Kayak Building at Slakthusateljéerna [November, 2015]

Last winter me and my friend Carl-Johan Rosén built our own kayaks at Slakthusateljéerna in Stockholm.

Kayak Building at Slakthusateljéerna 2014/2015

[Kayak Building at Slakthusateljéerna. Photos: Erik Sjödin and Carl-Johan Rosén]

The kayaks we built are skin-on-frame kayaks. We made the frames of found wood and used different materials for the skins. The white one is nylon coated with polyurethane varnish. The black is PVC. Both are pretty cheap, and work fine, but the nylon is much more durable and I like the feeling of it better. Neither is perfect from an environmental point of view.

I think the next one I do will be with either a recycled tarp or something organic such as hemp or cotton canvas. After seals but before synthetic fabrics people used canvas coated with mixtures of linseed oil and tar. Ideally I would like to find a material that is waterproof, durable, non-toxic and either recyclable or biodegradable. Re-skinning a kayak is not a big deal so it doesn’t have to last forever.

Skin-on-frame kayaks can be very light, durable, functional, and inexpensive and easy to build. In many ways they can equal or be better than modern glassfiber kayaks. However, they are not as safe as modern sea kayaks, mostly because they don’t have waterproof compartments. Therefore it’s even more important to practice rescue techniques and use safety equipment such as a personal floating device, float bags, pump, paddle float and good clothes.


 
 
 
 


Azolla at Under tallarna and in the Earthscore Specularium [October, 2015]

I’m not pursuing any specific project with Azolla at the moment, like I used to with The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project, but I still dabble with it when I can. This summer I have introduced the water fern to Under tallarna (Under the pines), a progressive culture and cultivation community in Järna outside of Stockholm, and to Luis Berros Negron who is now growing it in his house / installation / performance “Earthscore Specularium” at Färgfabriken in Stockholm.

Azolla Cultivation and Harvesting at Under tallarna 2015

[Azolla Cultivation and Harvesting at Under tallarna 2015. Photos: Erik Sjödin]

Azolla grows year around in tropical and temperate regions. It’s one of the world’s fastest growing plants and it can be very invasive, in many places it’s considered a weed. In Sweden it can’t survive the winters when the water freezes, which is good because it prevents it from spreading uncontrollably. However, in the summer it can grow really well. At Under tallarna we planted a couple of handfulls in July and it covered the whole pond in the photos above, as well as two smaller ponds, in about a month. From then on it has kept growing. In September Under tallarna harvested most of it to try it out as mulch and compost. It’s difficult to know how much nitrogen Azolla fixates from the air, since it also can take up nitrogen from the water, but it should provide both a positive nitrogen and carbon input to the site.

Ducks in Azolla pond at Under tallarna

[Ducks swimming in Azolla pond at Under tallarna. Video: Erik Sjödin]

The ducks at Under tallarna eat Azolla, but they also have access to other food and we have not made any effort to measure how much Azolla they eat. We also haven’t tried to determine if the Azolla influences their health or egg production. It might have a positive effect, since it has shown to increase cow’s milk production. On the other hand there are some health concerns with Azolla that I have written about in a previous post. My feeling is that the ducks are slightly bothered about the Azolla when it covers the whole surface of their pond, since it makes it more difficult for them to swim and dive, but that they enjoy having it around otherwise.

Azolla and Ducks at Färgfabriken 2015

[Azolla and Ducks in the Earthscore Specularium at Färgfabriken 2015. Photos: Erik Sjödin]

The ducks at Färgfabriken immediately started to eat the Azolla when we put some in their pond. I would say that ducks ought to have an environment like Under tallarna to really thrive. The space they live in at Färgfabriken is quite small, but they do have the possibility to exit the cage and roam around in a larger green house and backyard area, and they will only stay there for two-three months. In any case they have it much better than factory farmed poultry. It seems like the Azolla is fun and tasty for the ducks and Luis will also be evaluating it as fodder for tilapia and hens.


 
 
 
 


Utlöparna: Frågor och svar [September, 2015]

[The Political Beekeeper’s Library at Art Lab Gnesta 2015. Foto: Erik Sjödin]

Berätta om bakgrunden till Den politiska biodlarens bibliotek?

Den politiska biodlarens bibliotek är ett resultat av en snart fem år lång process som inkluderar flera mer eller mindre genomförda projekt som alla kretsar kring relationer mellan människor och bin.

Jag började intressera mig för biodling i och med att fenomenet “Colony Collapse Disorder” uppmärksammades i media i slutet av 2000-talet. I samband med det blev jag förbluffad över hur intensivt och storskaligt biodling bedrivs på många håll i världen. Till exempel i Kalifornien där det hänt att det fraktats in stora lass med bisamhällen med jetplan från Australien för att pollinera mandelodlingar.

Idén med “Biodlarsamhället” var att under en sommar bygga bikupor för honungsbin, anlägga en liten trädgård med blommande fruktträd, grönsaker och örter, konstruera en social miljö med bänkar och bord samt ordna med en enklare servering av lokalproducerad och ekologisk mat och dryck. I denna miljö skulle vi sedan ha en programverksamhet med samtal, filmvisningar och workshops.

Biodlarsamhället var även tänkt att illustrera hur ett kulturprojekt aktivt kan inkludera ickemänniskor, det vill säga djur och växter med flera. För att förklara så förhöll jag mig till begreppet “relationell estetik”. Relationell estetik växte fram i slutet av 90-talet som ett samlingsnamn för konstprojekt som kretsar kring sociala aktiviteter, och på olika vis inkluderar människor som aktörer och medskapare. När relationell estetik var som mest aktuellt som ett begrepp i samtidskonsten var det en hel del debatt om vilka kulturella och sociala grupper som inkluderades i denna typ av projekt och på vilka premisser. Men det var, vad jag har kunnat se, överhuvudtaget ingen debatt om och hur ickemänniskor var inkluderade.

Efter att projektmedelsansökan för Biodlarsamhället fått avslag flyttade jag till Bergen i Norge för att studera på konstskola. Dels för att det var en möjlighet att med studiestöd arbeta vidare med egna idéer och projekt, men även av nyfikenhet på att vistas som student på en konstskola och i en annorlunda kulturell och geografisk miljö.

Samtidigt som jag flyttade till Bergen drog Occupy Wall Street igång i New York. Jag följde denna utveckling med stort intresse och engagemang, även om jag gjorde det på distans, och för mig innebar det ett politiskt uppvaknande.

