When you are awakened by Tor-Ild, it means you have spent the night at Øvre Ringstad, a smallholding run by Søssa Jørgensen and Geir Tore Holm. Five years ago, the two visual artists moved from the city of Oslo to this plot of land in Skiptvet, Østfold. The farm is a home, a good place to visit. At the same time, it is a place for questions about soil, land, and water: our future. It offers
perspective and potential, a political starting point for an artistic practice that can feed into different observations of agricultural, political, and social landscapes in transformation. The seasons dictate the slow and at times heavy manual work, animals, and topography. There is the gathering of firewood in the forest and the harvesting of crops from the fields. You digest the food, thoughts, and reflections that strengthen the possibility to act: This is done with endurance and care, as visual artists, farmers, and fellow humans.
Today, Øvre Ringstad is one of 50 Norwegian farms from Tromsø in the north to Stokke in the south that will deliver soil to the Flatbread Society Grainfield at Losætra. The Flatbread Society is a permanent public art project created in a “common” area amidst the waterfront development of Bjørvika, in Oslo, Norway. In 2012, the international arts collective Futurefarmers formed the Flatbread Society as an initiative to work with local actors to establish an aligned vision for the use of this land. This work was commissioned by the visual arts program “Slow Space” and is owned by Bjørvika Development; it aims to activate the commons constructed in this area. As part of a long-term program, the Flatbread Society will today inaugurate Losæter, a new cultural institution: a grainfield, a bakehouse, and a declaration of land use that defines the common as a place for art and cultivation. The name Losæter combines two Norwegian terms for the commons, “Loallmenning” and “sæter”. “Lo” points to the geographic placement of the site near the water, and “sæter” refers the right to put animals to pasture and to put up a house for the summer 2. In this way, Losæter embraces the project as a whole and connects it to the agricultural heritage of Norway, from its past to the future. The common will be an environment for co-creation and self-government, where the understanding of citizenship and sustainability is central.
Like a river, people flow steadily from rural areas to cities. The world is going through a wave of urban growth as never seen before. More than half of the people on the globe now live in cities or urban areas. Urbanization creates social, economic, and environmental changes with new possibilities for resource effectiveness and growth. But cities are also divided by deep visible and invisible trenches, between prosperous neighborhoods and informal settlements. Emptying rural zones of people has consequences. Industrial agriculture gets more elbow room and spreads out with greed, strangling the diversity of sustainable agricultural systems, smallholdings, and the invisible population of soil microorganisms. Seeds and knowledge are patented, traditions related to agriculture and local knowledge disappear, the soil is privatized by multinational companies that destroy the groundwater through chemical fertilization. Life in all its forms has lowest priority. An un-ecological circle is thus formed.
Yesterday, at Øvre Ringstad, farmhands Einar and Jeremy dug up black earth from where the old barn used to stand. At the same time, they prepared for the upcoming construction of a multi-use barn. One ton of soil was shoveled onto a trailer behind the Jeep that would be taking the farmers and soil to the city this morning.
The trip from farmland to city took about an hour from Østfold – Norway ́s fifth-largest agricultural region – to the most densely populated urban area in the country. As we move past the city along the Oslofjord, we can see the capital showing off its new suit: Bjørvika. This is Oslo`s own Bilbao effect: The Barcode is a cluster in steel and glass, and the Opera House is of white Italian marble, shiny pearls and flashy bling like a necklace around the harbor, which was once dominated by industry and containers. Following the pre-tailored strategy of city planning, this waterfront has now adapted to the so-called experience economy with the goal of attracting commerce, injecting fresh money, creating new possibilities for resourceful actors, and catering to the ever-growing flow of tourists.
Making clever use of rhetoric, the city branding of “Oslo Fjord City” has opened a need to access the fjord: “The Blue and the Green, the City in Between”. Local politics have also established the need for historical connections, making use of language and lines of sight, aiming to create identity with this constructed land. Bjørvika has been imbued with a touch of the Middle Ages, an image evoked by its street names. 4 This lends a historical vibe, potentially just as filled with information as the sediment of the Oslo harbor, where one finds layer upon layer of shipwrecks and some Viking boats – parts of lived lives from more than a thousand years of time. The lines of sight, with their historical weight, cross and gently touch the buildings of glass and steel resting on some of the country’s most unstable land. 5 Could one imagine that this waterfront city already functions as a monument to the present neo-liberal era?
