Questions for Political Science Researchers [November, 2018]

The Political Beekeeper's Library

[The Political Beekeeper’s Library. Photo: Erik Sjödin.]

In October 2018 I was invited to present my work with The Political Beekeeper’s Library in a research seminar at The Political Science Division at Linköping University. These are some questions I brought with me for discussion:

According to Thomas D. Seeley, author of Honey Bee Democracy, honey bees implement a sort of representative democracy with quorum sensing for their most important decision; to decide where a swarm should establish a new bee society. Representative quorum sensing is an effective decision making model in this case because the bees have clear and common goals and only need to quickly decide how to most effectively reach those goals. How efficient are human democracies and is it a problem that major societal goals are not clearly defined?

According to Robert E. Page, author of The Spirit of The Hive, the bee hive is mostly self-organised by individuals through a stimuli-response system, rather than through collective decisions. To what degree can human societies be said to be self-organised versus organised by collective decisions?

Honey bees have evolved their societies over millions of years while human societies of similar scale only have existed for some thousand years. Honey bees don’t have to re-invent their societal structures and decision making methods as new societies are established and the same structures and decision making methods are applied in every bee society. How evolved are human societal structures and decisions making methods and how much of our politics can be said to be nature or nurture / nature or culture? Can we predict in what direction human societies and politics will evolve?

Kin selection is the proposed evolutionary mechanism for most species including humans. However, some sociobiologist (mainly E.O. Wilson) has caused controversy by arguing against the dominant paradigm that evolution among humans (like honey bees) may include group selection. The difference between kin and group selection is to what degree individuals make efforts for themselves and their nearest offspring and if there, as in the case of group selection, exists altruism that can extend to a group that doesn’t include near relatives, or if altruism even can be at the expense of individuals and their near relatives. Can fundamental biological and evolutionary mechanisms such as kin or group selection be seen to play fundamental roles in the driving forces and politics of human societies?

Honey bee societies are often described as superorganisms. To what degree is the superorganism concept also valid for human societies? Can for example nations and cities be considered as superorganisms?

The Political Beekeeper’s Library is a collection of books in which parallels are drawn between bees and humans and how they are socially and politically organised. Beehives are well known to host parasites such as the varroa mite but they also host organisms that are beneficial for the bee society (f.ex. bacteria in the bees stomachs). That the bee hive is multi-species is a perspective that is not related to as a parallel between bees and humans in the literature in the library. Does this reflect an unawareness of the multi-species constitution of human societies? How is and can a recognition of multi-species societies be reflected in human politics?


 
 
 
 


In & Beyond Sweden: Journeys Through an Art Scene [November, 2018]

In & Beyond Sweden: Journeys Through an Art Scene

[In & Beyond Sweden. Photo: Albin Dahlström / Moderna Museet 2018]

IN & BEYOND SWEDEN: Journeys Through an Art Scene is a book published in connection The Moderna Exhibition 2018. It offers glimpses into a diversity of artistic practices through presentations of in total 65 artists.

During two years curator Joa Ljungberg and artist Santiago Mostyn has done comprehensive research with the aim to survey the Swedish art scene. In addition to the artist presentations the publication presents their explorative process and includes 13 essays which give different insights into the Swedish art scene. The book is produced in collaboration with Iaspis / Konstnärsnämnden and Moderna Museet.

Below is the short presentation of my practice included in the book, written by artist and writer Frida Sandström:

The Azolla Cooking & Cultivation 2018

[The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project, 2017]

In his art and research activities, Erik Sjödin interweaves political development with the ecological via the term “culture” and its etymological root “cultivation”. Through practical interactive workshops such as building, cooking and study circles, the relationship between politics and ecology is demonstrated. Nothing is explicitly emphasised during the events, but the audience is touched by a subtle reminder that society could think differently.

