13 Oct 2008
|See a slide show here
The majority of contemporary art production comes from urban centres where the density of funding and institution is the highest. This also makes for a perception of what is not city as "other" and only rarely does experiences and knowledge produced and rooted in a countryside find its way into the artistic discussions. Sørfinnset skole/ the nord land is unique in this respect. It is situated in Sørfinnset a town with 80 inhabitants in the municipality of Gildeskål, Norway. It is a former school that has now become the base for a whole range of activities and exchange between local and international art and culture.
Sørfinnset skole / the nord land is an ongoing project started in 2003 by the artists; Søssa Jørgensen & Geir Tore Holm (N), Rirkrit Tiravanija and Kamin Lertchaiprasert (Th) as a part of the public arts program Art in Nordland. It is a parallel to "the land" in Thailand: An artist driven ecological rice farm, school and selforganized commune established by Kamin Lertchaiprasert og Rirkrit Tiravanija in 1998.
The Art in Nordland program is supporting the project with no end date. This makes sense because as Søssa and Geir state: "Changes happen slowly in nature and in social and cultural processes alike, which is why we have involved ourselves in a long term relation to this place"
The school and its related plot of land is situated close to the water and just above the Arctic Circle, meaning days without nights in summer and the reversed in winter. Traditionally this was a farming and fishing community. Also being this far north you find influences of Sami culture; a nomadic people traditionally living of reindeer, travelling across borders between northern Norway, Sweden and Finland.
These conditions, and the fact that Geir has Sami roots have lead Søssa and Geir to work with Sami culture. In 2005 a course was made for building a "Goathi" (a Sami dwelling) with the master of Sami craft: Jon Ole Andersen and they have continued making projects on Sami history, building customs and food. The same year they started building the Thai house. The building was started in collaboration with 10 Thai students from the Land together with local craftsmen, people from the area and people coming to help from elsewhere. The construction has continued up until today and was just finished on the 3rd of August 2008 ready for use by international visitors and local wanderers.
The Sørfinnset skole / the nord land makes a strong case that hospitality and international exchange can be the foundation for another form of globalization actualized in a specific place and community. In this respect it is more than a project where everyday life and art is closely linked; it also points to how the specificity of the the land and local culture, in meeting with another kind of culture can transform places into a new kind of particularity; a place like no other.
You can read more about the Land here
and about Sørfinnset skole / the nord land here
This feature was written by Nis Rømer after a visit to the Sørfinnset skole / the nord land in July 2008.
23 Nov 2007
By Katie Hepworth
| The aim of all descriptions of cities is to know how to live, to see what is coming and accept it and become part of it or, better, see what could make life better and make those things endure. Imagining cities lets you search for the perfection that would produce happiness, and that is a major goal of the work.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
We travel the world in search of guidebook images, disappointed when we can’t find the places that we’ve constructed from stories and pictures. The most recent work by Lucy Harrison is situated in this space between the imagined city and the city of lived experience, the places of everyday, situated encounters. The following conversation and has been taken from a series of emails that were exchanged with Lucy Harrison in Sep / Oct 2007, and deals with 4 of these later works: Fantastic Cities, Guided Tour Riga and the Canvey Guides.
For a long time one of my favourite books has been Calvino's Invisible Cities, in which Marco Polo describes places he had (possibly never) been to, and in doing so elaborating on the different and magical facets of a single city, Venice…What appealed to me about Fantastic Cities was that, unlike many of the recent mapping projects that aim to uncover the secrets of a place through personal wandering and touring, your works highlight the subjectivity of all guides.
A number of your earlier works, such as Art School Marginalia, seem to be focused on rearranging and re-contextualisation of existing text. Did you approach the two stories for Fantastic Cities in a similar way, by taking existing stories of conflict, or was the book a trigger to uncover other untold stories of the cities?
I asked the artists for Fantastic Cities to write about a city they had never visited. I envisaged this being in the vein of a travel guide to an existing city, but only using information gleaned from films, fiction and anecdotes. However some people gave me stories, or writing about imaginary places, so there is a mixture in the book.
I have 2 pieces in the book, one on Sarajevo and one on Baghdad, as these were two places that I only knew through news reports about the conflicts there. Other people's ones included Springfield from the Simpsons (Jessica Voorsanger), Chernobyl by the Estonian artist Marko Mäetamm, Bobstown by Bob Matthews, and Sealand (which is actually an oil refinery platform off the English coast) by Alun Rowlands.
My two pieces – and the book itself, really- were inspired by ‘The Question of Bruno’ by Alexander Hemon, in which the main character, who is from Sarajevo like the author, is in New York watching the war in his home town on television. He had left before it had started, and so this huge change had occurred while he was away and yet he only ever saw it mediated through CNN. I had a friend from Sarajevo too, who told me about her family who were returning there, and so that became part of it as well. I’ve always been aware of places that I’ve never been to- Los Angeles for example- but which I almost know the geography of through stories, films etc. I also read a report from the UK Home office which stated that migrants who choose to come to the UK often have unreliable versions of the country in their imaginations, especially those from countries which were former colonies. My pieces in Fantastic Cities were in a way the only versions of those places that I had, as they included as much as I knew, and that is only as reliable as anyone else’s descriptions.
Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head with thinking about subjective guides, and the text being about the author too. I think that most of my work can be said to be re-arranging existing texts, I find that much more interesting than anything I have written myself!
We've already spoken briefly about ‘Touring Riga’ as being an extension of your earlier work with text and representation, but I’m interested to know how you would place your work in regards to the history of walking as an artistic practice?
You mention in your interview for the 13th Tallinn Print Triennial, 2004 that navigating the city using outdated guidebooks could be compared to the Situationists technique of orienting themselves in one city using the maps of another, and yet I think your Tallinn + Riga works are quite different, in that they also play with how images of cities are created and propagated.
It’s difficult for me to say where I would place my work although I’ve always had an interest in how complicated cities are, how many different versions of them there are in people’s minds, (see Fantastic Cities) and a lot of the projects I’ve done are about uncovering some of the forgotten ones - often forgotten intentionally for political reasons. My main interest at the moment is related to Henri Lefebvre and his ideas of ‘lived experience’ that he talks about in The Production of Space. I’m interested in how we imagine that places have some kind of sense of community or memory and how fragile this can really be. In Benjamin’s Arcades Project there are quotes related to a harsh criticism of Haussman’s redevelopment of Paris and how it was destroying all the mini-cities, the different cultures and communities and replacing them with non-descript boulevards - and yet now the tourist’s idea of Paris is of a beautiful romantic city. Is there any way in which the previous places were preserved? I’m just about to start a project which is related to the Olympic redevelopment in East London and the changes that will take place there. In that sense I think that although my work may sometimes seem gentle or poetic perhaps, I hope that there is a critical edge which has a relationship to the way the Situationists re-imagined Paris in particular. I think that I choose to give prominence to what may have otherwise been in the background in order to question what is the generally accepted idea of a place.
