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Great News!

After months of searching and writing proposals, it looks like we have a site, and a beautiful site indeed. Yesterday we heard back from St Michael’s and they agree in principal to Food Forest being planted in their front lawn. So, we will be busy over the next week compiling a plant list for the community, making drawings of the proposed work, and putting together an agreement outlining the scope of the work, while identifying the responsible parties.

Patrick swung by to measure up the site this morning, take some more photos and sketch out the footprint of the work. It seemed to suggest a kidney bean shape as we’ll have to keep away from tricky underground plumbing services.

Here’s an east view of the site and the awesome ficus doing a magnificent job.

Afterwards Patrick walked into the city and had tea with Tessa and Karl, two Sydney artists who are also involved with In the Balance.

Their poetic exhibition Make-do Garden City is on until 8 May at the Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Tessa and Karl’s website can be found at Makeshift.

Upstairs in the gallery was the following drawing. It was pretty compelling, recalling Avatar and indigenous folk everywhere, pressurised by the growing needs of expanding technocultures. Apologies to the artist, but a wall label couldn’t be found, nor a catalogue, or even anything on the gallery’s website to properly credit this detailed work.

Next stop: Marrickville, to have lunch with some family members. After stepping off the bus Patrick came across this beautiful micro-forest front garden and stopped to admire the structure and health of it.

This really is close to the sort of feeling we want to create with Food Forest, only packed with edible and flowering plants.

Possible Sites

While Meg and Zephyr have been tending the Artist as Family’s home garden, Patrick has been in Sydney looking at possible sites to plant the Food Forest. At one point today he was captivated by how wild nature goes about reclaiming urban environments to build habitat.

The following act of self-seeded brilliance is occurring at about 40cm above street level. The spider is a trusty companion, ready to gobble unwanted pests. Competition is often heralded as the main gig in evolution, but co-dependancy and cooperation are as much a part of evolutionary life. Working together and sharing resources and environments is key to interspecies survival.

Later in the day, Patrick and MCA curator Anna Davis arrived at CarriageWorks where they met with the executive producer Jamie Dawson who showed them a couple of possible sites. CarriageWorks is such a beautifully loaded locality that brings with it an enthusiastic community that is showing much support for our project. However, it’s a difficult site in terms of planting a forest outdoors, and the awesome space indoors, with great overhead light wells and rain collection opportunities, would sadly restrict the movement of helpful pollinators and predators – lizards, bees, spiders and frogs – into the forest. Jamie and his team would be great to work with, so we’re remaining very open.
Next stop: St Michael’s church in Surry Hills.
A community member, Heide, living near to the church, contacted the MCA when she heard our project was looking for a home, and mentioned St Michael’s as a possible site. Dotted around the world church grounds are currently being transformed into community gardens, which makes good sense as there are often soup kitchens being run from them, and fresh organic produce goes hand in hand with such great initiatives. Also, old churches such as St Michael’s generally have ‘clean’ soil from which heavy metals are absent. Not that a combination of the right plants, compost, biomass, fungi and microbial life couldn’t detoxify the soil organically.
We are working with the MCA on a proposal tonight, which will be taken to the church Warden meeting tomorrow night.
There’s one or two other things worth noting here before we sign off. Here’s a link to William Blake’s The Garden of Love, which has been a precursory text for our Food Forest and for Patrick’s presentation this coming Friday as part of Open Fields at UTS. Blake’s poem is a kind of elegy for a lost erotic Eden; a lament about that which became divided. Rev Frances at St Michael’s mentioned Eden too when we briefly met with him today. David Graeber (2007, p23), in a much broader context, bares this fruit on the subject:

Sexual relations, after all, need not be represented as a matter of one partner consuming the other; they can also be imagined as two people sharing food.

If you’re in the area on Friday, come by and say g’day to Patrick at UTS. We’d love to hear your tips on what specifically keeps your garden or local environment full of wild love and reciprocity.

Compare This:

“No, no, no sickness really, only clean one. Because they lived on wild honey and meat. They have been living on bush tucker. Nothing. No tea, no sugar, no ice-cream or lollies, nothing. Only been living on bush honey, bush tomatoes, bush raisins, edible seeds and grass seeds. Any kind of seeds. They lived on yams. No sickness. Nothing, all good. Nothing, they were good living in them days. They only got sick from a cold. Only catching a cold, that’s all. No more. No sickness, nothing. Because they living on different food. Yeah, different food bush tucker”.

