Since the beginning of the 21st century, over half the world's population now dwell in cities. That means 3.3 billion people live on only 3% of the earth's surface. What are the consequences of this shift? Can the countryside survive the economic, demographic, cultural and ecological ravages of this abandonment? Is a decent, humane life possible in the modern megalopolis that is bursting at its seams? These are the questions that Noorderlicht is placing at the heart of its photo festivals for the coming two years.
We like to think of the countryside as idyllic: life in harmony with nature, in self-reliant communities where everyone knows everyone else and family ties are strong. Perhaps the work is hard, but it is truly satisfying. And Sundays there is the rest and regularity of strolling through the village.
That world – far distant from the impersonal roller coaster of the urban 24/7 economy – no longer exists. UN reports sketch a gloomy picture, particularly for rural life in the non-Western world. Poverty is the norm, social mobility is limited to the departure of the young, the countryside is ageing. In the West the decline in rural living standards is not yet that serious, but where would life in the countryside be without agricultural subsidies? Moreover, here we can also see how the level of services is crumbling and that population centres in rural regions are shrinking.
In 2011 Groningen will be the location for the second part of this diptych: Metropolis – City Life in the Urban Age.
11 Sept-9 Oct in the Der Aa-kerk, Groningen
Land – Country Life in the Urban Age shows that the city and countryside have developed a symbiotic relationship. The city is the focus of economic and social activity; the country supports it. The consequences are far-reaching. Agriculture is oriented to large-scale production at minimal cost, the growing demand for agricultural products accelerates the destruction of the tropical rain forest, whole regions are allocated new uses as the result of increasing need for water, while the intensification of production with modern agricultural and bio-technologies leaves its own marks. Add to that picture the continuing exploitation of increasingly scarce natural resources, and the economic and demographic consequences of migration to the cities, and it is clear: the countryside faces serious challenges in the 21st century.
On the basis of work by about thirty photographers, in its 2010 Photofestival Noorderlicht sketches a picture of a countryside in crisis. From Nadav Kander's journey along the Yangtze River to Rodrigo Zeferino’s look at the industrialisation of the interior of Brazil, from Ian Teh's almost extraterrestrial panoramic photographs of the Chinese hinterland to Larisa Sitar's series of Romanian villas, built by migrants who want to guard their place on the social ladder in their absence, from the struggling industries in Bangladesh to the strength that emanates from Jackie Nickerson's Zimbabwean farm workers, the question is always the same: what role does the countryside play in our contemporary, urbanised and global economy? And is it possible, against all economic logic, to give rural life a new value?