The Canvey Islands project seems like the greatest departure from your earlier, more text based work. How did this project develop? Were you approached by the local community / Art U Need with a project, or was it proposed by them? What were the reactions of the community to the project? It seems like the walks have continued independently even now that Art U Need has finished - is this the case?
This project was originally advertised as a public art commission managed by Commissions East, centred around Canvey Heights country park. It was a series of 5 commissions in Essex. The lead artist was Bob & Roberta Smith and he encouraged us to develop projects which engaged local people in a more meaningful way, so what could have been a more object-based commission instead became something more participatory. It was a huge departure, partly because I wasn’t used to working alongside so many other people, having to set deadlines or having local press coverage.
I had a steering group of local people and quickly made contact with lots of other local people, and approached it as a research project - I didn’t have many fixed ideas when I started but I explored the place as much as I could and used this as a process of discovery. Canvey has already changed a great deal over the past few decades, and now it is part of the Thames Gateway so it will in the future have a lot more people moving there. On the one hand I could understand that people were upset that the place had changed so much from how they remembered it as children, on the other hand this seemed to create a distance between them and the newcomers. There was a sense that there were parallel dangers of history being forgotten, but also of nostalgia becoming a negative force. So although walking had been a way of experiencing a place in other projects, here it became a way of getting people together and getting them talking to each other more. The themes each month were a way of trying to get them to question their attitudes to the place.
The community were incredibly positive - I now have a surprising collection of friends down there! My worry has been that they see it as a ‘history’ project, that they only see it as preserving their memories, rather than as an alternative way of speaking about a place, but I think that these kinds of things are unavoidable in this kind of project, and the way I engaged them was by taking an interest in anecdotes they had about things that had happened to them. Some of them don’t quite understand how the project was ‘art’ but that’s just because they’ve had no experience of any other contemporary art. Yes the walking club has continued so far, the project officially finished in March and it’s still going on, although they haven’t become co-operative enough yet, they still need an appointed leader each time, so I have still done some co-ordination of that.
How do you see the audio guides working now?
The most interesting part of the original tours, organised by theme, was the way in which they could become points of conversation between the local residents. That the work itself was about creating community, both in the moment of the tour, and extending on throughout, by identifying common and private places of interest and memory. In comparison, the downloadable audio guides seem to be more of a traditional audio tour, albeit with personal stories interwoven with the history of the place.
I wanted the audio guides to enable people to experience the project independently and to allow an aspect of the project that wasn’t all about groups of people, and so that however much the walking club changed that there would be certain more concrete aspects such as the book and the audio guide. I liked the idea that one of the remnants of the project would be that people would be wandering around with headphones, rather than something more tangible and permanent. I wanted it to sound like a traditional audio guide because some of the information was so incongruous, so that you would be surprised by things like ‘the place where some children found a dead dog’! However the thing that I had to bear in mind was that if people with no knowledge of art were going to actually use it in a practical sense, it had to be usable too. The actor has recorded audio guides for places like Hever Castle in Sussex, so I wanted this odd combination of a very professional voice pointing out these odd, pretty crap points of interest- which had been provided by people who were involved with the project, so in a sense it was still created by them.
Re the guidebook that you produced from this process - how much is borrowed from the original guidebook that the project was based on? Is this how it begins to tie into your earlier projects?
The cover is the main aspect which is borrowed- I re-designed the original replacing the girl on a beach with a woman with binoculars. The original was beautifully- if not entirely professionally!- designed, and was an odd mixture of business advertising and useful contacts, and made Canvey sound like a wonderful seaside destination- it’s difficult to tell how true this was! Yes I suppose that does tie it in more - my book is pretty useless unless you are particularly interested in finding out where particular people remember very particular things, and so it’s an antidote to the kind of false claims that you see in local council publications about places.
Katie Hepworth is an architect, artist and curator. With the aim of exposing the latent conditions in the urban environment, her work consists of subtle interventions that disrupt everyday behaviours. She is currently completing her Masters in International Studies at UTS, looking at how citizenship and belonging affect access and exclusion from urban space.
16 Nov 2007
|By Nis Rømer
In the course of the summer (2007) the Public Picnic project developed with the help of neighbours, friends and people passing by. A plot in Nørrebro, Copenhagen was temporarily appropriated and turned into a public garden and a hub for a series of public events.
The plot had been hidden behind a fence for years but showed to be quite remarkable; wild berries en mass, apple trees, weeds high enough for a full grown person to disappear into and overall a vast diversity of plants.
The early allotment gardens in Denmark were connected to the workers movement and thus had a political component. Many workers got access to a plot of land away from overpopulated cities and small apartments. Access to land was especially 100 years ago a deeply democratic spatial project, as well as about having places for leisure and retreat from working life. Today it is harder to spot the project in the allotments and it seems there is a need to define what are the spatial rights worth fighting for now?
An attempted answer could be that we need spaces free from the omnipresent regime of disciplining by media and commerce and institutions telling us how to live our lives, how to look, act and feel. Places where the collective is possible, where there is no division between production and play, between pleasure and politics; places for the life-world.
The Public Picnic project was motivated in wanting to act and think on how gardens can have a renewed relevance in urban life and politics. While gardens often are private retreats we wanted this to be a public space for pleasure and production. We trampled some new paths in the weed to open it up. Rosa Marie Frang shouted out the news that television wants us to believe is reality mocking the fiction and creating a new one. Media reality is a farce, and we refuse to reduce our thinking. Shaking the earth in series of events to make geographies or moments where opposites normally fixed can meet, exchange and in the process transform us and the categories themselves.
This is the spaces we want, spaces in out neighbourhood where we can meet, organize and express ourselves in informal ways. It is a modest demand: inclusive spaces free of commercials, self organized urban free spaces where we live, everywhere.
See the homepage for documentation of the events
02 Oct 2007
|A seminar and exhibition organized by Ulrike Solbrig, Åsa Sonjasdotter and Nis Rømer, in Sparwasser, Berlin, August 2007.
Text by Nis Rømer
Guattari's book "the three ecologies" was published in 1989 but not translated into English until 2000. In it, Guattari argues that the definition of ecology needs to be expanded to encompass social relations, human subjectivity and environmental issues. Addressing this point of view we titled the seminar accordingly.
We invited practitioners who work with an awareness of how the shaping of livelihoods reflects political, economical and cultural power structures, as well as those working with modes of self-empowerment and sustainability.
It seemed to us that much of the debate on climate change misses out on anything other than the technological fix to the current environmental crises. It has therefore become more important to connect contemporary artists who work with other dimension of the environment and to contribute to the creation of discourse around this. The question of “How can we cultivate and experiment with other ways of living and organizing our selves?” was constant in organizing the seminar.
Here is a rundown of the presentations:
Laor Paphonsak and Nuntasakun Tepparit represented The Land Foundation from Thailand. It was surprising to me that The Land was not just about star artists going and building a house and then leaving again (sorry my prejudice). Paphonsak and Tepparit spoke about the One Year Project which takes place as a school and proposes a whole way of living. The school is divided into 4 parts: The first three months is for meditation and includes not talking for the whole period. Other parts of the One Year Project include learning how to live from the land and only the final part evolved around art making. The approach is non-dogmatic. A question was raised about self-sufficiency, to the extent of denying themselves beer. The answer was that they still needed to be on good terms with the neighbours and thus a beer together was necessary from time to time.
