Posted Oct 11th 2005 by

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An interview with
AMY FRANCESCHINIwords by , October 2005

Amy Franceschini is the founder of eco-friendly design setup FutureFarmers and has been involved in numerous projects aimed at raising public awareness to critical issues. To find out a bit more about these projects we managed to catch up with her to ask her a few questions…

Hello and welcome to the world of Thunder Chunky. How do you do today?

Right now I am sitting in Chicago O’Hare airport. My flight has been delayed for 4 hours and there is still no prognosis for when it will leave. I am flying home to san Francisco after a wonderful week in this mega complex, sprawling city. I am totally blown away by this city. I was here as part of an exhibition at the Smart Museum of Art on the University of Chicago campus, called Beyond Green: Towards a Sustainable Art.

The exhibition was great and the week was filled with many great events, workshops and gatherings! One of my favorite moments was feasting on unharvested, ripe heirloom and cherry tomatoes in the community garden across the street from Dan Peterman’s Experimental Station. Yum!

Photosynthesis Robot

Photosynthesis Robot

For those amongst our readers who aren’t familiar with your work could you tell us a bit about yourself and the sort of projects you work on?

I am Amy Franceschini, founder of Futurefarmers. I have been interested in art since I was a small child and studied photography as an undergrad at San Francisco State University. The photo lab closed at 5pm on many nights so I retreated to the sculpture hut where artists were having sculpt-a-thons until the wee hours of the night. As a result of spending more time in the sculpture department than in the dark, chemical infested rooms of the photography department, much of my current work is sculpture based.

After a series of coincidences I found myself designing a website for photojournalists in 1994 called Atlas Magazine. This online journal gained much attention which fostered a small company called Atlas. From here I began working with many corporate clients including NEC, NIKE, Hewlett Packard and the like. While this was all exciting and lucrative, I felt my soul slowly melting and needed a creative channel. I started Futurefarmers as an online space for testing out new ideas and technologies that corporate clients just could not swallow.

The site began to gain attention and somehow I was able to balance an art practice while garnering client work that remained interesting and challenging.

Over the last 5 years I have tried to focus more on my art practice and in 2000 I went to graduate school at Stanford University to receive my MFA. This was an invaluable experience!

At this point I am exhibiting as frequently as possible, teaching and maintaining a steady flow of client work through Futurefarmers.

I am a terrible work-a-holic, so I won’t list everything that I am doing, but I will say I am very happy with what I am doing, I just wish America would spend more money on education and create a national healthcare plan so that we could all enjoy life a bit more!

You have been running Futurefarmers for ten years now. How are things different now than when you started back in 1995?

1995 was a crazy year. I am happy to have lived through that dot com explosion. It was a time of phones ringing off the hook, head-hunters hunting us down, and money being thrown at the most ridiculous projects – stuff you have probably all heard before. Anyway, in late 1999 we had to make a decision to either grow into a 10 person studio or to stay small and start turning down jobs. Josh On (collaborator Futurefarmers) and I decided that if we grew, we would just become managers and directors, so we decided to stay small and focus our own projects and a select client list. Luckily, we made this decision just at the right time, as a few months later the economy crashed and we didn’t have much to lose.

So now it is 2005 and Josh and I work on our own projects. I teach New Media courses at Stanford University and the San Francisco Art Institute. Josh rallies for the Socialist party and does freelance Flash work. The phone is not ringing off the hook, but the clients that do approach us have been great over the last 5 years; PBS, Greenpeace, AT+T, Siemans and Nokia. We have been doing quite a lot of consulting for hand held games, online community tools, screen design for mobile phones and kiosks.

Bingo: Field of Thoughts

Bingo: Field of Thoughts

You’ve worked with an impressive list of clients over the years, but recently you seem to be more focussed on exhibiting work. Is this the way you see Futurefarmers progressing in years to come?

In the years to come, I hope to continue client work, but I would like to find a way to work more with cultural institutes and environmental groups which are more aligned with our practice.

Futurefarmers has been running an artist in residency program for 8 years now. We have hosted over 18 artists from 11 countries. I would like to formalize this program and integrate it into a storefront space where we can develop public programs, publishing and small exhibitions of new work. My husband and I have a space in Belgium that would fulfil this dream, but for now we are in San Francisco and the rent is still high, so this is still a dream.

You recently co-founded Free-Soil. Tell us a little bit about the organisation and it’s aims.

Free-Soil is an international collaboration of artists, activists, researchers and gardeners. We share the belief that art can be a catalyst for social awareness and positive change.

Free-Soil is four of us and was formed during a workshop in Norway two summers ago. The four of us; Nis Romer (Copenhagen), Stijn Schiffeleers (Belgium), Joni Taylor (Australia) and myself decided to create an online portal where we could all contribute news posts, reviews, artists, exhibitions, books, architecture, public projects and regular features focused on issues of sustainability and critical inquiry. We have developed 3 projects as a group and are developing a large scale program for ISEA 2006 in San Jose. This will include an environmental bio-diesel bus tour of Silicon Valley Superfund sites, workshops, library and of course ‘free soil’¬ù gathered from free soil postings on Craig’s list.

F.R.U.I.T

F.R.U.I.T. “Exploring your city and its connection to the world via fruit!”

Do you think art and design can make a significant difference in the modern world?

Yes, I think they both can be a catalyst for change. That said, I have become a bit of a purist in my older age. I think art and design serve very different purposes. Design has been important to humans for all time. Right now is a very exciting time to be a designer because there are so many problems to be solved

As designers we have tools and knowledge to create functional, sustainable solutions for a better social, economic, political environment. The organizational skills that come along with being a designer in terms of planning are such a resource. It is time NOW to put them to good use and offer our skills to groups that are working HARD towards a better world.

What things do you find inspiring at the moment?

Sleep; homemade bread; hand made clothes; rich people who buy hybrid cars and not SUV’s. And the Chicago art scene!! Yay for so many great folks: Dan Peterman / Experimental Station etc…

Are there any big projects in the pipeline for the remainder of 2005?

2005 is winding down. We just finished Fruit and Gardening Superfund Sites which will be in 2 year travelling shows.

Finally, what should everyone do today?

Say hello to their neighbours.
Write a hand written letter to a friend or relative.

Take your shoes off and stick your feet in some dirt for a minute.

You can find out more about Amy’s projects by visiting www.futurefarmers.com or www.free-soil.org.

POSTED BY Jon

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