I had the grand plan of writing a post focusing on anything "socially &politically-engaged" i could spot at Frieze. As the less naive than i am might have forecast, the art fair's main objective wasn't to satisfy my quest. It did however a few gems. Fernando García-Dory's Angry Farmers Milk Bar was one of them.
The Spanish artist and activist invited members of the Farmers' Union of Wales to run a milk bar at the fair. Pints of milk were offered at a price visitors were willing to pay.
The small bar gave farmers an opportunity to discuss with customers, hand out information leaflets and voice their concerns about the inadequate prices paid to them by supermarkets for their milk and more generally about the critical state of farming in Wales and England.
Wales has about 1,900 dairy farmers but their number of farmers is in sharp decline. Today, Wales count 40% fewer dairy farmers than in 2002.
I found the project touching, intelligent and convincing. I doubt many of the visitors of the fair are the ones on the lookout for BOGOF offers at Tesco and they probably don't pay much attention to the price of milk before reaching for a bottle at the supermarket, but many were eager to listen to the farmer's anxieties and reflect on what the fair price for a pint of milk might be.
The Angry Farmers Milk Bar was part of a much broader food-related programme of performance, debates, meals, and market food stalls hosted by Frieze Foundation and the Grizedale Arts Project, an art organization cum working farm based in the Lake District. The various events and projects took place inside and around the Colisseum of the Consumed, a bespoke structure designed by The Yangjiang Group. The construction resembled a Roman amphitheatre. Visitors could climb up to the platform to watch the performances from above or walk around the outer colonnade to buy horse milk, dumplings 'made from oppressed potatoes', fortune cookies containing art messages, cakes and other goods produced by invited organizations. I got myself a small bowl of Ruskin Grave Soup containing vegetable "grown on Ruskin's grave." It cost 2 pounds and that was probably the only thing i could afford at the art fair.
Grizedale Arts is a publicly funded arts organisation which might in part explain why i found the Colosseum of the Consumed so pertinent to my usual concerns. The whole programme was also a big, entertaining party. Here's a few examples of events that took place at the Colosseum during the fair:
A dinner of fauna and flora vermin was prepared by Sam Cook of Moro. I read that squirrels were on the menu.
William Pope L. organized a battle of tomatoes.
Margot Henderson cooked and served a 'red meal' for red-headed curators.
Alistair Frost offered post-watercooler alcopops.
Yangjiang Group made calligraphy with the leftover food from previous meals.
After Agri is a collaborative investigation between Michiko Nitta and Michael Burton. Their collaboration looks at the future evolutions of our food systems, asking What new cultural revolution will replace agriculture? How will our species and civilisation be transformed?
I met Michiko and Michael ages ago, when they were among the first students graduating from the course of Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London. I liked these two a lot at the time so when i found out in an exhibition guide that had teamed up to form After Agri, i thought i needed to have a close look at their website. It's still early days for After Agri but their portfolio is as provocative and ingenious as i had expected.
Taking into account the latest advances in synthetic biology, geo-engineering, nutrigenomics and other areas of scientific research but also shifts in cultural taboos, issues of climate change and overpopulation, their latest projects include an exhibition exploring two possible future food cultures: Algaculture which proposed a greater symbiosis between algae and the human body and the Republic of Salivation, a dark scenario that sees Governments enforcing restricted food policies where the type of food a citizen receives responds to the emotional, intellectual and physical demands of their job.
More recently, Michiko and Michael were at the Victoria and Albert Museum with an 'Algae Opera' performance that demonstrated in the most spectacular how singers with powerful lung capacity might produce food in a future world where algae have become the world's dominant food source.
The Feast After Agri proposes new food cultures to revolutionize the way we feed ourselves. For the exhibition 'Food Forward' which took place at Stroom a few months ago, you explored two of the seven future food cultures from The Feast After Agri in greater depth: Algaculture and the Republic of Salivation. What are the other 5 future food culture? Could you describe them briefly and tell us which science and technology research has inspired them?
The Feast After Agri project searches for actions, research and experiments that might change the way we produce food and shape our world. Whilst some projects within After Agri propose new foods, we are fascinated by ways to redefine food altogether. We look for signposts to the changes in our behavior that might have a similar magnitude to our historic leap from a hunter-gatherer to an agriculture existence 10,000 years ago. And subsequently how new food and body-fuelling cultures will change our world and our human evolution.
Besides Algaculture and the Republic of Salivation, the Feast After Agri currently proposes five food cultures that respond to a variety of sources. For instance the Symbiotic Bacterial Nation creates a food culture shaped by synthetic biology.
The Subterranean Troglodytes carve out a new niche underground to seek refuge from the spreading desert and UV radiation baked surface of our planet.