Sørfinnset Skole - the Nordland by Søssa Jørgensen and Geir Tore Holm(NO) is inspired by The Land, yet they couldn't be more different. They are based in Scandinavia, North of the polar circle, which means summer without nights and winter without light. Its there one finds their School. Tore has Sami roots and together with Søssa explores this in the building and construction of the Nordland. At the same time direct exchange is made between The Land in Thailand and the Nordland. Recently a traditional Thai house was built and modified to the sometimes harsh Scandinavian climate. The location also works as a type of community centre for the small village and its surrounding, with café, community radio and talks on a variety of topics around culture, food and nature.
EcosXchange / Siraj Izhar presented a project to introduce an alternative economy in Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation in Rezé, Nantes. The building with its Iconic status and size, (around 1000 people live there) provides a good context for testing alternative economies to improve the place in terms of both sociability and environmental impact.
Ingrid Book & Carina Hedén presented an example of social housing in Angered, in the municipality of Göteborg, Sweden. Angered is a community of 40.000 inhabitants with a 90 % immigrant population and high rates of unemployment and crime. Millions of € have been spent to improve the situation but has resulted in little apparent improvement to public life in the area. Their talk was formulated as a question and a series of images from the area: How can artists work in meaningful ways in a context like this?, what would need to be done if anything? They opened it up to the other participants for suggestions.
Amy Plant presented lifeisland.org which is a support website for Manor Gardening Society Allotments in Hackney Wick, London. The allotment gardens are threatened by eviction because of the building of the Olympic City. The presentation showed how artists can contribute to making campaigns highly successful in terms of media coverage and air time, and also added reflection on what kind of city is created, for whom and in which aesthetics. It was obvious that the planning for the site by the Olympics planners had more to do with creating a kind of marketable identity resembling slick commercials, rather than making a place where life is lived and people take part in the formation of their environment.
Workstation ideenwerkstatt Berlin e. V was similar in some ways in terms of their cultural activism and interest in gardening. Frauke Heel presented the Worksstation's practice of working. On the one hand it was self reflective and open to what is work and how it is valued. On the other it was directly activist, such as the Rosa Rosa and other Intercultural gardens in Berlin (See the documentation part of the website for images)
The question of “What is a livelihood and how do artist connect to a local context?” was asked by the Sandarbh Artists Workshops represented by Sakshi Gupta and Chintan Upadhyay, India. They work mainly in semi-rural areas. The setup is that artists are “thrown” into a specific area and work ad -hoc in a highly experimental manner as a response to the local situation and people they meet. One example was a local museum with farming tools that represented local identity and farming habits, but also worked actively as a kind of tool lending library.
From an entirely different angle Anna Barth talked about the Butho tradition - a dance that connects to soil and to death and to what is traditionally thought of as ugly. One Japanese Butho master owned a nightclub and in this setting removed from "high art" many things were tested and developed. Another Butho master stressed the importance of learning to farm in order to know how to dance Butho.
The organisers presented their individual and group works. Ulrike Solbrig explained and demonstrated the working method of UN-Wetter taking the shape of discursive picnics shared events in the city where everyone is at the same time a host and a guest, and research into for example the patenting of crops.
Åsa Sonjasdotter discussed her project Potato Perspective and distributed her A-Z on how to breed potatos, and the amazing biodiversity you can have in potatoes when finding other ways of breeding than what the marked allows for.
Nis Rømer and Andrea Creutz working together in Fieldwork presented their works in Swopshop and Free Soil, with discussions on participatory research, alternative economies and localized research.
The afternoons of the seminar were for urban explorations in Berlin. We were guided by in many cases Ulrike Solbrig to see self organized community gardens, children's farms and other places both some that have been around for years and more recently initiated project. One of the projects that showed a lot of potential were the "Intercultural Garden" movement. These are communal gardens that work for intercultural dialogue and exchange trough gardening together. In only a few years there have sprung up between 60-80 gardens in Germany alone and the number is growing rapidly. See reports from the excursions and the many places visited on the website under the menu: Documents
One overall and encouraging tendency was that so many artists and activists work with practices that are sustainable in more ways than one. By way of example and lived experiences it was shown how art, culture and activism is important for creating new ways of living, defined not by a capitalist machine but by a lust for life.
The seminar was accompanied by an exhibition in Sparwasser also documented on the website: www.socialmentalenvironmental.net
05 Jun 2007
|Here are the ten art projects that deal with the subject of Climate Change, including us.
1 Halliburton SurvivaBall
‘The SurvivaBall is designed to protect the corporate manager no matter what Mother Nature throws his or her way,’ said Fred Wolf, a Halliburton representative at the Catastrophic Loss conference held in Florida. ‘This technology is the only rational response to abrupt climate change’. It will include a sophisticated communications systems, nutrient gathering capacities, onboard medical facilities and a daunting defense infrastructure. The only problem is, the SurvivaBall was a fake, and so was the Halliburton representative. The Yes Men are pranksters/performers who assume other identities - ‘identity corrections’ - to make fun of and bring attention to the serious issues of corporate accountability and global greed. They are invited to events and TV shows through their various websites and present ridiculous and unbelievable corporate strategies. No one seemed to doubt their appearance in Florida, and fellow representatives even asked about the SurvivaBalls anti-terrorism capabilities. Other stunts have included the fake GWBush site and apologising on behalf of Bophal for their chemical spill disaster of 1984.
2. Cape Farewell
Cape Farewell was conceived by artist/filmmaker David Buckland and during the past five years he and a varying team of artists, writers, choreographers, filmmakers, environmentalists and scientists have worked on a 100-year old Dutch schooner called The Noorderlicht. Located in a fjord near Longyerben, Svalbard, just north of the 79th parallel, they respond to the environment and reflect the earths change where its most sensitive, the arctic circle. They draw attention to the role ocean currents play and the effect that rising CO2 levels and changing weather patterns will have. The team have already developed a major exhibitions programme, a book Burning Ice - Art & Climate Change and the DVD Art From A Changing Arctic. On his last mission, Buckland invited novelist Ian McEwan, playwright Caryl Churchill, artist Antony Gormley and choreographer Siobhan Davies. Turner prize winner Gormley worked in conditions of -32 degrees to complete an ice sculpture that lasted only three months.
3. Hehe: Nuage Vert and Pollstream
Across a number of projects, the French collective Hehe create a sense of constant rather than delayed feedback. Pollstream is an intervention in environmental ethics. It creates a series of interactive environments in which the audience are in a process of monitoring localised pollution at the very same time that they produce it. The audience is required to conceptualize themselves as responsible - collectively and individually - for their emissions. Using visual, kinetic and sonic technologies, it undermines these typical defences of disengagement by speeding up the normal time it takes for our actions in and on the environment to have consequences. Another project, Nuage Vert, uses lasers and a camera tracking system to project colour coded information onto a waste burning plant/power plant within a local area that is visible to all residents.
