationship to food is ever-changing, constantly evolving and adapting to things that change around me. I see food as a very central aspect of our lives, without food we wouldn't be able to survive in this planet, food is attached to pretty much everything… I have a paradoxical relationship to sites of food production. As a younger person I always wanted to run away from physical labour and be queer and ‘free’ in a big city. I didn't feel strong enough or “masculine” enough to do a lot of the deeds and the work that agriculture required, and I felt quite awkward in those kinds of environments. I felt that it wasn't quite my place. I always had this desire to kind of run away from all of that, that's why I came to London when I was 18 to study art. But in the past 20 years there has been this great disillusion with the city, its traps and its promises which brought me to me explore and look back into my hometown, land and other places that felt more grounded and attached to the soil”.
As much as I am a writer, artist and curator, I am also an urban escapee, someone who has run off into the forests of rural India to practice permaculture farming, and to explore macro issues at a micro, grassroots level, and get her hands muddy (literally!). When I asked Evans about how the common man can approach the issue of the global food crisis in order to be a part of the solution and not the problem, his response was one which touched me deeply and resonated with my current state of mind. He said, “I guess the problem that I have with this question is that is the idea of a ‘common man’ who is this common man/woman/person?... and why are they common? Common to me has this air of being less sophisticated, less bourgeois. I guess the issue that I have with this word is that food is actually a common thing, we all need it and it was this common man who made this food. So maybe the question is how can we become common again, less shiny and sophisticated, how can we get dirty with the soil?”.
Evans takes the tangible conversation about food to a less tangible conversation about knowledge. The parallels can be made easily, when one looks at the exclusionary way in which both resources are treated. He said, “A lot of the questions around sustainability at the moment and the solution to the planet’s crisis is often held at an impossible distance to resolve. However, the problem, even though it's highly layered and complex, because it's intertwined with a web of so many different elements from politics, to communities to use of land, to extraction, to all these things… for me it comes back to an issue of knowledge: who knows what? And what knowledge and ideas are being held as important at the top and not relevant at the bottom, care is not at the top of the list, ripping benefits is, so how can this hierarchy be reshuffled? How can we move forward towards the place of care as central to our livelihoods?”.
He continued to impart saying, “I think part of the solution, could be in leaning into those ‘common people’ and those cultures that have a more friendly, circular relationship with land use and bringing forward ideas of sustenance agriculture. Also thinking about how can we create a more horizontal line around the hierarchy of knowledges, a lot of people talk from a very distanced place, sort of like male politicians talking about female abortion. I still struggle to see why we should be trying to resolve all these issues of land and extraction and foods from the centralised place of the city, a city that is very distant and very extractive in that it takes a lot from those lands and rarely gives back. Sustainability should be written from the land, not the concrete building. So, in a way the question that arrives for me is, how can we return to the ‘common person’ and their wisdom and knowledge?”
Rafael Perez Evans’s work will be on view for group shows at multiple venues including The Koppel Project Hive in London, Centro de arte Rafael Botí. Cordoba, Spain and Belmacz gallery, London over the upcoming six months.