Whereas Bovineopolis reflects what Carolyn Steel writes about in her book, Hungry City that "Cities have always moulded nature in their image". Bovineopolis, takes a sideways look at the reality of in-vitro meat production. Here Fetal Bovine serum, an extract from a calf fetus, used in cell culturing is the city's re-rendering of beef. These and the other proposals continue to be developed and will be worked-up to full projects in the future.
I also had a look at your map of the Feast After Agri and it seems that the various food cultures are distributed geographically? Which criteria makes you decide which food culture would be implemented in which part of the world?
The map explores how new geographical boundaries and geo-engineering projects may be re-drawn on top of existing territories according to new food cultures. Instead of a standardized food culture across the globe, the Feast After Agri map charts the diversification in how we respond and evolve to our food and body-fuelling methods.
This map will change and be reconfigured as we add more food cultures and chart the changing climate and geographical composition over time.
In your future food scenarios, do you also see differences in social classes with, for example, privileged people being able to carry on eating as we know it now?
The role between social class systems and diet is a very strong feature in most of the scenarios but particularly the Republic of Salivation. Here the design of diet is used by the Government to enable a citizen workforce to deliver their role in society. For instance, manual workers are given a provision of food that is high in modified starch - to enable the body to run for longer on the least food. Whereas the intellectuals of the country are fed scarcer food like fish, rich in omega 3 fatty acids and fresh fruit, to enrich brain function.
The scenario not only projects into the future but also reflects on the past. In developing the Republic of Salivation we were particularly interested in how food was re-evaluated as fuel for the work-force body in the Victorian workhouses.
I'm curious about the The Algae Opera that took place last month at the V&A. Somehow, you managed to convince a mezzo-soprano to be 'transformed with biotechnology to form a unique relationship with algae.' What do you mean by "transformed"?
The role of transformation in The Algae Opera is a physical and cultural one. We identified the opera singer as the perfect body morphology for the production of algae. The singer's large lung capacity was perfect to exhale the maximum CO2 to feed the algae. To facilitate the process further, the singer, Louise Ashcroft, worked with composer, Gameshow Outpatient, to re-design her singing technique.
The opera aspect of the piece was a second crucial component as we wanted to explore some exciting new research like that carried out by Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford called sonic food enhancement. Gameshow Outpatient and Louise re-designed many conventional operatic techniques. Gameshow Outpatient's Matt Roger described the process as:
"We wanted to create a vocal ritual overtly focused on breath as much as singing, since breath is a fundamental connection between singer and algae, with breath control a technical fundament of singing itself. With this in mind we revisited traditional singing techniques to make explicit the role of breath and breath control in them, the impact on tone colour and stamina for example, seeking to explore 'fragility' as much as 'strength'. We wanted the piece to represent an imaginary 'folk' music, born of a Human/Algae symbiote culture where breath itself is the revered symbol of existence."
Louise's role as a singer was also re-examined and she reflects on the process:
"I have to make a significant shift in the use of breath. The algae mask captures CO2 to grow the algae and requires a non-reflexive breath cycle to maximise CO2 output. This means the singer needs to take the breath cycle to the point of collapse. In today's opera tradition, this type of breath cycle is considered inefficient and undesirable due to the issues surrounding sustainability and aesthetic. However, in The Algae Opera, a breath cycle based on a point of collapse is considered efficient and ultimately desirable, for it produces more algae.
In terms of the sonic enhancement of the algae, our relationship to pitch, tone and vocal colour also changes. Tone and colour in the algae framework is no longer linked just to text and texture, but also to flavour. What this means for me as a trained singer, is that I have to re-think technique, the purpose of the voice and explore a new vocal aesthetic to ensure that an algae sound creates food to feed you and me."
As shown in the diagram, the algae suit/mask works by pumping CO2 from the singer to the algae in the tanks. With a little fertilizer the algae feed and grow. Over a couple of performances the algae population is sufficient enough to harvest. In the opera piece, a chef strains the algae and uses it to make a sushi-like meal that is fed to the audience. The two acts of the opera are composed to consist of sound pitches to enhance the audience's taste of bitterness and sweetness as they eat. As such, they consume the performer's talent and taste her song.
Algaculture is fairly seducing but the Republic of Salivation is downright revolting (or maybe it's just me). What reaction do you expect people to have when they discover the food cultures you're bringing forward?
We're not afraid to investigate the good, bad and ugly future of food cultures. We can't escape the fact that we will have to change our food production methods. Already there's a food crisis and our human population maintains its growth. And hungry people make for a future of panic, civil unrest, conflict and death. However, we still have the luxury now to think, explore, play and try alternative choices.
We are not only interested in the future food itself - we are fascinated in the largest systems that our food systems shape. The scientific research area of nutrigenomics reveals that we literally are what we eat. Our food guides our human evolution.