Från att tidigare till övervägande del arbetat med naturvetenskaplig och teknisk forskning och utveckling, fortsatte jag i Bergen att fördjupa mig i humaniora som filosofi, sociologi och antropologi – en riktning som jag rört mig i sedan jag började driva egna projekt efter att jag slutat arbeta som anställd ingenjör och forskare – men också som ett resultat av mitt nya politiska engagemang och att de perspektiven dominerade bland lärare och gästlärare på konstskolan.

I Bergen började jag därför skissa på ett nytt projekt kring biodling där dessa perspektiv skulle vara mer närvarande. I den nya projektidén utgick jag mycket från Thomas D. Seeleys bok “Honey Bee Democracy” som publicerades 2010. I boken beskriver Seeley hur honungsbin tar gemensamma beslut när de svärmar och ska välja en ny boplats. Seeley nämner även att de tillämpar en beslutsmodell bygd på samma principer som honungsbina i den forskargrupp han själv leder.

Inspirerad av detta var min idé att studera hur biodlingsföreningar är organiserade på olika håll i världen. Biodlarföreningar är ofta föreningar som har funnits i många år och utvecklat välfungerande system för att dela på utrustning för biodling och utbyta kunskap mellan medlemmar. Jag tänkte att detta vore intressant att studera, och att det kanske skulle vara möjligt att hitta paralleller eller olikheter mellan biodlarföreningarnas organisation och hur bisamhällen är organiserade.

Min tanke var att bygga upp ett projekt kring biodlingsföreningar på Island, England och i Spanien. Tre platser i Europa som är kulturellt och geografiskt intressanta, med både stora likheter och skillnader. England och Spanien var också naturliga val för att jag såg möjligheter att samarbeta med konstorganisationer på landsbygden där som jag varit i kontakt med tidigare.

På många sätt såg jag slutresultatet av detta projekt framför mig som en antropologisk studie, till stora delar bygd på visuell dokumentation i foto och video. För att ge något tillbaka till biodlarföreningarna tänkte jag att jag kunde introducera dem till diverse böcker och texter som jag samlat på mig genom min research om biodling.

Efter ett år i Bergen hamnade jag i en privatekonomisk och existensiell kris. I och med detta så stannade det nya projektet vid en projektbeskrivning. Men när ett arbete har fått en viss substans finner jag det svårt att bara lägga allt i malpåse. Därav tog idén om “Den politiska biodlarens bibliotek” som ett fristående projekt form.

Andra delar av den ursprungliga idén med projektet “Biodlarsamhället” har jag efter att jag flyttad tillbaka till Stockholm från Bergen genomfört tillsammans med bland andra Eggeby gård och Tensta konsthall. Nu i sommar har jag bland annat byggt bikupor och boplatser för humlor och andra vilda pollinatörer tillsammans med sommarjobbande ungdomar på Eggeby gård.

Med stöd från Konstfrämjandet har jag under sommaren också genomfört studiecirkeln “Människor och bin” hos Under tallarna i Järna. I studiecirkeln har vi fört ett samtal med utgångspunkt i böcker i “Den politiska biodlarens bibliotek” samt akademiska texter som på olika vis belyser relationer mellan människor och bin. Jag har också arbetat med att i foto och video dokumentera sammanhanget som studiecirkeln har skett i hos Under tallarna – i linje med det jag hade i åtanke med det projekt som jag skissade på i Bergen.

Den politiska biodlarens bibliotek presenteras i utställningsform hos Art Lab Gnesta i september. I och med detta har jag kunnat införskaffa fler böcker till bibliotek, som nu inkluderar över tjugo titlar, och fått möjlighet att arbeta mer med att läsa, katalogisera och presentera böckerna. Det är med andra ord mycket som har fallit på plats denna sommar.

[Människor och bin, studiecirkel hos Under tallarna 2015. Foto: Erik Sjödin]

- Vilka frågeställningar har cirkeln tagit upp?

I studiecirkeln har vi diskuterat hur biodling bedrivs i världen idag och för vilka syften. Till exempel har vi diskuterat den storskaliga biodlingen i USA där bin används för att maximera ekonomisk vinst från honungsproduktion och pollinering av stora monokulturer, samt biodling i ett samhälle i England där bin sköts om för deras egen skull och inte i första hand med syfte att göra ekonomisk vinst. Vi har också diskuterat hur bin används militärt och forskas på för militära syften. I USA satsas det till exempel mer pengar på forskning om honungsbin för militära ändamål än på annan forskning om bin.

I studiecirkeln har vi även tittat närmare på vilket levnadsätt bin har och hur de kan sägas vara politiskt organiserade. Honungsbin kategoriseras som eusociala djur, vilket bland annat innebär att de är djur som lever i samhällen där fortplantningen sköts av bara en eller några få individer samt att det finns en arbetsuppdelning i samhället.

När honungsbin svärmar och måste ta ett gemensamt beslut om vart svärmen ska starta ett nytt bisamhälle använder de något som kallas för “Quorum sensing”. Kortfattat innebär det att när ett tillräckligt stort antal individer, i det här fallet spanarbin, anser att en boplats är en tillräckligt bra enligt vissa givna kriterier, som storleken på boplatsen och ingångshålet, så flyttar hela svärmen dit. Det är alltså inte en enskild individ, t.ex. drottningen i samhället, som beslutar om vart svärmen ska flytta. Men det är heller inte ett beslut där alla inblandade deltar eller är överens.

I den första studiecirkelträffen presenterade jag böcker som ingår i “Den politiska biodlarens bibliotek”. Dessa sträcker sig från Historia animalium av Aristotles, från 300-talet före Kristus, till Honey bee democracy av Thomas D. Seeley från 2010, via bland andra The Feminine Monarchy av Charles Butler från 1609. I böckerna i biblioteket går det att se en tydlig utveckling av hur bisamhället har beskrivits som att ha styrts av en stark manlig härskare, till en monarki med en drottning, till något som kan liknas vid en demokrati utan tydliga ledare.

Att presentera “Den politiska biodlarens bibliotek” i studiecirkeln hos Under tallarna har varit en bra förberedelse inför den presentationen hos Art Lab Gnesta. Biblioteket kan, liksom stora delar av vår historieskrivning i övrigt, med rätta kritiseras för att domineras av ett manlig västerländskt perspektiv. I studiecirkeln funderade vi på vilka perspektiv som kunde ha hittats på andra håll, till exempel i asiatisk litteratur, eller i muntliga traditioner, t.ex. från Afrika.

