Notebook

Art and Industrial Agriculture: Claire Pentecost and Åsa Sonjasdotter

September 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm / by
Claire Pentecost, Soil-erg, 2012
Claire Pentecost
Claire Pentecost
Åsa Sonjasdotter, Systems of Simultaneity, 2012
Åsa Sonjasdotter, Systems of Simultaneity, 2012
Åsa Sonjasdotter, Systems of Simultaneity, 2012

Claire Pentecost, Soil-erg, 2012

from the series When you step inside you see that it is filled with seeds in

dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany

Claire Pentecost

from the series When you step inside you see that it is filled with seeds in

dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany

Claire Pentecost

from the series When you step inside you see that it is filled with seeds in

dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany

Åsa Sonjasdotter, Systems of Simultaneity, 2012

Kunstraum Kreuzberg, Berlin

Åsa Sonjasdotter, Systems of Simultaneity, 2012

Kunstraum Kreuzberg, Berlin

Åsa Sonjasdotter, Systems of Simultaneity, 2012

Kunstraum Kreuzberg, Berlin

Claire Pentecost, Soil-erg, 2012 thumbnail
Claire Pentecost thumbnail
Claire Pentecost thumbnail
Åsa Sonjasdotter, Systems of Simultaneity, 2012 thumbnail
Åsa Sonjasdotter, Systems of Simultaneity, 2012 thumbnail
Åsa Sonjasdotter, Systems of Simultaneity, 2012 thumbnail

In Notes from the Underground for the dOCUMENTA (13) publication series, Claire Pentecost writes, “The privatization of the seed in the form of intellectual property is legalized theft of the commons.” Seed, she points out, embodies a knowledge acquired over generations. Farmers and landowners have tilled and labored the earth for seasons to learn how to efficiently and naturally cultivate nutritional foodstuff. But this acquired knowledge of seed is rapidly disappearing into the hands of private enterprises like Monsanto that genetically modify seed and produce fertilizers that grow it. A loss of the fundamental understanding of how to grow food exposes a population to control by corporations. Industrial agriculture is an urgent reverse-Enlightenment situation.

In her contribution to dOCUMENTA Pentecost examines this urgency and its relationship to the importance of soil in a series of works titled When you step inside you see that it is filled with seeds, set inside and around Kassel’s natural history museum. In the work Soil-erg, for example, she presents soil molded into the recognizable shape of currency⎯an ingot⎯to propose that soil will possess in the future a significant monetary exchange value. Healthy soil, not unlike seed, is in danger of privatization as industries use pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals in it. Pentecost encourages spectators to consider these conditions by taking the production of good soil into their own hands through a knowledge and practice of composting. Also, in this series is an audio sculpture where spectators view through glass a cross-section of rich soil, while simultaneously listening to amplified sounds of worms productively churning away in it. Outside the museum, in another work, large vertical columns are filled with soil bursting with vegetable and plants to propose alternatives for growing food in densely populated urban areas where land is scarce.

Back in Berlin, the exhibition Hungry City. Agriculture and Food in Contemporary Art at Kunstraum Kreuzberg presents work by 19 artists whose positions examine the production and distribution of food. The artist Åsa Sonjasdotter conducts an archaeological investigation of a long, specifically regional history of a scientifically modified variety of potato. In the work Systems of Simultaneity she presents a photographic archive from a GDR industry called the Institute for Potato Research located in the small northeast German town of Groß Lüsewitz. In an effort to stave off food shortages the institute began in 1968 to develop a variety of the potato called the Adretta, which was highly robust and resistant to drought, disease and spoilage. By 1975, this monster potato was an economic success and soon exported to the Soviet Union and later the entire Eastern Bloc. The Institute for Potato Research revitalized the economic and social life of Groß Lüsewitz. Sonjasdotter’s installation presents historical photographs taken by a slew of the institute’s staff that sought to capture more than just the making of the potato, its laboratories and scientific research facilities. Their documentation makes an argument for the industry’s overall beneficial impact on the social and economic well-being of a region.

While it is stated that use of chemicals in these early days of Institute for Potato Research were insignificant, today, the region is a leading research center for testing genetically modified foods. It is funded by the German Ministry of Research and the situation is representative of deeply engrained connections among corporations and governments in Europe and the United States that have stake in genetically modified seeds, which both Claire Pentecost and Åsa Sonjasdotter encourage us to think about.

 

 

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