Also, we want to highlight the ecology of food systems. Therefore After Agri aims to discover how future food cultures will shape our physical world from town planning, landscapes and our global climate. We want to offer a glimpse into how developments in food technology will guide how we live together in societies, inform our political systems and give us new national identities. The projects also aim to consider how our future body-fuelling cultures will change our relationship with the planet's biodiversity and may allow us to populate new ecological niches.
Although these are potential futures, we are not saying these will actually be the future. We hope they act as a mirror onto ourselves to consider the ecological web our food cultures impact on and the sacrifices we will be required to make in subsequent human generations.
Are there any ongoing research in future way of feeding the population that you actually find exciting and would love to try out?
The full integration of algae into the body to make us semi-photosynthetic that features in the Algaculture project is something we would love to try. It's the most extreme transformation of the body we've explored so far and it has the most sacrifices to our current way of life and dietary traditions. Despite these challenges, we would love to feel what it's like to feed from the sun via the algae.
Also we are excited by the research of Alan Horsager, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Genetic Medicine at the University of Southern California. His research implants algae genes in the eyes of blind mice to regain a basic sight perception. In the development of the project we have briefly explored the potential of our bodies gaining a new bodily sensory perception through the light sensitivity of the algae when they are fully integrated, as an interesting by-product of a new dietary lifestyle.
You just published After... The Birth Issue. Can you talk to us about the publication? What do we find inside? Is this the first one of a longer series of books related to a specific topic?
After... is a quarterly journal. Online it can be found at www.afterafter.co.uk. It features work that investigates, experiments and inspires new ways to see our world. It is a way to explore how all of us fit into our shifting and fascinating future.
The journal adopts free-thinking discovery to enhance our understanding of ourselves. We don't want to wait for the future to happen to us. Instead, After... is a place for like-minded people who want to be a part of creating that future.
Inside can be found focused, reflective documentaries, proposals and prototypes for alternative futures. It's a bit of a marriage of East meets West with influences from Michiko's Japanese and Michael's UK backgrounds.
Please let us know if you would like to receive our journal directly or be part of future editions.
Any upcoming project you'd like to share with us?
We are working on the autumn After... issue. We are currently working on two commissions that will launch in October and November. Also we are building ideas and work for a solo exhibition next year called Isoculture. Please check our website for further updates and launch news.
Thanks Michiko and Michael!
During my short stay in Amsterdam, i enthusiastically entered the exhibition
A day after the tsunami damaged a nuclear reactor at Fukushima on 11 March 2011, inhabitants living within 20km of the power plant were forcibly evacuated. They were not allowed to take their personal belongings, pets and farm animals with them. On 14 March, the hydrogen explosion at the power plant made it unlikely that the evacuees might be allowed to return home on time to find their animals alive.
A few weeks after the disaster, Japanese photographer Yasusuke Ota accompanied a group of volunteers who entered the 'No go' area at risk to their own life to bring food and water to the animals. They 'found themselves in a hell on earth.' I'm not brave enough to copy paste the details of the tragedies they witnessed but you can find more information on the exhibition page.
The surviving animals are still - 18 months later - patiently waiting for owners to come back.
'This tragedy was for some reason not reported by the Japanese media at first, and the truth is that there has been no proper help given to these animals even after one and a half years. I felt I needed to inform the world and leave evidence of what really happened. So I started to take photos of this while going inside the zone on rescue,' writes Ota. 'Please don't turn your eyes away from the reality.'
I didn't get the chance to see Five Thousand Generations of Birds but the idea and its result are so seducing i thought i should write something about it. Five Thousand Generations of Birds was an exhibition located in the archipelago of Fitjar, on the West coast of Norway, - a landscape consisting of 381 islands, isles and reefs.
Roman Signer planted a pair of blue boots on poles on a reef. Not only is the reef in the middle of nowhere but it is not even visible when the tide is high.
Joanna Malinowska asked an opera singer to stand and sing on one of the isles.
Miks Mitrevics chose to spent 15 days in complete silence on one of the isles. All by himself and sleeping in a shelter he had built. He communicated through letters he sent on a floating mailbox in the sea. The locals brought him fresh fish to eat, sheep for company and magazines for entertainment on their own initiative.
Norwegian duo aiPotu measured an island, transporting a big tree from land by sea and using it as the measurement.
Five Thousand Generations of Birds showed art that interrupts, disrupts and transforms the landscape and the local community. In the end the exhibition -which lasted only a couple of days- all was back to normal. The islands, isles and reefs are ruling the landscape almost as if nothing ever happened. The only difference is that the local communities and visitors are probably looking at it with another eye.