4. Translator II: Grower by Sabrina Raaf
Humans also produce carbon dioxide. Sabrina Raaf is a Chicago-based artist working in experimental sculptural media and photography. Translator II: Grower is a small rover vehicle which moves around the gallery drawing vertical lines up and down on the wall with a green crayon. The height of each line is determined by the level of carbon dioxide present in the room, which the robot reads via a small digital sensor mounted on its shell. The carbon dioxide, of course, is generated by gallery visitors, This piece makes visible how art institutions depend on their visitors to make them 'healthy' spaces for new art to evolve and flourish within. Watching the artistic output of a machine that is so sensitive to its environment makes people in the space more sensitive to their environment and its conditions.
5. Canary Project
By photographing landscapes throughout the world that are currently undergoing dramatic transformation or are vulnerable to predicted changes, Canary Project conveys the urgent reality of global warming. Their team of scientists, writers and artists aim to present these images in ways that speak to diverse audiences and foster positive action. Project co-founder Susannah Sayler will be photographing 16 landscapes selected in consultation with leading climate-change scientists and journalists, showing that global warming is already affecting the world in a variety of ways and affecting every place on earth. In the second phase of the project, they will photograph solutions to the problem, such as sources of alternative energy, preparations for already predicted changes and various green products. Sayler has travelled to ‘hot spots’ and her haunting images include glaciers in Austria and bleached and dead coral in Belize. So far the images have been shown on buses in Denver with the words ‘This is what Global Warming looks like’ and online publications such as Polar Inertia.
6. Precipice Alliance and Mary Ellen Carroll
The Precipice Alliance is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness about global warming through the visual arts. They believe visibility is the key to positive action and that artists can give form to the intangible and deliver a powerful message. They commission projects that specifically address climate change in order to direct public attention to the urgency of the issue. Large-scale contemporary art will be executed in public venues. The first commission is by New York-based conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll. It consists of a 900-foot-long window display in the buildings of the former American Can factory, comprised of eight-foot-tall neon letters proclaiming, ‘IT IS GREEN THINKS NATURE EVEN IN THE DARK’. It is ‘indestructible language’, focusing on the fluid, open-ended nature of words. The organization hastens to note that the art piece is ‘carbon neutral’, employing low-wattage transformers and lead-free glass tubing, as well as using solar panels to offset the energy consumed.
7. Free Soil
Free Soil is an international collaboration of artists, activists, researchers and gardeners who take a participatory role in the transformation of the environment. Members have developed art projects about greening cities (The Hot Summer of Urban Farming, Copenhagen); the pollution of the Baltic Sea and resulting ‘Red Tides’ of toxic algae (Selective Memory, Starlsund) and F.R.U.I.T, a travelling installation examining how the city is connected to the surrounding agricultural areas. For ISEA 2006 in San Jose, Free Soil conducted a bio diesel bus tour of Silicon Valley, pointing out the environmental consequences of the Hi-Tech industry, and offering alternatives, such as mycoremediation - cleaning soil by using mushrooms. They also foster discourse and give support for critical art practices that reflect and change the urban and natural environment via features and projects on their website. Free Soil believe art can be a catalyst for social awareness and positive change. F.R.U.I.T is currently touring as part of Beyond Green: Towards a Sustainable Art.
8. Andrea Polli
Andrea Polli is a digital media artist living in New York City. She is interested in global systems, the real time interconnectivity of these systems, and the effect of these systems on individuals. She currently works in collaboration with atmospheric scientists to develop systems for understanding storm and climate information through sound (a process called sonification). Her Queensbridge Wind Power Project presents a vision of a future when meeting energy needs can enhance the beauty of a city by investigating how clean, renewable wind power could be integrated into the landmark architecture of the Queensboro Bridge.
For over 20 years the London based Platform has been engaging in making transparent that which corporations and companies wish to remain hidden. 90% Crude is a sustained investigation into the power and impact of transnational corporate trade and business. Other projects include a research campaign and cultural intervention project on Shell and BP oil companies (Gog and Magog); a series of experimental interventionist walks in the London's financial district (Freedom in The City) and Desktop Killers which links corporations to genocide. In Unravelling The Carbon Web, Platform works to reduce the environmental and social impacts of oil corporations, and And While London Burns is a downloadable audio tour of London - a soundtrack for the era of climate change - in their words ‘a requiem for a Warming World’ . Their latest initiative is Remember Saro-Wiwa and will be Britain's first Mobile memorial. It is in honour of Ken Saro-Wiwa, and his colleagues who were executed after anti oil campaigns in the Niger Delta.
10. Natalie Jeremijenko
Jeremijenko is an inventor and engineer whose work focuses on the design and analysis of tangible digital media. She bridges the technical and the art worlds and her mission is to reclaim technology and apply it to the messy complexities of the real world, often with disquieting results. Her project, One Tree, features the planting of 2,000 walnut trees in sensor-equipped planters around San Francisco. The condition of the growing trees will reflect the region's surprising discrepancies in climatic, environmental and socio-economic conditions. Another project Bit Cab inserts geospecific data directly onto New York City taxi display units. Her much acclaimed Feral Robot Sniffer Dogs were hobbyist kits made to modify commercially available toy dogs to potentially detect toxic substances in the air.
Fade to Black is a network of webcams oriented skyward. The images on the webcam fades to black as pollutant film accumulates on the lens. It provides visual and empirical information on air quality.
Commissioned by DAMn Magazine
Photos thanks to the Canary Project
15 May 2007
|See slide show:
Last week while I was in Barcleona, I had the good fortune of meeting up with a friend who offered to host me for a day. I asked if there were any urban garden projects going on, and the next day we were on the subway leading to the outskirts of town, walking up a dirt road into the valley of San Genis to Can Masdeu.
A winding dirt road lead us to a cluster of hand painted signposts and bulletin boards framing a view of arcadia"
“WELCOME TO THE COMMUNITY”
You have arrived in a
rural/urban social center.
It is not a hostel.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
If you would like to visit the
house and/or get involved in
the project please talk to someone
from the community.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Here we collectively organize
diverse acitivities. We invite you
to come especially on Sundays to the
interactive workshops of Collserola.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
If you use any materials
return them to where you found them
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Here there are no door keepers,
Security, cameras, or cleaning service.
This project depends on
EVERYONE TO MOVE AHEAD!
Can Masdeu is a squatted social centre in one of the last non-urbanized valleys, San Genis, part of the Collserola National Park in Barcelona. It was squatted by an international group of activists in December 2001, and the terraces surrounding the masia (country mansion) are cultivated by neighbors who live in the neighborhood below, Nou Barris. It sits on 49.4 acres of land. Parts of the masia were built in the 1600s, and in the early 20th century and the house was a nunnery and leper hospital. Surrounding the mansion are terraced gardens that provide food for the entire community. Sections of the land are community gardens dedicated to the neighbors. These are broken up into small plots separated by bamboo fencing.