I studiecirkeln har vi också bollat många filosofiska begrepp som vi introducerats till i de texter vi läst; till exempel Judit Butlers idé om “delad sårbarhet” och Marcel Mauss idéer om “gåvan”. I båda dessa fallen har vi funderat på hur dessa begrepp, som ursprungligen syftar på relationer mellan människor, kan inkludera relationer mellan människor och ickemänniskor. Det är även mycket som vi har introducerats till i de texter vi läst men som vi inte har hunnit gå djupare in på, t.ex. Jane Bennets begrepp “vibrant matter”.


 
 
 
 


Three Stone Fires in Losæter [June, 2015]

Three Stone Fire, Erik Sjödin 2015

[Three Stone Fire at Losæter 2015. Photo: Erik Sjödin]

During the Full Moon Celebration arranged by Flatbread Society in Losæter / Slow Space Bjørvika in Oslo I built and tended three so called “three-stone fires“. One for cooking soup, one for baking bread, and one for cooking potatoes.

Because of the wind conditions at the site where we had originally planned to have the fires we decided to move everything to a more sheltered location. However, what we didn’t notice was that the ground on the new spot that we settled for was very peat rich soil. Peat is flammable and was traditionally used by Norwegians as fuel for heating and cooking. After some time the fire spread under the earth and smoke started to come up through the soil everywhere around the fires. Fortunately, we could counter the earth fire by creating a row of watering cans to extinguish the fires and keep the soil soaked throughout the evening.

Full Moon Celebration with Flatbread Society in Oslo 2014

[Full Moon Celebration with Flatbread Society at Losæter 2015. Photos: Erik Sjödin]

Another surprise was the discovery that the potatoes we cooked came from Israel. The potatoes were bought in a supermarket known for having one of the better selections of ecological food in Oslo. It was labelled as ecological early potatoes and packaged in brown paper bags with the stores own brand for environmentally sound products. However, as we later discovered, printed on a tiny sticker underneath the bag it said that the potatoes origin was Israel. This came as great surprise since this was a good potato year and close by, in Sweden, early potatoes were already in stores everywhere and almost given away for free. One wonders how potatoes can be imported from Israel to Norway, when there is an abundance of potatoes close by and people are suffering from food insecurity in the region where the potatoes come from. The potatoes tasted good but were large and not comparable to the small early potatoes that Swedish people traditionally enjoy cooked with dill. Because of their large size and the poor performance of the three-stone fire the potatoes cooked slowly, but they were ready to eat by the time the full moon had risen.


 
 
 
 


Revisiting ARARAT [May, 2015]

Revisiting ARARAT 2015

[Revisiting ARARAT, Ulrika Jansson and Jan Öqvist 2015. Photos: Erik Sjödin]

In Search for ARARAT is a research project by artist Ulrika Jansson, starting out from the exhibition ARARAT – Alternative Research in Architecture, Resources, Art and Technology at Moderna Museet in Stockholm 1976.

ARARAT was an ambitious interdisciplinary project showing existing alternatives of how to build an ecologically sound society taking its energy from renewable resources. In workshops and other meetings during the course Architectural Theory and History at Mejan Arc / Royal institute of Art in Stockholm Ulrika Jansson brings together some of the original members of ARARAT with a number of people involved in architecture, art and sustainability issues today. Together the participants try to create a picture of what ARARAT was, what we can learn from the project today and how we can develop collaborations between different disciplines relevant to the challenges we face in the contemporary state of societies and culture.

At 26th of May Ulrika Jansson invited the original member of ARARAT Jan Öqvist to hold a guided walk at Skeppsholmen where ARARAT used to be situated and to show a slideshow with original images of ARARAT. Afterwards the group of invited guests participated in a workshop where we discussed two questions: What ways of working with ARARAT in 1976 do you find most interesting? And how do the challenges we face today differ from 1976 and in what ways do we need to approach them now?


 
 
 
 


Fire and Meditation [May, 2015]

[This is the manuscript for a short talk on fire and meditation that I made while studying at the Academy of Art and Design in Bergen 2012]

In Full Catastrophe Living, mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat Zinn notes that in earlier times daylight and night dictated life rhythms different from the ones we have today: “Many tasks just could not be done at night for lack of light. Sitting around fires at night, their only sources of heat and light, had a way of slowing people down – it was calming as well as warming. Staring into the flames and the embers, the mind could focus on the fire, always different, yet always the same. People could watch it moment by moment and night after night, month after month, year after year, through the seasons – and see time stand still in the fire. Perhaps the ritual of sitting around fires was mankind’s first experience of meditation.”

[Fire Puja by Tibetan Buddhists in New York. Video: Padmasambhava Buddhist Center]

The use of and reference to fire can be found in many meditative traditions. Shingon Buddhists, an esoteric Buddhist sect in Japan, for example, practice a fire ritual called Goma (Homa), which allegedly has a powerful psychologic cleansing effect and can destroy detrimental thoughts and desires. Similar fire rituals are practiced in Tibetan Buddhism. In the Tibetan rituals, called Vajrasattva fire pujas, offerings are made into a fire accompanied by the sound of chanting, cymbals and trumpets.

Tibetan Buddhists also practice a meditation method called Tum-mo, which can be translated as “inner fire”. The inner fire is supposed to increase wisdom by burning away the ignorant mind and give realization and liberation from the darkness of unawareness. However, in the west Tum-mo meditators are most known for their ability to increase their body temperature, which makes it possible for them to stay in conditions that normally would cause hypothermia. In the 1980‘s scientists from Harvard Medical School studied Tum-mo meditators who had been living in small uninsulated and unheated stone huts at the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. They found that the meditators could increase the temperature of their fingers and toes by as much as 8.3°C.

Unfortunately Buddhist monks have also been known to literally put themselves on fire. The most well known case is that of Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who burned himself to death in Saigon in 1963 in protest of the governments oppression of the Buddhist religion. David Halberstam, the photographer who took the iconic photographs of the burning monk recalls: “I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think … As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.”

As I write this, in November 2012, Tibetan monks are setting themselves on fire in protest against Chinas occupation of Tibet. According to the BBC six Tibetans have set themselves on fire just this month, and more than sixty Tibetans have set themselves on fire since early 2011.

2500 years ago the Buddha gave a discourse to a thousand fire-worshipping monks in India. It is said that it was the Buddha’s custom to adapt his teachings to a language that suited the audience, and, according to legend, upon hearing the Buddha’s sermon the fire-worshipping monks attained full awakening. The discourse in known as The Fire Sermon. It goes like this:

“Monks, all is burning. And what, monks, is all that is burning? The eye is burning, form is burning, eye-consciousness is burning, eye-contact is burning, and whatever feeling arises with eye contact as condition, whether pleasant or painful or neither pleasant or painful, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, burning with the fire of hatred, burning with the fire of delusion. Burning with birth, aging and death. With sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.

