"A house is not a home without a garden. "

A conversation with the activist art collective 'Fallen Fruit'

Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard;
you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger.
-Leviticus 19:10

Fallen Fruit is :

David Burns (DB),
Matias Viegener (MV) 
Austin Young (AY)

Links to Fallen Fruit:


VN: Let's have everyone stand up and shake a bit—just to loosen up...

Now that we've done that, let's get going with the conversation—

Viralnet.net has asked artists and writers to  respond to the words, home and garden.

The Home and Garden project was in itself a response to the overwhelming interest that many artists have exhibited in recent years to the ever shrinking amount of urban public space, the growth of suburban and exurban privatized space, the emergence of a global social networked space and the subsequent  questions raised in the on-going public discourse concerning art, life, science and the environment.

Can the three of you talk a bit about Fallen Fruit and the collective's history. Can you also weave 'home and garden' into the initial discussion?

MV:  A house is not a home without a garden.

VN: That's great...I'll use it for the title of the conversation.

AY: We all have fruit trees growing in our yards in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake.

I think we came up with the idea for Fallen Fruit while we were sitting under my fig tree.

MV: We began by looking at our neighborhood. We decided to create a map of the neighborhood and the space between our three homes.

DB: One of the primary things that Fallen Fruit thinks about are the boundaries of private space and public space...this is often the line between the sidewalk or alley (the city) and the garden space around a home.

MV: In the map we were interested in describing what we called "Public Fruit."

"Public Fruit" came to mean fruit growing on private property but intruding into public spaces. This brings up many issues around the tension between public and private properties in an urban space like Los Angeles.

AY: We discovered in the process that we share a common bond, that bond is a collective love of fruit.

MV: Yes, we all love fruit, and we are all interested in what you could call boundary issues.

VN: The idea of challenging the boundaries between the public and the private is interesting on a physical level—how about on the social level?

DB: On a social level we share a love of the city and the ideas of sharing and exchange-we ask ourselves to think about our relationships to the place we live and our relationships to the people we meet.

MV: One of the best illustrations of the boundary question comes when we lead public fruit tours through different neighborhoods.

AY: We are pointing out a resource that is available in everyone's neighborhood. Fruit planted on private yards, that overhangs the sidewalk or public space.

Some people find that challenging. but most people enjoy this idea of sharing. We encourage people to plant on the perimeter of their properties as well.

MV: We walk along a street with 80 people or so, with shopping carts, and fruit pickers, and then we'll stop in front of people's houses to pick fruit—of course, we pick only fruit growing in public space.

VN: Doesn't the simple act of sharing trespass the boundaries established by capitalism and the market ?

MV:  Yes, we are challenging conventional notions of private property.

AY: I think we are claiming to operate within a boundary that is both public and private space.

I think only some people would dispute the ownership of their fruit. Fruit trees are very abundant. It's exciting that in the future neighborhoods will have even more trees—We just had two fruit tree adoptions.

MV: When we do our tours we usually get one of three responses:

From participants on the tour, they ask, "Is the fruit edible? " (Yes it is.)

From the homeowners we get the asked,  "Please pick more!" or "Come into our back yard and pick some peaches, loquats, oranges" (Bingo!)

Very few people have had a negative reaction.

VN: The responses are very telling. They are a reflection on how we are taught to think about food and food production... there's an assumption that authority breeds safety—is it edible?' is a really interesting question.

AY: Is authority edible??

MV: Yes, that is the most surprising response in a way. How alienated we are from our own food.

DB: Perhaps all of Fallen Fruit's social projects (Nocturnal Fruit Forages, Public Fruit Jams, Fruit Tree Adoptions, etc.) address a willingness to let go of the expectation of a boundary, social condition, or any system of limitation. Maybe these events  and interventions focus on the boundaries in a way that encourages participants to engage openly (we consider everything a collaboration.)

MV: Sometimes in doing this work we meet kids who don't know that fruit actually grows on trees, not on shelves.

VN: I'm not sure if authority is edible...but if it is—it probably tastes a little bitter.

DB: Most people don't think about their relationship to food, but through our projects and collaborations we always hear stories from people about the fruit they have in their homes, in their gardens, and in their neighborhoods.

MV: Collaboration becomes the theme that connects many disparate projects for us (in addition to fruit, which is in everything we do.)

DB: I can't imagine a home without a fruit tree. (at least one)

AY: I know. David's figs are really incredible.

MV: My guess is that what we are proposing will become much more common—not because of us, but because of the hard times ahead.

AY: Public fruit trees and chickens in your yard are now in fashion...end times chic.

MV: Loquats. I love loquats. A big Fallen Fruit secret is that David does not like avocados.

VN: How does education, fit into your project?

AY:  We have a lot of educational materials on our website in the form of PDF flyers.

DB: We generate handouts, texts and maps...materials that contain a lot of information. 

But we also encourage conversation. When we organize an event everyone has something to share and is willing to talk about their experiences and expertise.

MV: We see education as a key, but it is pretty much embedded in a kind of play.

AY: At a jam making session, people trade information on trees, local fruit and jamming.

VN:  Play seems to be crucial for 'participatory' work to function...do you agree?

DB: The openness and conversations that are generated through the work are truly amazing—everyone has a story about fruit.

MV: Learning about fruit, learning about neighborhoods, but most importantly learning about other people and where they come from...

AY: Yeah. we encourage people to sit with folks they don't know.

DB: We are really focused on play, less about rules and conditions. At the Public Fruit Jams, we have instructions that are very simple...but we don't want people to follow recipes for example...we encourage  improvisational jamming.