Can Masdeu gained international attention in April 2002, when over 100 national police came to evict 11 squatters defending the house in positions of passive resistance. Unable to remove the squatters from lockdowns, tripods, on ropes and planks extended out of windows, and even a hanging bathtub, the police waited for the squatters to get thirsty and hungry and come down. After three days of media attention, hundreds of protesting onlookers chanting slogans and stopping traffic on the local highway, and even a solidarity group organizing a sit-in in the Spanish Embassy in Holland, the judge ordered the police to leave and the case reopened. Later rulings favored the owner, the Hospital of San Pau, but no eviction notice has been given.
The project includes a bakery, pizza oven, bike kitchen, cafe, and a social center, the PIC, or Punt d'Interracció de Collserola, which opens Sundays to the public and offers a variety of activities and workshops, often related to environmental issues, permaculture and organic farming, communal living, and community autonomy.
The PIC and the rurbar, a cafe serving local and organic meals and drinks, is open most Sundays from noon until evening. Activities are listed on the website and in the newsletter Infousurpa.
As of 2007, more than 28 people live in and share the house. Community participation includes bi-weekly meetings, organic gardening, housework, and two collective meals per day, and each member contributes roughly 25 euros/month to food costs. The working languages of the house are Catalan and Spanish, but as it is an international group, English, Italian, French, Basque, and Esperanto are also spoken.
Upon entering the main courtyard, we were greeted by a table of people enjoying a community lunch including fresh baked bread and several dishes of food from their gardens. We happened to arrive on a Friday which is the baking day.
After wandering around the grounds and leafing through their extensive zine and radical left library for over 2 hours, it became very clear that Can Masdeu was organizing beyond the local community and that it had become an important link in an international network of social organizations and movement carrying genuine social ecological and political value;
many of its residents have participated in broader social struggles, including the demonstration for a "New Culture of Water" against the Damming of the Ebre River, and the Campaign Against the Europe of Capital and the War.
One aspect of this community that seemed to be the glue of its efficiency and survival was the distribution of responsibilites. The group works in a very open way, such that they make sure that people who have specific skills pass them on to other people. In the case of doing renovation work, they might run a workshop so that when they repair or develop something, they can also teach a group of people as they go along. It seems that skill sharing and rotating roles is essential, such that if one system fails, more than one person will know how to fix it.
Currently Can Masdeu is prodding ahead with educational programs, outreach and rehabilitating the compound with the intention of being completely sustainable. Evidence of this dots the land; solar panels, composting toilets, pedal powered washing machine, rainwater catchment tanks, solar showers...
The city of Barcelona has plans to develop the valley, but the project has received international attention and is in a holding pattern at the moment. The project was an inspiration and breath of fresh air during our stay in Barcelona. I will carry this day with me into the urban garden in San Francisco. Thank you Can Masdeu!
03 May 2007
Arts in (Climate) Crisis
|By Joni Taylor
Apocalypse may be the new black, but the Plague, the Cold War and the Millennium Bug combined did not add up to the deserved attention that the dangers of Global Warming are receiving.
The scientific evidence, detailed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) drove the message home to (most) politicians that the planet is in dire straits, and their responsibilities lie further off than just the next election. On a local level, reports of North Alaskan fishermen hearing the sound of thunder for the first time in history and Media images of hurricanes, tsunamis and shattering icebergs did their bit to freak out the couch potato public. But still not everyone cares enough to be convinced. Potentially thousands of viewers were misinformed by the recent ‘documentary’ The Great Global Warming Swindle, when the already questionable talking heads claimed that overzealous Neo-Marxists and boosted Government funding were to blame for the ‘myth’ of man made global warming. It smacked of conspiracy theory, but compared to the depressing prophecies of Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ one almost wished the ‘Swindle’ was true.
Artists have often aligned themselves with activist causes, and have helped to move radical social change. Anti-establishment or outspoken views have never been at odds with the creatively minded. And Nature itself has long been an inspiration. At the turn of last Century, the romantic landscape paintings of Caspar David Friedrich depicted the fears of the oncoming era of mechanical industrialisation. Land Artists emerged alongside the noisy environmental movements of the Sixties, pointing out Starship Earth’s fragile beauty by making temporary and ephemeral pieces. Green party candidate Joseph Beuys regenerated the city of Kassel by planting his 7000 oaks in 1984.
This Century there has been a hip move towards green design and sustainable architecture. The slickness of sites like Treehugger and Worldchanging can't be denied. There have also been a number of exhibitions lately focusing on ecological systems, such as ‘Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art’ at Chicago's Smart Museum; The Sharjah Biennial, 'Art, Ecology and the Politics Of Change' and the recent focus of the RCA (and accompanying book - LandArt: A Cultural Ecology handbook).
But climate change or global warming as a specific cause is a relatively new one for artists. As subject matter, the enemy here is invisible - but its affects are not.
More artists are collaborating with scientists in a bid to inform their work on a technical level. But while the scientists role is a didactic and theory based practise, the artist deals with the nuances and the abstract. Art asks to be interpreted by the viewer, and its appreciation is often personal. Art speaks another kind of language - one of emotion - and this is why it may be better understood by the public, amidst the Babel of scientific jargon.
There are 3 artistic strains in dealing with climate change.
One is reducing the co2 emissions produced by artists themselves - not flying to that next art fair or finding alternatives to energy sucking Plasma screens. Just like a UN delegate, an artist is accountable for his /her carbon footprint. Using recycled and green products is another indication of ‘Slow Art’.(The next art movement perhaps?) London’s seven meter tall WEEE man, made of the industrial detritus used in a typical lifetime, was a successful shock factor device standing on the River Thames.
Another method is making art that depicts the effects of warming and pollution. The most memorable tools in Gore's film were the postcards of glaciers in the Twenties, compared with the dried up and sandy images of today. Photographers relish travelling to exotic places to bear witness to both environmental damage and utopian beauty, and bring back images to share with a city bound audience.
The last, most innovative area is the collision of art and science to create visualising tools, or to quote worldchanging ‘making the invisible, visible’. By transforming data and graphs to a visual language, artists can demonstrate the bare facts with humour and delight. Some even use ecological systems in their work, mimicking nature.
As you will see in part 2, there is a range of new arts initiatives aimed specifically at publicising climate change, with sponsors in tow. Will the public be driven to action by seeing an image on the side of a bus, or a public commission through their car window?
Let's hope that narrowing all the attention to climate change will not take away the real issue, which is the impact humans are having on the environment.
The new ecosystem here is one of dangerous networks - political situations, technological development, corporate responsibility and greed are all connnected to this alienation from the planet earth.
And let's hope that a walk in the country or a breathtaking sunset can also still do the trick when it comes to remembering what is at stake.