Joe, Ali Curung elder, NT, from Message Stick, series 12, episode 11: The Artists of Ali Curung, ABC iview, April, 2010.

With this:

“According to the archaeological evidence, [early] farmers were more likely than hunter-gatherers to suffer from dental-enamel hypoplasia – a characteristic horizontal striping of the teeth that indicates nutritional stress. Farming results in a less varied and less balanced diet than hunting and gathering does… Farmers were also more susceptible to infectious diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis and malaria as a result of their settled lifestyles… Dental remains show that farmers suffered from tooth decay, unheard of in hunter-gatherers, because the carbohydrates in the farmers’ cereal-heavy diets were reduced to sugars by enzymes in their saliva as they chewed. Life expectancy…also fell… The settled farmers are invariably less healthy than their free-roaming neighbours. Farmers had to work much longer and harder to produce a less varied and less nutritious diet, and they were far more prone to disease”.

Tom Standage, An Edible History of Humanity, Atlantic Books, 2009.

With this:

“We want to bring together in this work current ecological philosophies and permaculture activisms, and show the corresponding ties with pre- or less mediated societies – societies who have possessed a land-based intelligence devoid of anxiety, self-harm, material entitlement, depression, food disorders, self-loathing, alienation, hypochondria, mood disorders, cancer, tooth decay, mental illness, diabetes, organised violence, memory loss (or blindness to violence), division of labour and subsequent ecological estrangement”.

The Artist as Family, more notes on the Food Forest, April, 2010.

Rocks, logs and leaf litter

Some notes on the food forest:

1. Create many habitats for predators, such as lizards and frogs.
2. Create a site of intense biodiversity – flora and fauna – to help allay pests.
3. Allow fruit, nuts and berries not consumed by humans or non-humans to be left to compost on the forest floor.
4. Allow plants to seed, fruit and regenerate naturally by open pollination.
5. The food produced must remain uncapitalised and free from pesticides and other synthetics.
6. The intent of the forest is to trigger a foraging vibe for humans and non-humans local to the site.
7. To design the forest so it becomes self operating, self feeding and self watering.
8. Combine indigenous and exotic flora.
9. Create a ‘green pharmacy’ with many herbs.
10. Plant companion plants in close proximity to one another.
11. Bring in much biomass, top soil and compost to help create an organic base for the site.
12. This work is a fabrication, an artwork, based upon biomimicry. It participates in what it represents: a reunion of the conceptual with the corporeal; the mind with the body; man with woman; human with non-human; food with ecology; poetics with pragmatism.

A Direct Action

The problem with so much of the art we see today is that it is reduced to the symbolic; it is a mediation, and is not really of the world.

What we are trying to do with our food forest project is say: abstracted life has lost its appeal, it has caused too much division and separation. With a forest of food as a public art work, we aim to show how art can again be of the world, a part of it and not merely a symbol of it. It can put back in, not just take and make waste.

Our systems, based on growth capital, have failed – resource wars, divided society, pollution, class wars, mental illness, alienation – and however glaringly obvious the fact of all this is, the level of denial remains in the symbols that surround us. Be they on billboards, television, online or in galleries, our symbolic medias are powerful and manipulative, they collectively report back to us that we are advanced and thoughtful people who can live in a world unrelated to the microbial world below our feet. This is ecological disembodiment, and the ramifications for this separated, abstracted life are proving to be disastrous for the planet.

As a mass culture we have been flattered by a sense of our own progress and sophistication, and artists and ad people have worked hard to keep this middle-class myth alive, but beyond the seductive veneers and images, progress, and the mediation of progress, is concretely killing us.
If we are to re-embed ourselves in the cycles of wild nature, and by doing so have a chance at surviving what lies for us on the horizon, then our symbolic and domesticated states have to be confronted. Our symbolic, mediated, head-only orientations require interventions by our bodies, and those things that are essential to life – air, water, food, soil, dynamic ecology, habitable climate – become again the things most highly valued and respected.
The project of world peace, to think big, is the project of dismantling the spells of mediation, symbol and image that annul, disempower and calibrate us to the dominant ideology.

Art requires a direct action that’s no longer ironising and cowardly, no longer self-conscious, anxious or innovative, but rather real and essential; a re-embodiment of natural systems.