The ear is burning, sounds are burning, ear consciousness is burning, ear contact is burning, and whatever feeling arises with ear contact as condition, whether pleasant or painful or neither pleasant or painful, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, burning with the fire of hatred, burning with the fire of delusion. Burning with birth, aging and death. With sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.

The nose is burning, odors are burning, nose consciousness is burning, nose contact is burning, and whatever feeling arises with nose contact as condition, whether pleasant or painful or neither pleasant or painful, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, burning with the fire of hatred, burning with the fire of delusion. Burning with birth, aging and death. With sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.

The tongue is burning, flavors are burning, tongue consciousness is burning, tongue contact is burning, and whatever feeling arises with tongue contact as condition, whether pleasant or painful or neither pleasant or painful, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, burning with the fire of hatred, burning with the fire of delusion. Burning with birth, aging and death. With sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.

The body is burning, tangibles are burning, body consciousness is burning, body contact is burning, and whatever feeling arises with body contact as condition, whether pleasant or painful or neither pleasant or painful, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, burning with the fire of hatred, burning with the fire of delusion. Burning with birth, aging and death. With sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.

Mind is burning, mental formations are burning, mind consciousness is burning, mind contact is burning, and whatever feeling arises with mind contact as condition, whether pleasant or painful or neither pleasant or painful, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, burning with the fire of hatred, burning with the fire of delusion. Burning with birth, aging and death. With sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.

Seeing thus, monks, the instructed noble disciple experiences revulsion towards the eye, towards forms, towards eye consciousness, towards eye contact, towards whatever feeling arises with eye contact as condition. Whether pleasant or painful or neither painful nor pleasant. He experiences revulsion towards the ear, towards the nose, towards the tongue, towards the body, towards the mind. Towards whatever feeling arises with mind contact as condition. Experiencing revulsion he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion his mind is liberated. He understands: Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what has been done has been done. There is no more state of being.”


 
 
 
 


Appropriate Technology [April, 2015]

Three-Stone Fire

[Three-stone fire. By Erik Sjödin at Flatbread Society / Slow Space Bjørvika in Oslo 2014. Photo: Erik Sjödin]

A three-stone fire is one of the simplest arrangements for cooking food over fire. Unfortunately three-stone fires are very inefficient cooking solutions. As little as 5-10 percent of the heat a three-stone fire produces is transferred to the cooking pot.

It is estimated that around three billion people worldwide still cook over open fire, such as three-stone fires, or using rudimentary biomass burning cookstoves. These kinds of cooking solutions are major contributors to global warming, pollution, and deforestation, and every year millions of people die prematurely and fall sick from having breathed in smoke while cooking. Inefficient cookstoves are also a source of inequality since it is mainly women who cook and gather fuel, at the expense of studying or pursuing income generating work.

Rocket Stoves in Haiti

[Rocket Stoves in Haiti 2010. Photo: Global Giving]

The photo above shows women in Haiti learning to use rocket stoves delivered as aid after the devastating earthquake in Haiti 2010. Rocket stoves use a vertical chimney as a high-temperature combustion chamber to achieve almost complete combustion before the flames reach the cooking surface. Because of this rocket stoves can reach thermal efficiencies up to 40% percent, which is four to eight times better than an open fire and more than three times better than electric stoves. Rocket stoves can be made quite easily and cheaply from used materials such as metal pipes and empty barrels or gas containers, or mass produced using industrial processes. Because they are so much more efficient they solve a lot of problem associated with open fires or ineffective biomass burning stoves.

Rocket stoves are one of the most famous examples of “Appropriate Technology”, a term that came to be quite well known in the 1970’s and 1980’s but is less well known today. However, many of the ideas that define appropriate technology are now key concepts within open source technology, do-it-yourself technology and sustainable technology. Social design is term which is becoming more common that also encapsulates many of the ideals of appropriate technology.

Appropriate technology can be described as technology intended to increase the standard of living in the poorer and less industrialised, parts of the world without causing injustice or environmental damage. Usually appropriate technology aim to solve problems related to the very basic necessities of life, such as access to clean water and food, basic sanitation, and problems associated with unemployment and urbanisation.

Obviously no one would argue that rocket stoves are mainstream cooking solutions in the wealthier, industrialised parts of the world. However the philosophy of appropriate technology is also valid there. Looking at appropriate technology solutions for poorer countries also helps to put living in the wealthier parts of the world in perspective.

The idea of appropriate technology can be traced back to 1955 when the British economist E.F Schumacher came up with the concept “Intermediate Technology” after visiting Burma (Myanmar), which at the time was an unindustrialised country.

Schumacher defined intermediate technology as technology that, in terms of capital intensity, labour intensity, and scale, is somewhere in-between technology in the western industrialised world and technology in so called developing countries. He argued that intermediate technology is what developing countries need, rather than the same technology as in the west.

In 1973 Schumacher published “Small is Beautiful” in which he argued against Keynesian economics and the idea of growth based on fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources. To get on he argued that we need an “economics of permanence”. This, he further argued, implies a reorientation of science and technology so that scientists, engineers and designers, produce methods and equipment which are:

– cheap enough so that they are accessible to virtually everyone
– suitable for small scale application
– compatible with man’s need for creativity

In “Small is Beautiful” Schumacher further discusses various, in his opinion, desirable properties of technology under headings such as “Technology with a Human Face” and “Appropriate Technology”.

In the chapter “Technology with a Human Face” he argues that it would be better if people were more directly involved in production, instead of “doing jobs that are not directly productive, or just killing time more or less humanely”. Schumacher estimated that in 1973 productive time in society was about 3.5% of total time, the rest was unproductive work.

Schumacher argued that the drift of modern technological development is to reduce production time towards zero, but he entertained an idea, which he admitted could be perceived as utopian, of what life could be if productive time instead of being decreased was increased six-fold, to 20% of the time.

If this would be done Schumacher argued that; “There would be six times as much time for any piece of work we chose to undertake – enough to make a really good job of it, to enjoy oneself, to produce real quality, even to make things beautiful. … Everybody would be welcome to lend a hand. Everybody would be admitted to what is now the rarest privilege, the opportunity of working usefully, creatively, with his own hands and brains, in his own time, at his own pace … People who work in this way do not know the difference between work and leisure. Unless they sleep or eat or occasionally choose to do nothing at all, they are always agreeably, productively engaged.”
Soft Technology Society

 

[Some utopian characteristics of soft technology. Click for full list. Text: Robin Clarke]

In the 1970’s “intermediate technology”, “technology with a human face” and other labels for alternatives to industrial technology were brought together under the umbrella of “appropriate technology”.