Well, as i wrote, i wasn't there to experience it but that didn't prevent me from asking the curators to tell me about the project:
Hi, Andrea and Silje! The way you made Five Thousand Generations of Birds is probably as fascinating as what you made. Could you tell us about the challenges in logistics (transport, construction, shipping, etc) you encountered while preparing the exhibition?
Obviously, most of us were not used to these kinds of logistics. Working on tiny isles could be compared to working inside a bus, driving in circles in a roundabout, with the windows wide open, without seats, and without a driver. Still, it hasn't been more challenging or time consuming than we expected. We wanted the logistics to be an intrusive part of the process.
On the other hand, to actually live there and never be able to escape the context was more of a challenge than what we expected. After work every day, the artists where shipped to their residence at a small island called Engesund, and had to stay there until the local boat drivers started their shift around 10 o´clock the morning after. Some said that at first it felt like some sort of a claustrophobic art prison, but after a few days, this prison created an unique atmosphere and an open dialogue between the artists.
The projects were in constant change, not only due to artistic freedom, but also due to the fact that the exhibition space was regularly modified by storms, heavy rain, wild sheep eating the art, etc. This lead to quite a few problematic practicalities that had to be solved during the last days. Thanks to resources that seemed to appear as if by magic, and a lot of enthusiastic people, we were able to make it happen.
One example is the work of Julien Berthier (FR). After finding the geographical center of Fitjar and detaching it from its ground, he wanted to transport the 3,2 meters in diameter and 650 kilos center with a helicopter to place it on his isle. Fortunately the first windmill for a huge windmill park in the Fitjar mountains was being shipped at this time, and there was a lot of helicopters cruising around in the area, so one of the helicopter drivers agreed on shipping the center of Fitjar in between the windmill-work.
Another example is Tori Wrånes (NO) diving board. She needed to mount the board on a cliff wall for her performance. A good climber was required for this task. After talking to some of the locals it actually turned out that an Australian free-climber was hanging out in Fitjar, just waiting for adventures, he was booked and was a great recourse during the rest of the project.
All in all, several projects could not have been realized without us partly relying on the strategy of chance. A strategy that is used by many of the locals in Fitjar, they say you just have to spread the word, and everything is pretty much solved within an hour.
Ftgofbirds takes place on the archipelago of Fitjar which is made of 381 islands, isles and reefs. I suspect you must have met with some ecological concerns when you submitted the idea of organizing this weekend of site specific works. Did you have to meet requirements related to the land or the eco system for example? Did any of them force you and the artists to modify some of the projects or modes of operation?
As we started the process of getting permission to work at the islands in 2009, we already knew that we wanted to emphasize production on site, which meant no shipping of finished works from around the world. This strategy of course limited the amount of materials available, but increased the involvement with the local community and also saved the amount of transport needed.
Taking a look at the history of Fitjar and other places along the Norwegian coast, you don't have to go more than 60-80 years back in time to find documents of how people who lived on the islands had to risk their lives when rowing out to buy materials for their farms and houses. There are plenty of stories of people who drowned as their boats were caught by bad weather, and the only traces left to find were pieces of wood floating on the water. The stories have set a dark, uncanny backdrop for us as artists in our constant hunt for materials.
Concerning requirements we were not allowed to make any permanent marks in the landscape except from drilling a few holes with a maximum of 12 millimeter diameter on each isle.
This rule shaped some of the artists work. One of them, Øyvind Aspen (NO), worked with the idea of a tiny drilled hole as the only permanent, physical mark anyone could make and drilled a 13 millimeter hole in his island. The performance based installation was titled; "One out of two mystical possibly magical passages tumbling the hell away from this godforsaken place." His character Øy-vind (island-wind), a mixture of a hillbilly/magician/fisherman, was spotted cruising around in Fitjar on a scooter, flirting with the local teens, visiting the area, while handing out flyers with information of this proclaimed passage.
As the only inhabitants on the isles, the birds that usually live there were a big concern during the production, but as the hatching season was over, the birds easily relocated to the neighbour isles.
I'm also curious about the local communities. How did they react to the project?
The local community has been a very important part of the project.
We thought it would be a struggle to engage the local communities, but they proved us wrong every time we came up with a new idea. People have been curious and eager to work with us.
Ever since the municipality got involved, we have regularly visited Fitjar to have meetings with a local resource group who have been helping out with logistics, etc. Without this connection the project would have been very hard to conduct. A couple of weeks before the exhibition, we sent a very informal letter to all the residents at Fitjar, introducing us and the project and giving everyone an invitation to the exhibition. Approximately 2500 people visited Five Thousand Generations of Birds during the weekend, most of them from the area, and Fitjar is a small town of only 3000 inhabitants. We heard this after we left: "There is a new era in Fitjar. Before and after Erlend Helland, (the local taxi driver), attended an art exhibition."