“Hello and welcome!” says Mads Pålsrud. “Here is a number sign for marking your soil. Follow Stijn and park your car over there. You will have time for coffee before the soil procession starts.” Cars with trailers, a tractor, about 15 wheelbarrows with soil, grown-ups and children, dogs, hens, a horse, and a donkey have already arrived.
The parking lot by the Botanical Garden at Tøyen functions this morning as a temporary harbor for soil. The name Tøyen comes from the word Tadvin6 (Todien) consisting of tad (dirt, manure, black) and vin (meadow, field). Soil, a mix of different minerals, organic substances and billions of living micro-organisms, donated from many corners of Norway, is to be found today in Tøyen. An unexpected moment of excitement arises when a Nordland horse and the donkey are amorously attracted to each other – a flirtatious dance of prancing and pattering amongst the crowd of people preparing for the journey.
The drums start to play! The cars are rolling slowly after the wheelbarrows and the farmers on foot. The procession passes through Tøyengata, turns left by the Intercultural Museum, continues out onto the busy Grønlandsleiret and follows along Gamlebyen, and along the way, a 3-by-3-meter soft flatbread made of cloth joins the procession. Trams, buses, and cars stop. A wooden chest containing the Flatbread Society grain seeds to be planted in Losæter is carried in front, showing the way. Along the road there are people. Many are filming with their smartphones. Some smile or look curious; others seem skeptical. Maybe they are reacting to the drumming, which could evoke a military march? Could the participants in the procession be perceived as temporary, nomadic neo-colonialists of Oslo`s multi-cultural neighborhood?
“What are you demonstrating against?” a woman shouts from the side of the road. “It is not a demonstration against anything, but rather for! We are bringing forth soil from Norwegian farms to Bjørvika. Come and take part!” a man on a bike answers.
Healthy soil for a healthy life. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN declared 2015 the International Year of Soil. Some of the objectives are to raise awareness about the basic importance of the soil in human lives and the decisive roles soil plays in the food security, climate change, fighting poverty, and sustainable development. The most important means of securing food is to support diverse means of production and different scales of farming. The Norwegian government has this year exhausted negotiations with the Norwegian Farmers Union. It is a paradox that while the UN declares the importance of soil protection in relation todecreasing poverty and world hunger, the local government ispassing a bill that undermines this ambition. In a report that Norsk Bonde og Småbrukarlag carried out earlier this year, a message from the Minister of Agriculture and Food can be perceived as a potential threat to close down small-scale agricultural industry. Smallholdings and family farming will have a much smaller chance of survival if such political decisions are passed.
2015 is also the year in which the UN`s Climate Summit in Paris takes place, aiming to reach agreement on how to reach the goal of a two-degree maximum global temperature increase. In May, Christiana Figueres from UNFCCC received an open letter9 from the biggest oil and gas companies signed by their leaders. One of their suggestions was to introduce a fixed price on carbon so carbon emissions could then be traded on the international market. Where are the voices of the soil, the ocean, the forest, and the atmosphere in these negotiations?
Gazing towards the Oslo fjord, with the city to our backs, we approach Losætra at Loallmenningen. The smell of smoke from a fire and freshly baked bread meets us at the middle of the road. It is baker Emmanuel Rang, who is already preparing flatbread. A landscape of smells embraces and releases a temporary store of memories, bringing along past travels in time and space. Loallmenningen is hollow. This is where the Flatbread Society Grainfield will be established, on one of the seven commons in Bjørvika. The foundation of this site is a ceiling, and just as water flows under a glacier, the rush traffic of Oslo channels invisibly under our feet through the Bjørvika tunnel. Now the common will be filled with soil and visions.