Some of these labels were:

Soft technology
Democratic technology
People’s technology
Alternate technology
Adaptive technology
Capital-saving technology
Labor-intensive technology
Self-help technology
Village-level technology
Community technology
Progressive technology
Indigenous technology
Light-engineering technology
Light-capital technology

In 1983 OECD – The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which includes most of the wealthy countries in the world, defined appropriate technology as technology with “low investment cost per work-place, low capital investment per unit of output, organizational simplicity, high adaptability to a particular social or cultural environment, sparing use of natural resources, low cost of final product or high potential for employment.”

As I mentioned earlier appropriate technology is usually focused on solving problems in developing countries and in areas where there is extreme poverty, which often mean rural farming areas or urban slums. In these contexts appropriate technology often focuses on solving problems related to the very basic necessities of life, such as; access to clean water and healthy food; food production, food storage and cooking; as well as basic sanitation such as toilet facilities and waste management.

Three inventions and designs that are examples of appropriate technology are “The Hippo Water Roller”, “The Universal Nut Sheller” and “The Peepoo Bag”.

The Hippo Water Roller

[The Hippo Water Roller. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID]

The hippo water roller is a device for carrying water more easily and efficiently than traditional methods, such as carrying water in buckets on the head. It consists of a barrel-shaped container which holds the water and can be rolled along the ground using a handle attached to the axis of the barrel.

It is claimed that using the hippo water roller approximately five times the amount of water can be transported in less time and with less effort than carrying water on the head. The roller can also be used to distribute other things than water, such as for example food and medical supplies, and it can be airdropped into disaster areas.

The Universal Nut Sheller

[The Universal Nut Sheller. Photo: Unknown]

The Universal Nut Sheller is a device for shelling nuts. Every year, in Africa alone, women spend about 4 billion hours shelling peanuts by hand. For many of the poorest families, peanuts are the only protein they can afford and the crop they take to the market. But there is little or no value in the shell. When shelling peanuts by hand 1 kilo an hour is a normal shelling rate. The Universal Nut Sheller does peanuts 50 times faster, at the rate of 50 kg/hr.

The Universal Nut Sheller has been designed as a kit that is easy to assemble, and once one has been assembled local builders and welders can replicate the device and make more of them.

The Peepoo Bag

[The Peepoo Bag. Photo: Ashley Wheaton, Sustainable Sanitation Alliance]

The Peepoo bag is a compostable bag which is put in a bucket an used as a toilet. After it has been used it is taken away and composted and eventually used as fertiliser for growing food crops.

Globally more than 2,5 billion people have no access to basic sanitation. 40% of the world’s population lack access to even the simplest latrine. Human faeces contain viruses, bacteria, worms and parasites which kill and infect people with serious diseases. In densely populated areas such as slums and refugee camps lack of sanitation can cause epidemics to brake out.

The peepoo bag is a relatively new product but it has for example been used in refugee camps in Syria and it seems to be working well.

The PlayPump

[The PlayPump. Photo: Unknown]

The PlayPump is an example of an appropriate technology invention that has received a lot of critique. Just like any new technology, appropriate technology inventions often fail, and some things catch on and get a lot of traction for the wrong reasons. Often because the marketing is better than the actual product. The PlayPump is an example of this.

The PlayPump is a roundabout which pumps water. The idea is that kids play with it and when they play water is being pumped up. The PlayPump looks both fun and useful, and it got a lot of attention when it was launched and quickly received support from celebrities and philanthropists.

However after some time it was discovered that the PlayPump often didn’t work well because kids don’t necessarily play when water is needed, and as a water pump designed for adults it’s not the most practical solution. Of course, if kids are forced to play on the PlayPump to pump water it’s more child labour than play.

It also seems like the advertisers greatly exaggerated the efficiency of the pump. The Guardian calculated in 2009 that children would have to “play” for 27 hours every day to meet PlayPumps’ stated targets of providing 2,500 people per pump with their daily water needs. However it does seem like the PlayPump can work well in some locations and circumstances, such as on school playgrounds.

Many other inventions fail because they are technically flawed or because they are not designed with an understanding for the contexts they are to be used within and the people they will be used by.

In his classic book “Design for The Real World”, first published in 1971, Victor Papanek lists more or less good ways of working with design and technology for the needs of underdeveloped and emergent countries.

“The simplest, most often employed, and probably shabbiest, is for the designer to sit in his New York, London or Stockholm office and design things to be mad in say, Tanzania [for consumption in the West]. … Should the economy of the wealthy Western country fail, the emergent country’s new economic independence fails with it.”

Ideally, Papanek says, the designer should spend time in the country and develop designs really suited to the needs of people there. The designer would also train designers to train designers. This way there would eventually be designers that are “firmly committed to their own cultural heritage, their own life-styles, and their own needs.”

Although appropriate technology usually is used in the sense of technology intended for developing countries and the concept is rooted in the 1970’s, the philosophy of appropriate technology is equally valid in industrialised and developed countries today.

I hope the term appropriate technology receives a revival and is used more often also in relation to design and technology developed for the wealthier parts of the world. Both because of the design principles and thinking it has come to encapsulate, but also because the word “appropriate technology” in itself forces us to consider the seldom straight forward question of what is appropriate.

In the 1950’s the famous British / American physicist Freeman Dyson was part of a group that intended to build nuclear explosion propelled space ships to take people to Jupiter and beyond. Today most people would consider nuclear explosion driven space ships that would contaminate the earth with radioactive fallout to be pretty far from appropriate technology. Given what we now know about radiation Freeman Dyson himself admits that nuclear propelled space ships would be a bad idea. However, if one day an approaching meteor threatens to extinct life on Earth the idea might seem very appropriate.

The two wheeled pedal powered bicycle is my favourite appropriate technology and I want to end with some rather hopeful thoughts from Freeman Dyson, on bicycles, technology and failure:

“You can’t possibly get a good technology going without an enormous number of failures. It’s a universal rule. If you look at bicycles, there were thousands of weird models built and tried before they found the one that really worked. You could never design a bicycle theoretically. Even now, after we’ve been building them for 100 years, it’s very difficult to understand just why a bicycle works – it’s even difficult to formulate it as a mathematical problem. But just by trial and error, we found out how to do it, and the error was essential.”

