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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 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:

Education / Sustainability
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