Kunstverein St. Pauli, a nomadic gallery that came from Hamburg to join the programme brought a tattoo needle with them, so that people could get free island tattoos. Several artists, the crew, volunteers and the audience got tattoos with one of the islands surrounding Smedholmen.
What guided the selection of artists? And according to what criteria did you attribute an island to each one?
We are both artists, and wanted the strategies to be based upon artists inviting artists. The selection has been made from several criteria related to our intuition, association, our common sense of humour, but most of all we have have been working together for so many years that we just created our own sense of logic related to this project. This logic or these rules are hard to categorize or even grasp, and they have been changing alongside the constant work in progress.
Other important aspects guided our selection:
- We wanted to approach the process in the same way as we would do in our artistic production. The site is also a logical choice based on our own artistic production.
Each of the works created was temporary and site-specific but do you think that they might also leave something permanent behind them?
We wanted the exhibition to be temporary. We wanted the works to be seen within two days by the audience. For a sculpture-based work, this is a relatively short time, but for a performative work, the duration had to be up to 8 hours since we wanted all the works to be present at the same time.
There might be some actual physical traces of the works left behind, even though we wanted the landscape to appear untouched after the show was over, it was a strong request from the locals that we would leave some of it there. Roman Signer donated his sculpture "Ladder with Boots" to Fitjar. This can hopefully be seen for many years, and it's interesting to see what happens over time to a work that is meant to be temporary.
Other artists donated their works to the volunteers of the projects, some of the sculptural works can be seen in gardens around Fitjar.
The geographical center of Fitjar is also marked permanently with the pole Julien Berthier put down after ending his project.
The permanent effect will be easier to talk about later, after we have visited again, and after the stories related to the project have spread.
A local change should not be underestimated.
The documentation of the exhibition, and the tales of before and after, have been difficult, as the images and the words could romanticize this kind of artistic practice. The experience of being present during the exhibition was much more subtle and demanding.
All images courtesy of the curators.
As i mentioned this morning, The Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh has recently opened The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an exhibition that takes the famous "Doomsday Vault" as its starting point.
Opened in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) preserves seeds from nearly every nation on Earth in an underground cavern engineered to withstand catastrophe. It is located on the outskirts of Longyearbyen, on the arctic island of Spitsbergen, Svalbard Archipelago, halfway between the North Pole and Norway.
The seeds stored in this biological safety deposit box are duplicate samples held in seed banks worldwide. The facility is about 130 meters above sea level to protect it against any rise in sea level as a result of global warming, nuclear attack, and earth quakes. The vault itself has been tunnelled 120 meters into the mountain, in order to guarantee stable permafrost.
The exhibition currently on view at the Center for Postnatural History is a joint research and extrapolative project by artists Signe Lidén, Annesofie Norn, and Steve Rowell. Together, they examine the meaning and function of the world's largest and most well-protected collection of agricultural diversity.
The artists traveled to Longyearbyen in February, August, and September 2011 and came back with hundreds of photographs, videos, and audio recordings. The collaborative work also includes an experimental garden, field guide, and map from a survival kit designed to help future generations successfully locate this critical cache of seeds.
Steve Rowell: "The map above reveals the speculative geopolitics of the territory surrounding the vault, in a possible future-scenario in which China, Russia, and NATO have established military bases and industrial sites there. The document includes locations of navigation hazards, beacons, and other points of interest: emergency food/fuel caches, communication towers, weapons dump sites (radiological, chemical, even biological), wind turbine farms, ship wrecks, ruined oil platforms, undersea communication cables, etc. Since a treaty was signed in 1925, Svalbard has been officially demilitarized. But, WWII saw the sacking and burning of Longyearbyen by German troops and covert intelligence activities by both the US and USSR. Evidence of this can be found in historic photos and declassified documents and maps in the Cold Coast Archive exhibition."
The Cold Coast Archive project investigates and explores human beings' efforts to preserve civilization and defy the inevitability of its demise. We look at the vault as a whole: its practical, political, historical and symbolic structure, its arctic location, as well as its infrastructure and cultural nuances, with all the research concentrated at this site, as a backdrop to explore the human relationship to time between now and eternity.
I spent several hours yesterday clicking through the website of the project. It contains sound files that gives us a feeling of the atmosphere in the area as well as video interviews with the people who live there: from the world´s northernmost surfer to the miners working in the coal mine, from volunteers attempting to protect the coast from oil spills to experts in plant breeding and genetics. And of course there are dozens of stunning images. I've asked Steve Rowell to comment a couple of them for us:
Steve Rowell: "This is an artist's billboard mural (not sure who) on the road between the airport and the Sval Sat earthstation on the plataeu above the Seed Vault. The whole region is historic and active coal mine country. There's an active mine a few hundred meters down the road from this sign and the seed vault is situated between two closed mine shafts."