[This post was originally written for a lecture as visiting tutor at the Interior Architecture and Design Programme at Konstfack – University College of Art, Craft and Design in Stockholm]


 
 
 
 


Azolla, BMAA, and Neurodegenerative Diseases [January, 2015]

[Since 2010 I have been doing research on Azolla as a potential food stuff for humans. In 2012 I summarised my research up until then in the book “The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project”. In the book I made it clear that I had no conclusive answer as to if Azolla is healthy to eat or not, and that further research is needed. In conjuncture with a re-activation of “The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project” at Domaine de Chamarande last summer and a presentation of my work with Azolla at the Survival Kit Festival in Umeå last autumn (2014), I made an effort to do more research on the healthiness of Azolla. The text below is the result of this effort. I did not arrive at a conclusive answer this time either. However, the questions that need to be answered are clearer.]

Azolla kitchen at Färgfabriken in Stockholm

[Azolla kitchen at Färgfabriken in Stockholm. Photo: Erik Sjödin]

Azolla is a water fern that forms a symbiosis with nitrogen fixing cyanobacteria. Studies have shown that BMAA, a non-protein amino acid, is present in Azolla [1]*. BMAA has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinsons dementia complex (PDC). Since Azolla has been suggested as a food stuff and is used as animal fodder [12] it is relevant to consider the relationship between Azolla, BMAA, and neurodegenerative diseases. This document attempts to answer the question wether or not there is reason to be worried about BMAA if Azolla is used as food for humans or as animal fodder. The short answer is that there is reason to be sceptical about using great amounts of Azolla as food for humans or as animal fodder but probably no reason to worry about consumption of smaller amounts of Azolla. However, without further research it is difficult to say anything for certain.

BMAA is produced by cyanobacteria and can be found in water where there are cyanobacteria, on plants living in symbiosis with cyanobacteria, and in animals feeding on sources of BMAA. The link between BMAA and neurodegenerative disease was discovered by studying the diet of Chamorro people on Guam, an island in the south-west Pacific Ocean. Since the 1940s the cause of highly raised occurrence of ALS-PDC within the Chamorro population on Guam has been searched for. In the 1950s incidence of ALS-PDC among the Chamorro was 50-100 times greater than ALS-PDC elsewhere [6] [5], with people contracting ALS-PDC already in their 40s [5]. Causes for this that have been hypothesised and discarded include hereditary causes, environmental causes, infectious agents, prions, and micronutrient deficiency. [5]

In 1967, a new substance, BMAA, was discovered on cycad seeds on Guam [7]. It was later discovered that the BMAA found in cycad seeds is produced by a nitrogen fixating cyanobacteria living in a symbiosis with the cycad seeds (similar to the symbiosis that nitrogen fixating cyanobacteria form with Azolla) [11]. After the discovery of BMAA on cycad seeds It was hypothesised that BMAA could be linked to ALS-PDC on Guam since the Chamorro ate flour made from cycad seeds. However, it was argued that the quantities of BMAA were too low in cycad flour to be of concern and the hypothesis was discarded. In the 2000s the hypothesis was brought up again as scientists found that BMAA could accumulate through biomagnification in flying foxes that fed on cycad seeds, and that the Chamorro used to eat flying foxes [7].

Because of hunting and the introduction of new predatory species the flying fox on Guam is extinct since the 1970s [9]. However, when flying foxes were common on Guam they were desirable food served at Chamorro weddings, village fiestas, and religious events. [5] Chamorro who contracted ALS-PDC may also have eaten meat and dairy products from pigs, cattle, sheep, and deer that have grazed on cycad seeds and thus accumulated high levels of BMAA through biomagnification [2][7].

Since the 1990s the number of people with ALS-PDC on Guam has declined rapidly and is now comparable to the Western world (1.9/100 000 in the 1990s vs 179/100 000 in the 1950s) [5]. The Chamorros diet has also changed since the 50s, with less consumption of flying foxes and cycad seed flour because of the extinction of the flying fox and imported flour replacing cycad seed flour [5]. The correlation between the decline of ALS-PDC on Guam and the Chamorros dietary changes since the 1950s support the hypothesis that consumption of BMAA is linked to ALS-PDC on Guam. Further support for the hypothesis is that BMAA has been found in the brains of Chamorro dying of ALS-PDC but not in control brains [2]. BMAA has also been found in people with neurodegenerative diseases outside of Guam [7].

Chamorro  People on Guam

[European depiction of Chamorro Village. Artist: J.A Pellion]

In addition to cycad seeds and Azolla high concentrations of BMAA has been found in seafood such as mussels, oysters, crabs [3], shrimps [7], and fish [8] [4]. Elevated occurrences of neurodegenerative diseases have been found in some areas where BMAA may be present in seafood which further support the hypothesis that there is a link between BMAA and neurodegenerative diseases [7]. In addition to seafood and land animals feeding on cycads, BMAA has also on occasion been found in dietary supplements such as Spirulina and in drinking water [7].

Although it is still only a hypothesis these are strong indicators that BMAA is linked to neurodegenerative diseases. However, neurodegenerative diseases are likely related to BMAA in combination with genetic factors [2] and other variables. As one scientist describes it; neurodegeneration is probably caused by a “smorgasbord of bad things that can happen in your life” [7].

I have only been able to find one study that indicates that BMAA is present in Azolla [1] and one mentioning of the amount of BMAA in Azolla [5]. The study that showed BMAA being present in Azolla can be questioned since new analysis methods show that earlier methods may have mistaken the common, non-toxic, isomers DAB and AEG for BMAA. According to scientist at Stockholm University where the study was made it is likely that this mixup was the case in this analysis of Azolla. Furthermore the study found that BMAA was produced in Azolla in absence of cyanobacteria. This would indicate that BMAA is not produced exclusively by cyanobacteria in Azolla, or that it is produced exclusively by the fern or by other bacteria in Azolla. Since, as far as I am aware, no other study has found that BMAA is produced by any organisms other than cyanobacteria, this supports the idea that BMAA was mistaken for DAB or AEG.

The mentioning of the amount of BMAA in Azolla (2 mg/kg) is in a credible report. However no reference to the analysis is made. It is possible that this figure is derived from an analysis made with the same methods as the questionable study at Stockholm University and therefore is wrong. It is also possible that the BMAA came from another source than the Azolla, such as from cyanobacteria in the water Azolla was grown in. However, without further conclusive evidence of the amount, if any, of BMAA in Azolla I have assumed the mentioning of 2 mg/kg of free BMAA in Azolla to be correct.