MV: For us play is the highest of all social forms...not necessarily play as is in poker or football, but the really deep kind of play.

DB: Play is where the experience is negotiated by the participants.

MV: Play without rules, the kind of play that's not really a game, but an openness to experience and improvisation.

VN: Explain 'Deep Play' a bit more.

MV: 'Deep Play' is when you don't actually realize that you are "playing."

DB: I interpret 'Deep Play' as the kind of play when you lose yourself in the experience...this certainly happens at the Public Fruit Jams.

MV: 'Deep Play' blurs the boundary between everyday life and a heightened experience.

AY: 'Deep Play' is  transformative.

MV: You get lost in 'Deep Play'.

DB: People get into the jamming so much they forget their age, what they are wearing (nice clothes stained with fruit), that they just met all of the people they are collaborating with, etc...and the smell of fruity sugary goodness permeates the air.

VN: Do you think 'Deep Play' is a form of groundlessness?

MV: Hmm. I'd say 'Deep Play' has many grounds, not a single ground.

AY: I think it's completely authentic.

MV: It crosses boundaries.

AY: The Jam sessions are kind of like a drumming circle. and everyone is high on sucrose.

MV: Oh the best part of jamming is when people just get their hands right into it and start mashing fruit with their hands. It's as if they just want to jump right in.

DB: Ha, i love that too! Its funny too, because making jam is a ritual in some ways. Historically it would take place in the home,  making small batches of jam for the family. 

DB: People really let go of their senses and expectations...

AY: But there is that point where it becomes frenzied like spinning dervishes.

MV: Making a mess of some kind might be part of 'Deep Play' too...

VN: 'Deep Play' then tends to illustrate our creative 'elasticity' while it subverts our social inhibitions.

DB: People aren't even concerned about the outcome, or if they did it correctly, they completely engage in the experience... the group experience.

MV: That sounds right on.

MV: Maybe 'Deep Play' is more about a group mind or collective mind.

DB:  Rather than an individual mind.

AY: Yes. I think people don't get to experience that kind of group play very often.

VN: Let's bring this around to the question of activity...is Fallen Fruit an activity or a group of 'activists' ?

AY: Neither?

DB: Fallen Fruit is collaboration on many levels.

AY: We think of ourselves as art makers.

MV: We all have definite political ideas though.

VN: How do you fit the 'political ideas' into the Fallen Fruit process?

DB: I think it depends on the point of view.

AY: We see it through 'the lens of fruit.'

MV: We believe in sustainability, community empowerment, new forms of interaction.

DB: Fruit, after all is a symbol of generosity and goodness.

MV: I think the political ideas are in the backdrop, not the forefront.

AY: I think our politics must be seen through the metaphors we create in our work.

DB: I completely disagree with Matias, but in a supportive way.

VN: In what way do you disagree with Matais?

DB: We all have different ways we think about the project.

AY: However fruit remains the center of our focus.

MV: Some people see the work as very confrontational and political...again, I think for us it is an attempt at group play.

VN: I really like the description 'the lens of fruit'...maybe the lens is focused on generosity and exchange?

AY: We are not being obscure. Fruit is our subject matter.

MV: The first way I see fruit as a lens in our work is sort of optical.

DB: Fallen Fruit provokes many ideas that are political and social...there is a reference to morals and ethics...one of the first things we did is quote Leviticus in the bible for example.

MV: Blake has that great quote: "to see the world in a grain of sand"—and by that he means you can take any individual element and use it to look at the entire world. In that sense it's optical.

AY: Ah yes,  the idea of the garden of eden is also important in our work.

MV: We use fruit to help us see new things about the world.

VN: And help others see as well?

MV: To see things we haven't seen or looked at before.

We don't have a simple distinction between us and the "public" or the viewer in our work...that's why so much of it is collaborative.

DB: We have learned that fruit is many things. It is personal and symbolic, but it's also just a banana or an apple. in this way, there are many levels of complexity. When you look at world history and cultures the complexities are enhanced.

MV: And not just between the three of us, but between us, the viewer, the participant and the recipient of the work.

VN: When we're jamming with you we just let go and enjoy the fruit...do you perceive a boundary between art and life?

AY: One of our current projects is called, 'Fruit Stories.'  We are gathering stories about fruit and putting them on video. This way we are collecting peoples experiences as art.

MV: In the end the life category has to be more important than the art category. We live in the world, not the gallery.

DB: You can't easily define "what is life" and  "what is art"?  So maybe that boundary is a nice place to play between.

MV: For all of us, the fruit jams are pretty much the key element in our whole work...you can look at the jar of jam and see that it is beautiful, that it has certain aesthetic qualities of color, form, texture and of course taste.

DB: Make art but enjoy life.

MV: But the jar of jam itself is not the point for us, nor is it our "art." Making the jam, the talking, the mess, the interaction, the humor, the conversations, etc., they are what we love the most.

AY: Yes. I think we all really have fun with fallen fruit.

MV: A simple way to say it would be that we are into process more than product...but that's not entirely right either. Because we do make products (images, texts, installations, video, etc.) but they would have no meaning without the primary attention to process.

VN:  Maybe it can be 'boiled down' to the point of avoiding binaries in one's practice and one's life—it sounds like you're foregrounding experience over product.

DB: We're very interested in the slippage of these frames.

MV: Yes, the 'being-there' of it.

AY: Fallen Fruit is alive. We keep it riding between the boundaries. It is constantly moving and changing. It is an on-going experience.

VN: Great! Thanks to the three of you...We love Fallen Fruit!