Commissioned by DAMn Magazine
Images courtesy of The Canaray Project
18 Apr 2007
US, San Francisco
|by Corinne Matesich
Browsing the contents of a new acquaintance's bookshelves is a common impulse. I do it all the time, sizing people up, looking for common interests, potential conversation starters, and, I guess, ideas for something to read next. It can take some time to meet all of your acquaintances' bookcases, but on Sunday, April 15th, 2007 an event for public book sharing was held at the Garden for the Environment. The garden is a seventeen-year-old space headed by Blair Randall, and offers the local community resources for growing things. Amy Franceschini, the demonstration garden's first Artist in Residence, initiated the One-Day Library, a social gathering to further interest in urban gardening and related ideas.
A simple bookcase (milk crates and boards) was set up in the garden-- its bare shelves awaiting the arrival of books. Library attendees were invited to bring selections from their personal libraries about urban gardening, food history, art and nature, and related ideas. Together, more than fifty attendees created a new library. It could be assumed that attendees were veritable green thumbs, but hardly a word was traded about how to grow a specific bean. Instead, the majority of talk amongst the artists, educators, and students was about how to encourage gardening, the local politics to support urban gardening, and the wealth of things published in recent history about the matter—topics of conversation that surprisingly don't rule out the participation of those who kill most of what they plant.
The collective library was one of both old gems and current discourse. Some books had been found in garage sales from decades past. University course readers, small press, underground and local publications sat alongside how-to guides, non-fiction paperbacks, essays about biology, mushrooms, and the urban environment. I found my own favorites in a dictionary-style book of pretend locations, and a book of illustrations explaining the world of utilities underneath the street.
The One-Day Library readers paid dues to some other offbeat subjects. Contributors to the library were welcomed to read passages aloud from their books. Those who read shared relevant ideas. A few provocative thoughts go nicely with donated bread, baked goods, tea and a little wine especially on a bright day surrounded by flourishing vegetation. Amy Balkin read a selection from a 1974 children's cookbook shedding light on a long-forgotten dietary supplement promised by the UN to end protein deficiencies worldwide. Seemingly, the supplement called "CSM" never lived up to the language used to triumph its saving powers, and one has to wonder whether writing to the address in the book for a free sample would yield anything at all.
Megan Shaw Prelinger shared her connection to the land via mushroom hunting by reading from David Wolfe's Tales from the Underground. Rick Prelinger also of the Prelinger Archives and Library introduced an educational film from the 50's titled, Our Foster Mother the Cow, allowing younger imaginations to conjure exactly what kind of teaching went along with rural agricultural lesson plans.
Henrik Lebuhn read a worthwhile selection about sleeping in public from A Pattern of Language by Christopher Alexander. And, Ian Boal arrived in time to take his shoes off and read from The Country in the City, a just published book exploring the environmental disputes behind the green spaces that now make up the Bay Area.
The One-Day Library found success in its temporary nature as a public event, for me, because the image of a collective bookcase resonates even though it has already been taken down, and all the books have gone home with their rightful owners. The act of creating a dream library out of both book owners and the books beats the traditional lending library at usefulness and approachability — the indispensable part being people who can talk about the books they brought. Building such a library ultimately works to recognize one's own community as the most necessary resource we have.
20 Sep 2006
8 visual artists in the city and on the web
|The "five finger plan" of Copenhagen, is made to make the city develop along five lines of infrastructure and leave intact green belts between the fingers deep into the city. In a way this quite ingenious plan holds the promise that the city and its surroundings can be integrated and the growth of the city controlled to some degree by planning the infrastructure. The plan developed in 1947 does still work as the overall framework for the city though much has been built also between the fingers.
Hot summer of urban farming continues along this trajectory and explores various ways that gardens and farming can be integrated in the city, though on a much smaller scale. Over the summer 8 artists and groups have been making plantations and temporary gardens in Copenhagen's lesser used spaces.
The works are situated in Outer Nørrebro, which is characterized by the highest density of people, the biggest ethnic mix and the least square meter public space per inhabitant. If you take a careful look there are small pockets of undetermined spaces mainly used by dog owners if by any. In the tradition of "zwischennutzung" -temporary uses of city spaces -the projects that the artists made are temporary or made to slowly dissolve in the city and take a life of their own.
Åsa Sonjasdotter have made potato gardens with a variety of sorts supplied by the Nordic Gene Bank a quite remarkable institution that stores seeds and plants from all over the world. A thorough research into the cultural history of the potato, tells a story of how patents to plants are managing to make it illegal to grow most varieties of potato's. One sort has a special status; the "Asparges potato" has been bought by an independent group who has given the rights back to the public.
Marie Markman has done calculations on how much could actually be grown if the leftover spaces were cultivated. While the project does not suggest that this should actually happen it would provide for some weird parks and plantations in the city if other crops were introduced. At least in free Soil we like farming and parks together a lot.
An on going fight for one of the biggest free areas in the city by artist group YNKB is documented on the "hot Summer" website as well as a pretty rough weed garden turned into a parterre. Nance Klehms has made a project about immigration and farming; she exported corn from the US into Denmark made it into tortillas and served them in exchange for stories of migration. Gillion Grantsaan has harvested stories about national and international politics from a bench in a newly made park.
All projects can be seen on the website:
The project wil run until Sept. 26, 2006 and is organized by free Soiler Nis Rømer in the context of publik -a newly established organization for art in public spaces and media.
Dandelion Town by Camilla Berner
Oxygen Greenhouse by Hartmut Stockter
28 Jun 2006
|In January 2006, UNESCO appointed Berlin as a “City of Design”, a title it now shares with Shanghai and Buenos Aries. Not by chance, “Designcity” was also the theme for the 2006 Designmai Festival. Only in its fourth year, this is Berlin’s largest and only international showcase for designers. And as it partly curated (by the organization Transform Berlin), it does not have the trade fair gloss that is common with purely commercial events. It presented not just the slick wireless communication strategies needed for “modern” life but the sometimes ugly side of the current urban condition - the problems and chaos created by the exploding global move away from rural areas.(More people live in cities now than did on the whole planet in 1960.)
The look of the show epitomized the theme, with the large interior of a formal postal train station being transformed into a “mini-city” of more than 100 projects - a higgeldy-piggeldy mix of architectonic structures, landscape gardening, vehicles, urban furniture and sound installations, with a raised Eternit designed terrace and bar, with a green belt and bookshop. There were also a number of satellite venues across town, bus tours to Berlin’s outskirts and the almost as large “Designmai Youngsters” - showcasing international up and coming newbies.
Under the title “Build or Die - Constructing Survival”, and curated by Oliver Vogt and Georg Christof Bertsch, a symposium was held addressing issues such as emergency shelter and low cost housing. A partner exhibition displayed designs sent in from university students in Mexico, Switzerland and Sweden. Resembling a DIY camping-site, the results included a hut made from beer coasters, many takes on tarpaulin and the 100 Euro house. The Ideas of homelessness was partnered with the more positive image of the Urban Nomad. The “Instant Housing” projects by Winfried Baumann could be wheeled, folded, inflated and hung, and included mod -cons such as an Airport receiver and bookshelf. The Evian bottle “Iglu” by Alexander Clos came with the coupon for the 100 bottles necessary for building it (and placing it back into the economic cycle), and A96 Architects showed off their “Folding Box House”. The “Nohotel” by Tobias Lehmannn and Floris Schiferli offered temporary accommodation by transforming vacant buildings into comfortable hotel rooms.