The choir from Nordic Black Theatre welcomes the soil procession with lokk singing, calling the herd, as we arrive at Losætra. Everyone is gathered in the middle of the field for an inauguration ritual. The giant flatbread is spread out as a carpet on the grass and one handful of soil from each of the 50 farms is poured onto it and care-fully mixed.
“Beneath our feet, there is an invisible society of microorganisms. Between us, there is earth cared for by the farmers who brought it here,” Amy Franceschini says in her welcoming speech. “Today we celebrate soil and the farmers. This is the start of the permanent living art work called the Flatbread Society Grain- field, dedicated to heritage grains.” Over time, the grainfield will become a living portrait of diverse agriculture, a stage for growing and an ongoing demonstration of desired values for soil and food production. A portal is placed onto the open field, a temporary sculpture by the artist Jørund Aase Falkenberg made from recycled wooden materials from the Flatbread Society’s temporary bakehouse built in 2013. “The Portal” is an object or construction that serves as a lens through which the physical and mental world can be observed. Art becomes something that works with, rather than against the world. The grainfield symbolizes resilience and durability, a reminder of how people through the centuries, by painstaking trial and error, discovered what could be eaten and cultivated. The stark, profit-driven logic represented by the architecture of the Barcode is an alienating contrast to the ideas anchored at Losætra.
”My dream is that this will become a sæter in collaboration with the schools!” exclaims Anne Beate Hovind, the commissioner from the Bjørvika development. She is given the word and follows up with a story about farmer Johan Swärd from Vestre Aschim Farm: He was invited to visit Loallmenningen to give his opinion on the agricultural potential of the place. ”With the hills of Ekeberg in such close proximity, the only thing missing is the soil!” was his message. Swärd is a close collaborator and has also brought some of the first seeds to the grainfield: svedjerug, nakenbygg, spelt, emmer, and enkorn.
What makes a city resilient? Urban and guerilla gardening has increased and become widespread over the past twenty years. The lack of affordable, nutritious food in megacities has started important citizen initiatives that mobilize direct action in their cities. The Flatbread Society is not only about growing food in the city alongside a privileged community. The art project proposes and demonstrates that one should perceive the common not only as a natural resource, but as a process. A set of social relations where, for example, a group of people share responsibility for a grainfield, or from a larger perspective, their neighborhood. As noted in The Guardian, “The commons seems to offer an alternative to the battle between public and private. It has radical potential, beyond community gardens.”11
The act of founding Losæter is a concrete response and contribution to the present geopolitical discourse on responsible use, access, and distribution of the limited resources on earth. The Flatbread Society Grainfield has radical potential. A parallel example in another European capital is the project Atelier d’architecture autogérée, which, in 2012, started a farm for collective use in one of the suburbs of Paris. Four hundred citizens have 5000 sqm at their disposal, where they produce food, energy, and eco-housing. This is a large-scale experiment with practical and political dimensions that is expanding to even more suburbs in the city.
Back at Losætra. Regine Andersen, administrative director of Oikos Norway reads from The Flatbread Society’s Declaration for land use at Loallmenningen in Bjørvika: ”With the establishment of Losæter at Loallmenningen, we mark our commitment to support and highlight agriculture as a central part of the Bjørvikas cultural landscape. We hereby declare Losæter a cultural commons. Losæter shall advance and contribute to the free and open exchange of seeds, knowledge, and relationships that grew out of this place. By signing this document, living traditions should be protected from any laws that interfere with these activities and that may be obstacles to the cultivation, distribution and future use of the biological material that grows on this land. The Flatbread Society Grainfield is an expression for this agreement. Unlike museums that collect and preserve works of art, The Flatbread Society Grainfield is a museum without walls that preserves through sharing and distribution.”
