Apr. 20th, 2020

For a New Perspective on Seeds

An Embroidered Manifesto

Text & photos © Marginal Studio

In the past decades, rural regions worldwide have become more and more dependent on technologies that traditionally belonged to industrial production. At the same time, the urban population - which has always relied on food provided by the countryside - started searching for new ways to evolve sustainably. Designing for agricultural areas has thus become synonymous with renegotiating the borders between these two contexts - the city and the countryside - which were carved out during centuries of interdependence.

Within this balance, seeds emerge as one of the most critical components to examine. Plant varieties are bred, selected and devised to behave and produce under precise circumstances, and their seeds can be considered as the minimum designed units that replicate the conditions they were intended for. Over the last decades, seeds were perfected to absorb more chemicals and resist pests, but only in ideal conditions. It is as if the aseptic characteristics of a laboratory were extended to the whole agricultural landscape. Now it is the soil that has to adapt to the seeds and the context that has to adapt to the technology. Not vice versa. 

The countryside - which, in the collective imagery, represents abundance - can keep producing only if it is continuously filled with material, chemical, genetic and normative resources derived from the urban-industrial space. Seeds are influencing the transition of the landscape, embedding many of the contradictions of contemporary society. Patenting living organisms, establishing homogeneity criteria and creating dependency from producers are symptoms of a dominant cultural ideology that wiped out indigenous knowledge. It is a process of design by deduction, in which the technologies that constitute it are alien and obscure to the people who are enacting it.
Based on such postulates, back in 2014, we decided to seek a different understanding of these technological tools by engaging directly with those who experience the rural conflict every day - the farmers. By employing a conceptual design approach, we combined our research around seeds with the use of crafts still pertinent to the region of our study, the countryside around Verona, in the north-east of Italy.

Speculative Territories, video essay by Marginal Studio

By looking at the practices that constituted the identity of the people living in the area, we noticed that embroidery was a craft still widely diffused in many families. Focusing on this technique, we co-produced with the local population an embroidered tablecloth that illustrates the topic of seed ownership. Depicting and explaining the seed breeding process, the embroidery was the result of a dialogue that connects all the actors and interests embedded in this production chain. As a result, the tablecloth became a tool to gather information and expertise.

Entitled Speculative Territories*, our project used design to visualise and materialise an alternative scenario. By applying the skills and language of a specific geographical context, it redirected transformations towards open and decentralised innovation. Using vernacular crafts to engage in a dialogue regarding current issues, means to establish an interaction with people that would be otherwise excluded from such conversations. People that still hold knowledge - a more and more marginal one - in which we can trace, not only the roots of our culture but also the possibility of a different one.

* Speculative Territories was started in 2014 by Zeno Franchini. In 2016, the project became part of a broader design investigation entitled Decolonizing Agriculture co-conducted with Francesca Gattello under the name of Marginal Studio


Salvatore Ceccarelli, Decentralized-Participatory Plant Breeding: Adapting Crops to Environments and Clients, ICARDA, 2001
A. Natalini, L. Netti, A. Poli, C. Toraldo di Francia, Cultura Materiale Extraurbana, Alinea Editrice, 1983

About the authors
Marginal Studio was founded by Zeno Franchini and Francesca Gattello in 2016. Currently based in Palermo (Italy), the duo develops research-based projects at the cross-section between design and social practices. www.marginalstudio.com / @marginalstudio


Plant Fever is a project curated by d-o-t-s and produced by the Belgian museum CID Grand-Hornu. Visual identity by Matthieu Visentin. Exhibition scenography by Benoît Deneufbourg