But as every design aficionado knows, what’s an Urban Nomad without a good set of wheels? New methods of transport included the “The Smartboard” by Airprop, a mix of scooter and skateboard, and Gewerk’s redesign for Berlin’s popular pedal-powered Velotaxis. Another bike accessory was the aptly named “Holland Relief” by Luftheke Ypenburg, a bike stand that is vandalism proof and comes with a built-in pump. Urban furniture included “The Berlinbank” designed by Thomas Schneider, which is a public bench made from skeletal wooden arms that can be moved around for new viewpoints and the Imbissbude - Berlin’s romatic take on the take-away trolley - presented by plattformnachwuchsarchitekten.
Tours included an excursion to the “Garden City Atlantis”, a modernist housing and cultural complex built in the Twenties in keeping with the ideas of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities. Recently renovated by the Berlin architects BF-Studio (sadly without the former Grand Cinema and lighting), “Atlantis” is an ongoing attempt at reviving a whole area that has been neglected for decades.
The “Designmai Youngsters” took place on the other side of town in another large wharehouse on the river Spree. Many projects were tongue in cheek and showed obvious initiative by piggy-backing on the upcoming world cup. The quirky designs included a floormat shaped as an out field and a coat rack made from Table-Soccer pieces by UK designers Mixco. Another was the Nike “Play Award for Innovation in Football”, with the winner being Joerg Diessl and his “Ego Shooter”, a device that enables one to see the game from the perspective of the ball.
The amazing Ad!dictlab from Brussels are a growing collective of international designers, who create projects, workshops and magazines- their latest being based on Cultural Heritage. Their mini-exhibition entitled ‘Universal House’ showed ingenious domestic appliances such as the chopstick/fork combo and the chair–come-bag. Particularily local were the must-have accessories for Berlin’s favourite outdoor urban sport from the “World of Ping Pong Country”. Jumpers with round pockets for rackets and fold-up tables all created a unique combo for summer fun.
Berlin currently has over 1300 designers and growing, a Metropole chock full of what writer Richard Florida refers to as the “Creative Class”. An integral part of this year’s event was the setting up of infrastructures to keep the citie’s creative output at its peak, and for designers to be represented in a business to business capacity. New initiatives such as “Create Berlin” and the “Made in Berlin” label now aim to give the city and it’s designers a collective professional identity.
In his opening speech, Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit called the city a “hot international capital of style”. Lets hope this heat can be sustainable and sustained.
Photo: Instant Housing By Winfried Baumann
(Article commissined by Artichoke Magazine)
11 May 2006
|by Joni Taylor
There's a particular word being thrown about with verve here in Berlin, Germany. Zwischennutzung. Directly translated, it means "between use" and describes the temporary uses for spaces where their future is as yet undecided. These range from urban green areas to large East German housing blocks. It is a contentious issue due to the historically charged landscape of Germany's capital city.
Berlin is a city of gaps. Memory spaces left over from a destruction. Years of forgotten ghosts lie dormant in the grass. On one street, the grey, peeling facade of a pre-war building stands next to a freshly painted yellow apartment block, and between this and the neighbouring building - which is hidden by scaffolding - is a gap. A place where a building once stood, was then either bombed to oblivion or destroyed so badly it had to be demolished, and then forgotten. In all 48000 buildings were destroyed in WW2.
Architects Kenny Cupers and Marcus Miessen calls them "spaces of uncertainty". Architect Phillip Oswald refers to them as "the residual".
Empty weedy lots stand waiting to be sold, or bought, or thought about. In the meantime, temporary uses are created. On one green strip running along-side the canal, ponies graze peacefully. On another roadside block, saggy men sun-bathe nude. Some locals have turned a former East Berlin rubbish dump into an open air café and cinema for the summer. The graffiti scrawled on the building above the Lungo Lungo Lounge reads "all good comes from above" and for 5 months each year it becomes a public garden for the community that live around it. They plant trees, have parties, and built a mini golf course from the brocken TVS and other junk they found there.
Of course the biggest gap is the one left by the Berlin Wall. All 155 kilometres of it and dividing West Berlin from the rest of East Germany.
If one chooses to walk the historic trail that the wall took, one would be surprised at the attempts to remember and the attempts to forget.
At historic Bernauer Street, where the Wall divided the road into West and East, a museum has been built, and a large memorial dedicated to those that lost their lives trying to cross it. Along the street itself, a thin copper line marks the old division. On the East side, a straight line of windowless walls continues all the way to the horizon. A green scar runs alongside these houses, trees and unkept shrubs and flocks of birds live in this empty space, this belt of nothingness. Overgrown vines climb up the sides of the houses, some painted bright colours, others the original grey they had deteriorated to.
On one corner a funfair has been set up for the weekend, making use of this un-owned land. Reminiscent of Wender's "Wings of Desire", there are no angels or white horses here, but the music sends carney vibes over to the other side of the road.
The former no-mans land between Prenzlauerberg in the East and Wedding in the West - where the grass was always kept short for accurate firing range and riddled with land mines - is now one of the largest open spaces in the area.
To some this is an ugly reminder of what was once there, but to the young locals and summer visitors, it's the "Mauerpark", one of Berlin's many green oases within the city. In summer punks, dogs, drug dealers and an amazing escalating toddler population take over this space. On the night before the annual Mayday riots the park is particularly active. Thousands gather for the "Wahlpurgesnacht" celebrating the release of purged spirits with huge bonfires and an even huger police presence.
It is a true public space, without any monuments, memorials, and without any shops. It is not aimed at the consumer, unless you count the odd mobile beer seller. It is a rhizomic entity, growing according to the needs and desires of the community that use it.
It's not just the gaps between being used, but un-used buildings as well. The utopia of squatting has dissipated in Berlin's current real estate market, but many buildings still stand empty.
One of the most exciting examples of recent urban Zwischennutzung has been the "Palastes der Republic" and also one of the city's biggest controversies.
Berlin's original castle was badly damaged in World War 2 and then demolished under the GDR.
On the same site, the party built the "Palastes der Republic", the People's Palace to be used for state meetings and parties. Apparently the sound system was un-surpassed. Following the fall of the Wall, the building was discovered to be choked full of asbestos, and millions of Deutschmark spent on it's removal.
Now after years of debate, the federal Government - in a move pungent of the Disney concept of "imagineering" - has decided to rebuild a "new" castle on the original site, in the former style and glory of the past. Chancellor Schroeder has called it a choice of the "beautiful over the ugly".
Thanks to the work of Think Tank Urban Catalyst, this in-between stage has been given to cultural organisations who have breathed new life into the structure by using it for events, parties and seminars. Even letting the river flow into the lower floors for a theatre performance.