Steve Rowell: "We did drive these snowmobiles on a tour of the Advent valley and Temple Fjord / glacier. Typically we drove a 4x4 van (white one in one of the pics) or walked. There are no roads between the 3 active towns on Spitsbergen. Besides Longyearbyen, there are two mining towns: Barentsburg (Russian and Ukranian almost exclusively) and Svea Gruva (Norwegian). Remote Pyramiden was a Russian town, but now completely abandoned. The northernmost Lenin head is there as well as baby grand piano in an empty Russian hotel building. In the winter, when I went, travel outside of Longyearbyen was a pretty serious task and involved a mandatory guide who was licensed to carry a rifle, and trained to shoot and kill a polar bear if need-be. Anyone who leaves town MUST carry a rifle for self defense, along with a trailer (dog-sled or snowmobile) with enough supplies, food for 3 days."
Steve Rowell: "These are the doors to the inner vault where the seeds are being stored. There are three inner vaults. Only 1 of the 3 is being used now."
Steve Rowell: "Yeah, pretty amazing how wrong that one is. This is one of many that I found at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in their maps collection. Did you notice the CIA map? There was no note of this being declassified, but I'm sure it is. The yellowish coloration in my photo isn't from a hi-lighter marker, but residual adhesive from tape that I removed. I noticed two white pieces of tape in both corners and peeled them back to reveal that the CIA had designed and printed this. All that Arctic strategizing is now coming to fruition. Russia was in the news this week about a deal that they just signed with Exxon-Mobil to explore the Russian Arctic for oil, incl the area to the East of Svalbard. "
Steve Rowell: "A peninsula on Spitsbergen between Longyearbyen (the vault) and Barentsburg. Incredible how many shades of blue exist up there in the winter, long blue spectrum wavelengths reflecting infinitely between atmosphere and snow. "
Steve Rowell: This one is an "Aerial view of the SvalSat facility."
Svalbard Satellite Station, aka SvalSat, is a large satellite earth station located on the island of Spitsbergen, above the Seed Vault. In a mountain nearby, the only remaining coal mine in operation provides power to the Seed Vault. On the mountain top above it, a research station monitors aurora borealis. As the website Cold Coast states, So here we have dramatically contrasting manifestations of space and time at an immense scale: on the mountain tops, instruments that reach deep into space and measure the present and predict relatively close future; deep underneath in the ground, two cavities - one harvesting the energy of fossilized rainforest created millions of years ago and the other protecting life into eternity.
And finally, Steve Rowell was kind enough to send me some views from the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History:
The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is on display at the Center for Postnatural History until August 15th, 2012.
Malin Vrijman, one of the founding members of Kultivator, was kind enough to answer my many questions:
In an interview for publik.dk, you said that there are many similarities between the way you live and work as artists and how an organic farmer live and work. Could you give us more details about this?
When we came to live close to the farm, we discovered that both we as artists and the organic farmer were struggling with "companies", or enterprises, that are based on cultural resp., ecological calculations as well as the usual economical one, and that this sometimes clashes. For example, when the EU farm subsidies suddenly changes and the farm has to adapt (or just suffer), or the art money gets directed differently and we must adapt (or just suffer). We both have offices full of unwanted paperwork... And we both always go for this cultural and ecological conviction in the end anyway because it´s the only thing that makes sense. Since the reason that we are publicly funded must be that we take responsibility for those two things first.
Another parallel that we've talked about is like a shared frustration over being exclusive, when we rather would like to be accessible, mainstream, or whatever you call it. Like in the organic farm shop where people come from the city and they buy two peppers, and one small melon, instead of 10 kilos of potatoes. Or in a museum art show that only a certain small crowd visits. As if art and good food are luxury things, when they should belong to everybody. Another similarity is that most people have their own idea about what a farmer does, and also what an artist does, and it's usually very far from today's reality. Both occupations are in fact alienated from people as it is now.
But even more interestingly, what did you bring to each other? I can easily imagine that it's handy to have an organic farm nearby for an artist studio but what does the agriculture community get from having artists on their land? Which form(s) take(s) your collaboration/cohabitation?
OK, it is right that for the artists-residency, it is ideal to be able to produce the food for everyone, and for visiting artists to use the farm and farmers as inspiration and information source.
But the benefit is not one way - when we get this question (and we often do) Henric's answer is always the same;"The good thing is, that there are people around". It may seem like a small thing, but I think it is not. When Henric's grandparents ran the farm, five families lived and worked on it. And there were six farms like that in the village. Now Henric's (Kultivators) is one out of two, and the owner of the other farm lives elsewhere. Last year alone something like 30 artists have stayed here, for longer or shorter periods, plus visitors and schools, parents of the kids, etc. It gives life and energy to the agricultural community that in our part of the world is getting almost dangerously lonely.
