formafantasma’s ‘oltre terra. why wool matters’ explores the co-evolution of sheep & humanity

Oltre Terra by Formafantasma 

From May 26 to October 1, 2023, The National Museum of Norway in Oslo will host the exhibition ‘Oltre Terra. Why Wool Matters’ curated by Hanne Eide. In this exhibition, the Italian design studio Formafantasma delves into the intricate relationship between the extraction, production, and distribution of wool products and the fascinating biological evolution of sheep. Oltre Terra endeavors to redefine the approach to presenting materials, objects, and technologies in exhibitions by incorporating the indispensable contribution of other-than-human entities involved in their production.

The exhibition takes its name from the etymology of the term ‘transhumance,’ which originates from the Latin words ‘trans’ (meaning ‘across,’ or ‘oltre’ in Italian) and ‘humus’ (meaning ‘grounds’ or ‘terra’). Transhumant practices revolve around the seasonal movement of livestock between grazing grounds, guided by the availability of nutrients and resources.

formafantasma's 'oltre terra. why wool matters' explores the co-evolution of sheep & humanity
all images by Nasjonalmuseet / Ina Wesenberg, unless stated otherwise

the co-evolutionary journey of humans and sheep

Approximately 11,000 years ago, a significant shift occurred in human society as hunter-gatherers adopted a more sustainable approach to interacting with sheep. Instead of indiscriminate hunting, they began to manage and selectively cull flocks, unintentionally initiating a fascinating process of co-domestication. This marked the birth of livestock and, over centuries, the evolution of the domestic sheep as we know it today.

‘The effects of this process, however, have never been solely unidirectional – that is, from humans towards animals. Rather, a complex co-evolution has taken place: if mankind transformed sheep biologically, through domestication and selective breeding, sheep have in turn powerfully shaped the course of human history by providing wool, nourishment, and guidance in territorial exploration, thanks to the practice of transhumance,’ shared the team at Formafantasma. 

formafantasma's 'oltre terra. why wool matters' explores the co-evolution of sheep & humanity
image by Formafantasma

‘In the context of the exhibition, the idea of “crossing grounds” also reflects the transdisciplinary attitude that defines the show.’ The research for Oltre Terra has been an attempt at extensive dialogue and collaboration among diverse practitioners, including designers, artists, anthropologists, evolutionists, legal experts, curators, shepherds, and farmers.

The display presents a thought-provoking reimagining of the traditional diorama display. Typically utilized in natural history museums to depict static scenes from the natural world, this installation deconstructs the diorama concept. It incorporates six life-sized replicas of diverse sheep breeds alongside a collection of documents, films, by-products from production processes, and various organic substances.

By combining materials, techniques, and living organisms, Oltre Terra challenges the current categorizations that artificially separate humans from animals and products from biological matter. Complementing the exhibition, philosopher Emanuele Coccia provides detailed captions that offer an interpretation of these diverse materials and their interconnections.

formafantasma's 'oltre terra. why wool matters' explores the co-evolution of sheep & humanity
image by Formafantasma, work in progress of animal reproductions at Ecofauna’s workshop, 2023, Prato, Italy

The focal point of the installation is the video named ‘Tactile afferents’, a collaborative work by artist Joanna Piotrowska and Formafantasma. The film is co-produced by Nasjonalmuseet and Fondazione In Between Art Film. The movie offers a distinct perspective on the show’s themes by centering on the sense of touch. It delves into concepts of co-domestication, showcasing both the delicate bond and affection between different species while also shedding light on its potential for aggression and harm.

The installation also hosts a woolen carpet produced by cc-tapis. This carpet is crafted from a combination of four distinct wool fibers sourced from twelve rustic Italian sheep breeds. While coarser wool fibers are typically disregarded as low-grade material, they find purpose in products that do not come into direct contact with the skin.

formafantasma's 'oltre terra. why wool matters' explores the co-evolution of sheep & humanity
© Joanna Piotrowska and Formafantasma, Tactile Afferents, 2023, co-produced by Nasjonalmuseet and Fondazione In Between Art Film | still from the movie

formafantasma's 'oltre terra. why wool matters' explores the co-evolution of sheep & humanity
Hall & Co., Snowdrop, Grand Champion Ewe of the Sydney Sheep Show, 1937, Sydney, Australia, photograph, mounted, paper

formafantasma's 'oltre terra. why wool matters' explores the co-evolution of sheep & humanity

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