Other projects have meant that the large East German housing blocks on the outskirts of the city, which are rapidly becoming obsolete and empty, have been taken over by artists and students in temporary experiments. The "dostoprimetschatjelnosti" project involved 55 young architects, designers and students from 17 countries moving into an eleven story building for 3 months.
So while Berlin battles with the financial burden of being the Capital, and the desire to build and upgrade is seen on every corner, there seems to be a never ending supply of forgotten and empty sites.
Berlin is still not finished, it's not new and the cranes will remain for a long time more, but the feeling of possibilities here is infectious.
27 Feb 2006
Life Support Systems
Mushrooms dining on motor oil. In our own backyard …
|Soil is the vital system which supports growth of plants which supply food and oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide and nitrogen is a foundation of life, yet we know less about it than we do about deep space. A shovel full of soil contains more living material than the total number of humans ever born. This is a frontier where fungi lay traps for thread-like worms, bacteria dine on toxic chemicals, and unknown species leave scientists and artists with an exciting world of discovery.
Recently, while doing research about mycoremediation we came across the work of Paul Stamets and Diane Whitmore. Stamets coined the term “mycoremediation” which refers to fungal mycelia used in bioremediation. Of particular interest was the work Stamets did with Battelle Laboratories, which was a major contribution to the research at a Washington State Department of Transportation site. This project involved four similar diesel-contaminated mounds of soil, which gave the team the possibility to apply varying remediation techniques in a comparable situation. Three mounds were covered with plastic tarps of which two piles were treated with bacterial remediation techniques and one was left unmanaged. The fourth pile was put into parallel, alternating layers of soil and pure culture sawdust spawn. This mound was left uncovered. Within a few weeks oyster mushrooms thrived on this specific pile and one month later plant life reappeared. A milieu of life forms (mushrooms, insects, larvae, birds, seeds) manifested a small ecosystem prospering on the (previously) toxic soil, in stark contrast to the three other piles. This experiment is evidence that with mycoremediation, brownfields can return to greenfields.
Mycelium possesses the ability to decompose organic structures by using enzymes to dissolve cellulose and lignin within. When the right fungal species are introduced in a contaminated environment, similar chemical bonds that are present in pollutants are broken down by these enzymes as well. Together with the habitats existent organisms, mycelium can decompose a wide variety of durable toxic chemicals. The fact that we can use mycoremediation to destroy the characteristic properties of long-chained toxins and break them down into less complex ones, gives us the possibility to use the technique in many different ways.
In 2002, artist Diane Whitmore was asked to be part of Chlorophilia, a one evening event at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. This green happening, curated by Phil Ross, exhibited the work of plant breeders, garden societies and research scientists, aligning the work of both artist and expert in a tradition that is as old as human culture. Diane had been interested in collecting edible mushrooms for a few years, when her friend suggested she see a Stamets lecture. She was immediately inspired by him and started experimenting with motor oil. She felt that the word on mycoremediation had to get out into other worlds. The Chlorophilia show seemed like an excellent environment for Diane’s OYSTER MUSHROOM BAR, a format that allowed her to engage with her audience and present a recipe to reverse disasters. In one evening she reached 250 people.
Diane’s Bar project took the form of five stools surrounding a bar where visitors were presented with place settings of a different sort. They received dinner plates of snow-white mycelium, and were encouraged to place drops of motor oil onto the cultures, and examine the result with forceps, scalpels and magnifiers. About one hundred plates of agar culture were served. Each plate was served upon information-laden placemats that visitors could take home. People also received ‘servings’ of mushrooms which had been feeding off of motor oil drained straw, and dissected them. In the meantime, standing behind her bar, Diane had the opportunity to answer questions and inform her audience about the possibilities of mycoremediation.
In an email interview with Diane, she revealed the roots of her interest in recycling and renewal: “As for my personal history, I think it really hit me at the age of 25. That would have been 1988. I had a job as a deckhand sailing across the Atlantic on a wooden ship. One day, I was asked to take out the trash. This meant dumping overboard. I didn't understand some of the subtleties of boat living at this point. I simply threw the black bag overboard, expecting I guess, for it to sink. It was a doldrummy, calm hazy day and the bag did not sink. I watched it float away from the ship, unable to retrieve it. It just floated there. It was very upsetting to me.
With help, that day, I organized a system to sort, dispose of and pack out waste. There were times, out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, that I'd see a lone styrofoam cup float by. The Ocean is really big, and you don't see boats for a week at a time, yet a styrofoam cup floats by you. It changed me, I think.
My first gig at the Exploratorium was as a volunteer for a Garbage Symposium in 1994. I was still a student at SFAI. There, I met Mel Chin, who was working with hyper-accumulating plants, remediating a site in Minnesota, my home state. I got interested in that along with collecting wild food and medicine. I had been using junk in diorama-type artworks since the boat trip, then incorporated my interest in systems and sculpture into a recycling and sorting system at the San Francisco Art Institute. Later, I co-developed a human-powered recycling system for the Burning Man project, a week-long temporary community in Nevada that hosts as many as 30,000 participants.”
So for those of us not attending Burning Man, we can look to the sky while we dip our toes into the far reaches of the earth in our backyards. Think globally, act locally!
Amy and Stijn
11 Nov 2005
-a video report
|On a plot of land close to the University of Chicago you find an area with lush community gardens tended by Chicagoans that care for growing their own food. On entering the gardens only the constant humming in the background from the steam power plant, one of the cities most beautiful industrial buildings, reminds you that you are still in the city.
Just behind the gardens allmost covered by vegetation lies an odd shaped building with construction going on. This is the experimental station, a bike workshop, the Baffler magazine, a small business incubator and the studio of Dan Peterman who is the primus motor of the station. The name is well picked, as it is a frame-work for projects starting from a grassroots level that develop over time into small businesses, nonprofit organizations and art projects.
The history of the building dates back to the late 1960's when the station was started by Ken Dunn as the Resource Center - a project that is still ongoing. Dan Peterman acquired the station in 1996, but in 2001 the place burned down and years of work was ruined. Now after years of rebuilding and legal battles the place is almost back on its feet and ready for a gradual start.
The experimental station is a unique project in community- based neighborhood change and shows a break with the all too familiar gentrification process. Creating a space for artists and less affluent groups to come together and produce with the assurance that they won't be evicted allows for a different kind of investment of time and energy into the place.
In many ways the place is a dream situation where an institution together with artists and producers form an ecology that opens possibilities and allows for the sharing of ressources and the development of independent projects and thinking.
The video shows the present progress of experimental station as of October 2005 as well as an interview with Dan Peterman.
Download it here (20 minutes, 21 MB)
if you have a Mac you can watch it with this viewer
The project intersects with recent public debate in Copenhagen about air pollution in the city. In collaboration with Senior Scientist Jørgen Brandt from The National Environmental Research Institute in Denmark a first prototype is developed for making an indicator that can be placed in the city and display local levels of pollution as well as pollution forecasts on individual streets. The project holds an open source script for displaying data from the Internet in a variety of forms.