So when the cows escape, when a calf is stuck, when there is slaughter or harvest or forest work, there is always helping hands nearby. Collecting and preparing food is an incorporated part of living here, and this means helping out. Of course, parties, dancing, evenings discussing world politics by the fire is enjoyed from both sides...
This was also the reason why we arranged the marriage between art and agriculture last year. We want the discussion of what would be the future of agriculture, ethical concerns when it comes to keeping animals and exploiting land, etc, to go on not only between farmers and intellectuals separately, but in meetings between the two. This is the direct way, here in the village. In more general way, we have been asked to sit on the cultural board of the Swedish farmers union, LRF, that has as objective to support quality culture in rural areas, and to make farmers and farms visible and present in the cultural life as a whole. This corresponds of course very well with what we want, and what we think is beneficial both for the farming and the rest of society.
Kultivator offers residencies to artists but also works with the local community such as schools. Which kind of activities do you organize with or for people living in the area?
We always invite public to come and meet and see results from the visiting artists at the end of their stay. Once a year, at the Harvestfeast, we make like a summing up of the year, and stay open all night. Then we have also made a few projects directly addressing the nearby area, like the Souvenir of Öland competition, where we asked people to imagine and produce a new souvenir for the island, and the Glocalguide, were we restored an ancient walking path and made an online guide to it, with local stories and facts from people in the neighbourhood.
With schools we always have very hands on work, which often stays as part of our "place". It can be to build a mobile chicken house, construct an outdoor shower, make a picnic place, etc. We have had very nice nature walks with students and immigrants recently arrived to Sweden, where students give an introduction to Swedish right of public access to nature, and what berries and mushrooms you can pick and so on.
What are the 'post (r)evolutionary exercises'? For whom are they intended? I'm also curious about their design. Does the particular aesthetics refer to past movements?
The post (r)evolutionary exercises are the outcome of a meeting/friendship/project that started in summer 2010, when we took part in "Goings on" seminar in Beirut, Lebanon. In this seminar, curated by Cecilia Andersson, Scandinavian and Middle east art groups were invited to meet and learn about each others practices. That's what we did, we got along really well, and we started at once to think of ways to do something together again. After the seminar, The Danish group rum46 applied for money to get everyone to Denmark and Sweden in summer 2011, in a project called Camp.
Then in between, as we know, the Arabic uprising came - our new friends stood on the Tehrir square, or struggling in Damascus and so on, and we felt that when they came to us, that is what we wanted to talk about; What now? What do you do after the revolution? We wanted some kind of physical outcome of the talks, and choose posters, also so that we could distribute them to the people taking part afterwards. And then finally, in August 2011, when everybody (except sadly, the Syrian group that did not dare to travel because of the violence in Damascus) had arrived and were gathered on the farm, we all as usual began to do "the farm things", (like slaughtering, fencing, milking, etc,) someone came up with that "this is actually what you must do after the revolution"; building up again. So we discussed, and sketched, and identified these "exercises". Intended for anyone who hopes to live through a revolution. They are illustrated with pictures from projects we have made, some from the actual meeting that summer with the Middle East art groups, and some from previous events taking place on the farm.
And yes, we took the design from a manuscript of William Morris, the radical frontiers person of the Arts and crafts movement in the late 19th century in England. Nowadays, these patterns are popular interior decorative, but then they represented a criticism on industrialisation and its enslavement of the masses. It had nothing to do with bourgeoisie or elitism, just like we don't believe that art or farming should be elitist, or conservative. I suppose the design kind of underlines this contradiction on the surface, to be radical and yet traditional. We like to play with that.
Could you tell us about some of the most exciting works developed during artist residencies at Kultivator?
Well...this is hard to choose. One piece here on site that has meant a lot for us is the Cambuche, an installation by Colombian/Namibian/Norwegian group el Parche, members Olga Robayo, Herman Mbamba, Marius Wang. They build up this favela housing structure here, from farm waste, and provided it with visual kind of street art stories of the Robert Mugabe land reform act and the USA/Monsanto war on drugs (and small farmers) in Colombia. It became a place here on the farm to reflect on "another side of farming", that can be easily forgotten in our idyllic countryside. For us it has been an important part of the communal thinking that has shaped our practice into what it is, or heading towards.
Another very exciting work we have been happy to host is Super Meal by Erik Sjödin that investigated the Asian water fern Azolla. The plant had been explored by NASA, as a possible future space crops, due to its enormous growth and great nutrition value. Erik planted it here in our biopool, that cleans water from the farms up streams, and it really did grow enormously, (by this cleaning the polluted water) and was eaten with great appetite by our pigs and chickens, and used as fertilizer in the raised beds of the garden. For the Wedding between art and agriculture, Erik also cooked it, and served together with his fascinating story of the might-be-saver-of-the-planet plant.