2 mg/kg of free BMAA [5] in Azolla can be put in relation to the concentrations of BMAA in plants and animals that have been suspected to cause ALS-PDC on Guam. Cycad seeds on Guam contain 750 – 1 200 mg/kg of free BMAA [5]. Flying foxes on Guam who have fed on cycad seeds contain just over 3 500 mg/kg [6]. The BMAA dose derived from eating a single flying fox (with a body weight of around 150 g [9]) is equivalent to eating around 1 kg of cycad flour [6]. Assuming a content of 750 mg / kg of free BMAA in cycad seed flour, and 2mg / kg in Azolla, one flying fox, or one kilo of cycad seed flour, would be equivalent to eating about 375 kg of Azolla.

Pigs tasting Azolla at Hästa gård in Stockholm

[Pigs tasting Azolla at Hästa gård in Stockholm. Photo: Erik Sjödin]

Animals such as cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs who grace on cycads on Guam are know to occasionally develop paralysis from cycad poisoning. It is not known which substance causes the paralysis but BMAA has been been suggested by some investigators [5]. Studies have also reported that high doses of BMAA can cause shaking and paralysis in animals [7]. The levels of BMAA present in the amount of cycads known to cause cycad poisoning in animals on Guam corresponds to 0.56 mg/kg body weight [5]. For a person weighing 70 kg that would equal a dose of 39.2 mg of BMAA. To be exposed to the same dose of BMAA that potentially causes paralysis in animals a person weighing 70 kg would have to eat 19.6 kg of Azolla (again assuming 2mg/kg of BMAA in Azolla). No studies appear to have been done on the concentration of BMAA in animals fed with Azolla. However because of the ability of BMAA to biomagnify it is likely that animals, such as poultry, fish, or cattle, who are fed with Azolla contain levels of BMAA higher than those in Azolla.

There is little research available on Azolla and BMAA but what is available suggests that the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases from BMAA in Azolla or meat and produce from animals fed with Azolla is not likely to be greater than that of developing neurodegenerative diseases from BMAA in common seafoods or other food stuffs. The risk of acute poisoning from BMAA in Azolla is negligible since one would have to eat tens of kilos of Azolla. To be subjected to the same amounts of BMAA as the Chamorro people on Guam who contracted ALS-PDC a person would have to eat many, possible even hundreds, of kilos of Azolla or products from animals fed with Azolla for many years, even decades, and starting at an early age.

People tasting Azolla balls at Färgfabriken in Stockholm

[People tasting Azolla balls at Färgfabriken in Stockholm. Photo: Erik Sjödin]

In conclusion, until new analyses are made the presence of BMAA in Azolla cannot be ruled out. Because of the potential presence of BMAA in Azolla, the ability of BMAA to biomagnify in animals, and the strong link between BMAA and neurodegenerative diseases there is reason to be sceptical about using great amounts of Azolla as food for humans or as animal fodder. Hopefully further research will arrive at a more conclusive answer as to weather there is BMAA present in Azolla and BMAA is a cause of neurodegenerative diseases.

[This text including references can be downloaded as pdf here]


 
 
 
 


Sustainable Culture, Part 2 [December, 2014]

[This is a slightly edited english translation of part two of a two part essay commissioned by Art Lab Gnesta / Green Lab in 2013. The essay’s full title is: “Sustainable Culture – Engaging with Environmental and Sustainability Issues as Arts and Culture Workers”. This part focuses on individual artists, part one focuses on institutions and organisations.]

Hunger, Tue Greenfort

[Hunger, by Tue Greenfort. Photo: Courtesy of Tue Greenfort and SKOR, Foundation for Art and Public Space]

The list of individual artists and artist groups working with environmental and sustainability issues can be made long. A couple of examples of well known, well established, and currently active artists are; Amy Balkin, Futurefarmers, Peter Fend, Tue Green Fort, Fritz Haeg, Natalie Jeremijenko, Marjetica Potrč, and Superflex.

Many of these artists reveal environmental and sustainability problems through their art practices. For example Amy Balkin’s Public Smog project brings attention to pollution and the complexities of emissions markets and Tue Greenfort’s work Hunger (2009) brings attention to how overproduction of grain in Europe leads to dumping of prices on the global grain market, which in turn leads to reduced incomes and starvation in poorer parts of the world. Other artists sketch on more or less utopian solutions to environmental problems. Peter Fend has for example proposed alternative scenarios for the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China and the restoration of dried up waterways in the Middle East and North Africa. Still others implement projects that not only draw attention to problems or suggest solutions, but also in themselves attempt to be the change the artists want to see. Futurefarmers has developed infrastructure for cyclists in San Francisco, Fritz Haeg has dug up lawns in residential areas in North America and Europe and turned them into productive food gardens, Superflex have developed biogas systems for poor farmers in Africa, and Marjetica Potrč has constructed community gardens. Among the artists mentioned here Natalie Jeremijenko is closest to the environment modernists. She has developed projects that encourage experimentation with biotechnology as a hobby and developed technology to visualise environmental problems and promote interaction between humans and other animals. For instance, she has placed buoys in the East River and the Bronx River in New York which are equipped with sensors that measure water quality and detect when fish swim by. LEDs on the buoys light up when fish swim near them and by sending text messages to the buoys viewers on the riverside can get information about the water quality in the river.

Fritz Haeg, Edible Estates

Fritz Haeg, Edible Estates

[Edible Estates #14 in Århus, Denmark. Photo: Courtesy of Fritz Haeg and Marie Markman]

By changing organisations and systems that we operate within we change conditions for both ourselves and for others. Introducing a system for recycling trash or a policy to purchase organic and locally produced food in an institution or organisation has a greater impact than the corresponding changes at the individual level. Therefore, it is usually most effective to work at an organisational level. But this is obviously no argument against arts and culture workers reviewing their own practice with respect to the environment and to sustainability. Arts and culture workers often have good opportunities to improve their practices from an environmental and sustainability perspective, even if they are not working with environmental issues and sustainability thematically as the above-mentioned artists.

Many arts and culture workers live nomadic lives and maintain extensive logistics operations. Exhibitions, grants, and artist-in-residence programmes that create economic opportunities for arts and culture workers often require long distance trips and transportation–often by air, which is among the least environmentally friendly modes of transportation. Alternatives to long distance trips and transports can be to find opportunities to work locally, although it might mean collaboration with lesser known and less wealthy institutions. Travel and transportation is also often less necessary today, when it is possible to communicate globally through a variety of channels. In cases where travel and transportation is irreplaceable one can try to choose bikes and trains instead of cars and airplanes, and instead of transporting large and heavy work over long distances, produce works using materials sourced where the works will be shown.