In his work with a wide range of professions and participants, Erik Sjödin explores man’s historical relationship to base phenomena such as fire, as well as our ability and long tradition of cultivating and preparing food made of water plants. In The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project (2017) he focuses on the little aquatic duckweed fern (Azolla). The plant has been used as bio-fertiliser in Asian rice plantations and is seen as a possible future food source in the potential colonisation of Mars. For the exhibition Agoramania in Paris (2017), Sjödin had rice cakes made of the same fern, which had been picked in the city’s botanical gardens Jardin des Plantes, and served them to the audience. Currently Sjödin is working on a documentary video project about beekeeping in Iceland, where he uses the medium to explore the biopolitical implications of beekeeping. Can our relationship to bees say something about how we treat each other?


 
 
 
 


Azolla Bread at Under tallarna [August, 2018]

Azolla bread

[Azolla bread at Under tallarna. Photo: Erik Sjödin]

The bread above was baked by Under tallarna at their garden party in August 2018. It tasted good but arguably not as great as the same bread baked without Azolla.

The bread was baked with sun-dried Azolla harvested from one of Under tallarna’s watering ponds. As a defence against excessive sunlight the Azolla in the pond had developed a brick-red color. As can be seen in the photo below the red color stays when the Azolla is dried. Azolla that is harvested when it’s green has green-gray color.

The red color comes from deoxyanthocyanins which are antioxidative and generally considered healthy. Azolla also contains minerals, vitamins and possibly other substances which may add to the nutritional value of for example bread. However, wether or not Azolla is healthy to eat remains an open questions. Azolla is an unproven food stuff and there are concerns that cyanobacteria in Azolla may produce neurotoxins. If it’s healthy or not is the key question to resolve with regard to Azolla’s viability as a food stuff, since Azolla generally isn’t a particularly positive addition to the taste of food.

Sun-dried Azolla

[Sun-dried Azolla at Under tallarna. Photo: Erik Sjödin]

In addition to being a potential food stuff Azolla has many other uses. Under tallarna has been evaluating Azolla as a pond cover throughout the summer of 2018 which has had the hottest July in this area of Sweden since the measurements started in 1756. Their impression is that the Azolla likely has reduced evaporation from the pond. They also experience the water to be cleaner and less warm. Another positive effect is that as the water level in the pond sinks the Azolla sticks to the edges of the pond which help keep the edges moist and reduces cracks in the pond. In another pond they grow duck-weed which also grows well but it doesn’t form a cover as thick as the Azolla. A third pond isn’t covered by plants and the water there is more muddy. Eventually they plan to harvest the Azolla and evaluate as fertiliser and mulch in soil. Previous years they have also evaluated azolla as duck food.

A potential drawbacks of growing Azolla in ponds is that it can completely knock out existing ecosystems since it can cover a water surface completely and block sunlight from other plants and organisms. If a pond is only used as a water reservoar this may not be a concern. It can actually be positive since it can reduce unwanted algae growth and prevent mosquitos from breeding. Of more concern is that Azolla may spread to other ponds and waters. Azolla is an invasive plant and considered a problematic weed in many regions of Europe and the rest of the world. In Sweden Azolla is not yet classified as an invasive species since it’s unlikely to survive the cold winters. If climate change should lead to warmer winters this may change, particularly in the south of Sweden.

The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project at Under Tallarna 2018

[Azolla cooking and cultivation at Under tallarna. Photos: Erik Sjödin]


 
 
 
 


Our Friends the Pollinators at Marabouparken [May, 2018]

[Our Friends the Pollinators 2018. Photo: Erik Sjödin.]

“Our Friends the Pollinators” is a workshop for kids, youths and adults to learn how to build homes for pollinators such as honey bees, wild bees and bumble bees.

Honey bees are great pollinators that are often discussed in the media for their important role in pollinating flowers and plants. However, recent scientific studies have shown that wild pollinators are even more important for efficient pollination. Unfortunately many species of wild pollinators are endangered or already extinct. One of several contributing factors is the disappearance of their habitats. In some cases their situation can be helped by constructing various homes for them. Constructing a pollinator house is an opportunity to learn about the needs of pollinators and the larger structural changes we must address to increase biological diversity and make a difference for pollinators.