Contributors essential to the evolution of Losætra then came forward and signed the declaration. A new topology of Norway is organically growing into a presence as the soil is moved onto the field, designed to resemble a map of Norway. A force of manual labor, people with shovels and wheelbarrows, are guided by number plates, creating paths that bring the form of the map to light. The geographical location of each of the contributing farms becomes visible. At Losætra, several activities are happening at once: Marius and Mikkel, the beekeepers from Oslo Apiary, are hosting a honey tasting and celebrating the new home for their bees. Zoe Christiansen has arrived with edible seaweed from the North Atlantic Ocean: Søl (Palmaria palmate), Sukkertang (Laminaria Saccharina), and Purpurhinde (Porphyra). Because of its natural abundance of minerals and vitamins, seaweed is commonly harvested in most coastal cities, and it is used as nutrition for humans and animals as well as soil. Food from the past creates sustainable natural fertilizer for the future. Next to the Futurefarmers Kiln, Michael is showing clay and its molecular properties. Clay from the soil donated by the farmers today will be shaped into pots to hold the seeds. This is part of the next step for the Flatbread Society.
A bakehouse will be built, a sculpture to be used for all people interested in baking. In addition to housing baked goods, this house will be a seed library. A living archive, in contrast to the hermetically closed Svalbard Global Seed Vault, will be used and administered by the farmers of Losætra. Making seeds available in a free library is an act that emphasizes sharing and supports the knowledge needed to expand the awareness of soil and food. People and seeds do belong together. And as it should be on such a beautiful day, this inauguration culminated with a giant feast. Food Studio and Masayo Funakoshi prepared heavenly delights, food and drink made with ingredients sourced from surrounding farms. Savory meat stew, salads of flowers and wild greens, beer, sausages, cakes, honey, and of course, flatbread!
The Flatbread Society is like the ground, made up of several layers of meaning. Over time, more sediment will be generated and will grow slowly, allowing the common to gain strong roots, planted with care in the soil with well-traveled microorganisms. The actions made today will leave marks that can be read in the future. The soil already conceals the remains of the labor, failures, and successes of former generations. In what form will our labor be visible in, let ́s say, 50 years? This we can only speculate on, but the inclusion of legislative policies to secure the future of Losætra is wise. Using an artistic medium on equal level as, for example, steel, wood, or concrete, Futurefarmers is making use of laws and jurisdictions to create one very important, but to the eye, invisible, layer of art. The foundation for starting the common requires the in-depth attention and care observed at Losætra. This is also how a process of commoning can be secured. A way out of today’s industrialized food production and uneven distribution of wealth begins by changing attitudes and going against the grain. We need to integrate agriculture into our lives if we want to create a sustainable and non-exploitive society. An awareness linked to the cultivation of soil is now slowly pulsating straight into the heart of our cities. In a world of economic, social, and physical barriers created by the logic of neoliberal policies, it becomes a life vest. The grainfield will carry multiple seeds for growing and nurturing communities, knowledge, and direct action, now and the future.
Back at Øvre Ringstad, I am sitting on a bench, gazing over a wide, yellow grainfield that ends in a forest on the opposite side. The sun is orange and slowly sinking behind a small hill. All the animals have been fed, and it is now time to withdraw into the house and join the farmers, who are resting, getting prepared for a new day at Øvre Ringstad.
Karolin Tampere is a visual artist and freelance curator who’s practice deals with engaging in collaborative practices taking on different roles within the field of visual arts. She approaches curating as an sociopolitical arena that has a critical responsibility which can foster alternative understandings of ecology and new models of sustainability. Since 2004 she is regularly contributing to the art project Sørfinnset Skole/the nord land in North of Norway. During 2013 and partly 2014 she was directing Konsthall C in Stockholm, running it collaboratively as a Work group. In 2003 she initiated the ongoing collaboration Rakett with Åse Løvgren (www.rakett.biz). Rakett finalized COMMON LANDS Allmannaretten in 2010, a exhibition project that through seminars, readers and art projects utilized the process of redevelopment of Oslo ́s former industrial harbour, Bjørvika. Currently she is engaged in Ensayos, which is a nomadic research program based in Tierra del Fuego, Chile that brings artists, scientists and locals together to address ecopolitical concerns.
Photographs by Alexander Benjaminsen
The author would like to thank following people for their input and editing advice: Kjersti Vetterstad, Randi Nygård, Åse Løvgren, Geir Tore Holm, Søssa Jørgensen and Amy Franceschini. English transla- tion by Randi Nygård and Karolin Tampere.