Arts and culture productions often consume large amounts of energy, technology and materials. In many cases directly hazardous materials such as plastics and electronics. It is also common for artists to have workshops and studios with tools and equipment that are unused most of the time, from pottery kilns and looms to circular saws and soldering irons. Artists consumption is often limited by their poor economy, but their poor economy can also prevent artists from choosing materials and equipment that are more expensive but better for the environment. Material selection is a large subject and it is difficult to generalise because a material’s entire life cycle must be taken into account. However, a good principle can be to primarily reuse old material, as a second option use new materials made from recycled materials, and thirdly use materials that can be recycled or are biodegradable. A great alternative to having an own studio is to be part of communities where workshops and other resources can be shared. Services that facilitate lending and rental of tools and recycling of materials is an area that could be developed considerably, but while waiting for new services to emerge there are still many opportunities to borrow and recycle instead of throwing away and buying new things.

To conclude, “environmental” and “sustainability” are concepts charged with ideas of antagonism and cooperation between humans and nature, of individual and collective responsibility, of humans as producers and consumers, and of imminent downfall and the possibility of finding permanent solutions. What stories about the past, the present, and the future, that we consciously or unconsciously subscribe to affect what we consume and produce. To improve energy efficiency, recycle, produce and consume environmentally friendly products, and consume less is obviously not everything, but they are safe bets that seldom conflict with other commitments towards a better environment and towards sustainability.


 
 
 
 


Sustainable Culture, Part 1 [December, 2014]

[This is a slightly edited english translation of part one of a two part essay commissioned by Art Lab Gnesta / Green Lab in 2013. The essay’s full title is: “Sustainable Culture – Engaging with Environmental and Sustainability Issues as Arts and Culture Workers”. This part focuses on institutions and organisations, part one focuses on individual artists.]

As producers and distributors of culture-that is socially transmitted patterns of living-arts and culture workers have many opportunities to contribute to a better environment and a sustainable development. In this essay I will briefly account for how a number of arts organisations and artists work with environmental and sustainability issues. I will also give examples of how arts and culture workers can improve their practices with regard to the environment and to sustainability.

Four examples of arts organisations working with environmental and sustainability issues are Wanås Art in Wanås in Skåne in Sweden, Grizedale Arts in the Lake District in England, Kultivator in Dyestad on Öland in Sweden, and Campo Adentro in Spain.

Wanås Konst is an exhibition space and sculpture garden at Wanås in the countryside in Skåne. In conjunction with the exhibition “Footprints” in 2009 Wanås Konst became members of “Svanen klubben”, an environmental certification provided for Swedish cultural institutions. For the organisation, this entailed switching from conventional to green electricity, investments in cleaner vehicles and transition to producing eco-labeled printed matter. During the Footprints exhibition Wanås Konst also encouraged visitors to use public transport by lowering the entrance fee for those who traveled to Wanås by train and bus, and as an art work in the exhibition Henrik Håkansson fenced in a 2500 square meter area in the sculpture park. The area now constitutes a nature reserve that for the foreseeable future can develop without human involvement. Since previously there is an ecological and CO2-certified farm adjacent to Wanås Konst that supply local food to the café at Wanås.

Foraging for mushrooms with Grizedale Arts

[Foraging for Mushrooms with Grizedale Arts, 2011. Photo: Erik Sjödin]

Grizedale Arts–located just outside the tourist resort Coniston in the spectacular Lake District in England–strives to operate in a local context and from there address global cultural changes. Grizedale Arts can jokingly, but also seriously, be described as a reformatory for dysfunctional contemporary artists. For example they offer a reorientation award intended to encourage artists to move from traditional contemporary art towards “something more useful”. Local food and crafts are central to Grizedale Arts and visiting artists are expected to engage in collective cooking and in managing Grizedale Arts’ livestock and cultivations. Working for a better environment and sustainable development by strengthening local communities is a major part of Grizedale Arts’ activities. The premise being that artists can play important roles in this work, but that their efforts are not always directed to where they are most needed.

Kultivator is an art and agriculture collective who on their farm on Öland provides a venue which “points out the parallels between provision production
and art practice”. Kultivator conducts ecologically certified milk production and are very familiar with the difficulties of making ends meet both in a small-scale organic farming and in artistic activities. Through activism and do-it-yourself strategies Kultivator calls for resistance against exploitation of common resources and technology driven by commercial interests (e.g, patenting of crops, land grabbing, genetically modified organisms and large-scale industrial agriculture).

Interspecies workshop with Campo Adentro

[Interspecies workshop with Campo Adentro, 2013. Photo: Courtesy of Campo Adentro]

Campo Adentro, finally, is a project that aims to support culture in the Spanish countryside. Through a residence programs, exhibitions and conferences Campo Adentro create conditions for artists, farmers, academics and others to meet. Campo Adentro works from an agro-ecological perspective, where agriculture is the starting point for the development of ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable communities. In contrast to much traditional nature management, the individual is from an agro-ecological perspective not in conflict with nature. “Nature? There was never any of that back in my day.” is a quote from a Spanish shepherd which exemplifies Campo Adentro’s approach. Campo Adentro is keen to highlight the cultural and biological diversity that is lost when people leave rural areas and when small farms are replaced with industrial agriculture and large monocultures. In Spain the most biodiverse areas are low-intensity used meadows, pastures and grazed woodlands.

Together Wanås Konst, Grizedale Arts, Kultivator and Campo Adentro represent several common contemporary ideas about a sustainable future: A life closer to nature, an increased focus on organic local food and local crafts, as well as resistance to increased industrialisation and large corporations. A contrasting perspective is provided by those who British science writer and environmental journalist Fred Pierce calls “environmental modernists”. Environmental modernists are aware of the environmental problems that industrialisation has brought with it; mass extinction of species, dwindling resources and climate change that threatens to change our habitats faster than we can adapt. However, unlike many other environmentalists, environmental modernists believe that the solution to the problems are new technology, and often controversial technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and nuclear power. Environmental modernists also see no problem in people moving from the countryside into cities. On the contrary, they believe that urbanisation, despite growing populations, open up for large areas outside of cities to be re-wilded and protected as nature reserves. The environmental modernists perspective is present within the arts and cultural world especially in the sector where art, technology, and science come together, such as at Ars Electronica in Linz in Austria and the Science Gallery in Dublin, Ireland.