During the workshop at Marabouparken on May 20 2018 we built houses for wild solitary bees out of birch bark, reed, and non-insect-and-other-animal-product based organic finger paint.

Our Friends the Pollinators at Marabouparken 2018

[Our Friends the Pollinators at Marabouparken May 2018. Photo: Erik Sjödin.]


 
 
 
 


Azolla Cultivations at Hauser & Wirth Somerset [February, 2018]

The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project at Hauser & Wirth Somerset

[Azolla Cultivations at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Photo: Hauser & Wirth Somerset]

I’m thrilled to announce that we have succeeded in getting the Azolla growing in the exhibition ‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind‘, which surveys “the contradictory nature of society’s relationship to the rural”.

In this context the water fern Azolla evokes both sadness and sentimentality over an upsetting and loss of old wildernesses and traditional agriculture, as well as hopes and dreams of a new man-made future.

Azolla was once used as an ornamental plant in British ponds (most notably by William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies) but is now banned from being sold in the UK by the GB Non-native Species Secretariat.

Azolla has been used for thousands of years as biofertiliser in rice paddies in Asia and has recently been proposed as a food stuff for Mars settlements. It is nutritious but potentially neurotoxic. Once an exotic species it is now due to global transports and climate change increasingly established in Europe.

For millions of years only found growing outdoors in unpolluted waters under the sun. Here it is grown in an old threshing barn converted into a gallery, in a synthetic nutrient solution produced by a local horticulture nutrient company with global distribution, under cost-effective but likely soon to be obsolete fluorescent grow lights as well as far red LED-lights, the latest innovation in plant lighting.

The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project at Hauser & Wirth Somerset

[Azolla Cultivations at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Photo: Hauser & Wirth Somerset]


 
 
 
 


A Shipping Box for The Political Beekeeper’s Library [February, 2018]

shipping box for The Political Beekeeper’s Library. Photo: Erik Sjödin.

[A shipping box for The Political Beekeeper’s Library. Photo: Erik Sjödin.]

This shipping box is made to fit the books in The Political Beekeeper’s Library snuggly when they are packed in sealed air envelopes, leaving just a little space in the top for one or two potential new additions to the library. By coincidence the box’s height also makes it convenient to sit on.

When making the box I have studied how shipping boxes and shipping crates are usually made and aimed for stability, low material cost, and fast assembly. Which would be the rational for a shipping box. The box is intended for being transported using a trolley and lugged on trains and in car trunks etc. To keep the weight reasonable while still being sturdy the box is made of 12mm thick plywood. Larger boxes intended to be moved by trucks and loaded as cargo are made of up to 20mm thick plywood. The box is made of plywood only, which also makes it usable for international shipping by boat or plane. In order to not spread pests plywood or ISPM-15 certified wood is often required for international shipping.

The reinforcements on the side of the box secures the bottom and the sides further, but the reinforcements at the top are also intended to function as handles for lifting the box. Larger boxes and crates may also have reinforcements along the middle of the box or crate. However these would then be vertical and not horisontal, so they don’t function as handles and thus won’t come loose when the box is carried and cause the box or its content to brake. Boxes made of very thick plywood usually don’t need any reinforcements.

All sides of the box are glued and nailed, since screwing in the sides of thin plywood might cause it to crack. The walls rest on top of the bottom plywood sheet, which prevents the bottom from popping off when the crate is lifted by a trolley. The reinforcements on the bottom creates a gap between the box and the floor, which makes it easier to pick up the box with a trolley. The lid is possible to fasten with screws if the box is transported unsupervised.


 
 
 
 


Azolla Cultivation in Somerset [December, 2017]

[Backstage Azolla cultivations at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Photo: Hauser & Wirth Somerset]

In preparation for participating with The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project in the exhibition ‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind’, curated by Adam Sutherland at Hauser & Wirth Somerset in England I am currently working with the the gardeners and technical staff at Hauser & Wirth Somerset in an attempt to develop a functional solution for cultivating Azolla in the exhibition. This is a challenge both due to the winter season, which requires Azolla to be grown indoors under artificial light, and the local water, which may not be ideal for Azolla cultivation.