Others, like French/Indian dancer and martial arts performer Keity Anjoure came with their own poetic research, in her case over the relation between people and trees, that resulted in a video of her climbing our big old oaks with a soft, ten meters-high silage plastic ladder.
I must also mention the work for the Android smartphone app "boskoi", made by Theun Karelse this Summer. He biked around and mapped out more than 60 different wild apple trees in the surrounding of our farm. They can now be found with the help of the boskoi app, which is a world wide communal inventory of edible plants.
I'm very interested in the Wedding between Art and Agriculture which took place in 2010. A year and a half after the happy day, would you say that this is a happy, fruitful marriage?
It is a happy, fruitful marriage, but more than that, it is serious.... When we arranged it, we called it a re- marriage, and meant that these two human activities had been very closely connected back in history, and only recently been separated. For everybody´s best they needed to go back to each other again. Something in the time we live in wants this, there is a lot of initiatives that shows that. Like people who are developing creative, poetic farming, look at Detroit, or the rise and organisation of small farmers in Africa and the Campesinos in South America. And I also mean all the interest in farming projects from the urban art world. I have seen big exhibition projects every year over the last years in every big city that deals with food production and farming in some way. This was certainly not the case seven or five years ago.
Maybe one could say that this going back together at this point is not really happening out of love, but out of necessity, pure survival. It is a good old fashioned arranged marriage. Then again, what comes first, love or need?
In Europe at the moment we are experiencing recession, all sorts of crisis and there is a sense of fear for what tomorrow will bring. What has the Kultivator experience and projects like 'Imagine Farm' taught you that might be applied to the time we are living? I wondered if you had lessons to share about for example, self-sufficiency, relationship to nature, other living creatures, sharing, etc?
What it has taught us...This is a question that can have so many answers. To begin with, the Kultivator initiative comes out of a wish for something less catastrophic than today's society... We try all the time in what we do to promote, or discuss ways to achieve a sustainable, creative and social way of living. This is what we start with. The big learning experience from working with the projects we have been doing, that we took up and elaborated in Imagine farm, is that cooperation, sharing and discussing visions are crucial things to improve if we want to reach this.
The whole Imagine farm project was an attempt to create a communication tool/situation, where it was possible for kids to play with the future, and show others, over generation borders, what they were thinking and what they wished for. All imaginations of the future that we worked with were from a positive point of view, only focus on what the kids wanted, not what they were afraid of. This we had asked especially for, to avoid the usual guilt and sacrifice carousel that we too often put our kids and ourselves in when talking about the future.
I can't say that the futures the kids visualized were a surprise. They wanted, not unexpectedly, and also not unreasonably, a peaceful, just, and clean world. It is stating the obvious, but that should be like the most heavyweight policy document that there is. Not one thing of all the things we think that it is OK to compromise peace, or justice, or cleanness for, was on their list. And, (again stating the obvious) they are the ones, not us, that will live the future.
We have in general, by all our practical experiments, realized that it is much easier to collaborate than we are brought up to believe. In the present western individualist worldview, the cooperation between for example the farmer and the artist is hopeless, since the practicality of the first will kill the poetry of the latter, and the other way around. But what we experience again and again is that these two aspects together takes ideas and progress further than if they were alone and specialized. Working with more than a hundred children, like in Imagine farm, also showed that if we only put some effort in creative systems to work and think together, we can do almost impossible co operations. Maybe naively we think that the relation with the rest of the ecosystem will work out fine, if we manage to have fair and fruitful relations to each other.
Any upcoming projects Kutivator could share with us?
We have a lot of very nice collaborations going on this spring, now in February we travel to Kirkenes and the Barents Spektakel in Norway, to make another Crosscultural Nomadic cheese, with milk from the bordering countries Norway, Russia and Finland. We work with a new kids - future project in Gnesta, Sweden, and some more exhibitions, seminars and residencies. We also work here on our long - term project the farm, of course, with building an earthhouse, and establishing more of a perma culture garden, to in the end go for self sufficiency for us and our visitors.
We also have another big new project, or direction, still in its very beginning, that we call "The Grandmothers University", with inspiration from Vendana Shivas Navdanya center in India. This will be an exploration into concepts of learning and practicing, and what forms an effective exchange between generations could take. We have some very interesting partners for this, but it is a bit early to announce all details. We are just starting up...Hopefully we can come back on that!
All images courtesy Kultivator.
Previously: Herbologies/Foraging Networks at Pixelache Helsinki and Azolla Super Meal.