Azolla is native to warm temperate and tropical regions. It was introduced in botanical gardens in the UK in the late 19th century. During the 20th century it became increasingly popular as an ornamental pond plant and also began to appear in the wild.

The Azolla grown in the exhibition has been supplied by a local pond enthusiast who knew where to find some Azolla in Somerset. Azolla regularly appears in waterways such as ponds and canals in Somerset. In the summers sometimes growing to the extent that it becomes a weed that has to be removed. Because of Azolla’s fast growth rate and invasiveness it can cause serious disruption of water ecosystems. Since 2013 it is therefore banned from being sold in the UK.

The rig above shows a backstage cultivation at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, which we have been running for some weeks now. Initially the Azolla was growing really well in this arrangement. However, when the Azolla was split from one into three trays it was overtaken by a rapid algal bloom and turned into a green ‘sludge’.

Given the right light, nutrients and temperature conditions algae can grow very rapidly and consume nutrients that plants such as Azolla needs. As algae bloom, die and decompose, they also remove dissolved oxygen from the water, which impact plant roots. Some blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) produce toxins that are unhealthy for humans and animals to consume, both directly and indirectly through other plants. It is also possible that blue green algae can produce toxins that impact plant growth negatively, although this seems less studied.

Since algae can’t grow without light we are now resolving this issue by making sure that water surfaces where Azolla doesn’t grow are not exposed to light. Hopefully the Azolla will recover decently in time for the exhibition opening in mid January, but we will also continue to work with the Azolla cultivation during the exhibition period. While this algae outbreak was a mishap, it is also a learning experience which will inform further research on Azolla cooking and cultivation.


 
 
 
 


Citizen Proposal for Hästa gård [October, 2017]

Quilt for Akalla ekoodling. Photo: Erik Sjödin.

[Quilt for Akalla ekoodling. Photo: Erik Sjödin.]

The quilt above has been stitched together by supporters of Akalla ekoodling (Akalla Ecological Cultivation), as a way to honor the memory of Akalla ekoolding and process the sorrow of Akalla ekoodling having been evicted from Hästa gård in 2014. Some of the photos on the quilt are photos I took between 2010 and 2014 while following developments at Hästa gård at the time. The photos were also published in the report “Hästa gård – En bondgård på landet i staden” (A Farm on The Countryside in The City).

A Farm on the Countryside in the City” is a series of works that engage with the particular environmental and social context of Hästa gård in Stockholm. Hästa gård is a 200+ hectare farm located in a cultural reserve surrounded by suburbs built during the “million programme” in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s Stockholm’s only working farm and one of the worlds largest urban farms, located within 5 minutes walk from the nearest underground station (Akalla).

The quilt was presented at a community meeting in September 2017 at Husby konsthall, an art space close to Hästa gård. At the community meeting former participants in Akalla ekoodling presented a citizen proposal for how ecological cultivation at Hästa gård and the surrounding cultural reserve could be developed in the future now that the current leaseholder is not getting a renewed contract from the city, which, in combination with a change of politics in Stockholm, potentially opens up new possibilities.


 
 
 
 


Reforestation in Iceland [October, 2017]

[Campfire in Iceland. Photo: Erik Sjödin]

This unassuming fireplace and the surrounding forest are actually quite special. Only a mere 1-2 percent of Iceland is covered with forest, which provides for relatively few great camp fire spots.

Reforestation on Iceland, Summer 2017

[Reforestation site in Iceland. Photos: Erik Sjödin]

When human settlers first arrived to Iceland in the 9th century they cut down all the forest that was there in the first two three hundred years, to clear land for grazing and cultivation, and to use the wood for fuel and construction.

Forests on Iceland haven’t recovered anywhere near the 25-40% that used to cover Iceland before the settlers came, but they are slowly growing because of reforestation efforts started mainly to help agriculture by stabilizing soils and reduce desertification, and for timber production. The official goal is to reach 12% forest cover by 2100.