Amy Franceschini of Futurefarmers instigated a demonstration garden in front of San Francisco’s City Hall, which demonstrated the diversity of urban farming practices funded by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. Out of this grew new city policy that secured funding and land for urban farming projects.
Situations commissioned Futurefarmers to develop new work as part of Slow Space public art programme, linked to regeneration in the waterfront area of Bjørvika in Oslo. The project has taken shape as Flatbread Society, and the proposal to create a permanent site dedicated to grain production and baking on Oslo’s converted waterfront. Here we ask Amy to explore some of the ideas behind Flatbread Society:
You’ve created ambitious public artworks in San Francisco, where you have lived for 25 years as an active citizen and artist – but Oslo was a distant city that you had not previously visited. How did you begin this project?
Flatbread Society in Oslo began with a walk in the surrounding neighbourhoods. I thought a lot about the city’s former life as a port – a point of departure and a point of entry. I spent time visiting different communities in Oslo: artists; bakers; cultural organisations; hacker spaces; crafts museums; urban gardens; farmers; astronomers; urban planners; historians. For me, it was really important to get an understanding of the history of the site as well as many perspectives on the development of Bjørvika.
I felt a lot of resistance to the regeneration project from people in Oslo – and I had my own reservations about participating in such a project. “Waterfront regeneration” carries with it a legacy of citizens losing the possibility to shape the city they live in according to their ideas, wishes and needs, with decisions made by a political elite, driven by economic principles.
Despite this, a rising number of cities are scenes of an emerging movement for the right to shape and influence the development of and the life in the cities. In light of this, and with my very positive experience with Victory Gardens in San Francisco, I felt that the Slow Space public art programme had amazing potential to shape the new area.
What led you to focus on food production in Oslo?
I took the opportunity to join a Swedish botanist during a research trip to the north of Trondheim. We spent several days on the road traversing very remote areas where we came across several bakehouses – a small stone building with a wood fired oven where flatbread is cooked each year as a way to store grain. One included a bread oven, a frying station, a slaughterhouse, a freezer and large kitchen. All of these resources were shared by the people of this village who described the place as “the church”. It was where all the local producers came together and knowledge was shared and practiced.
From farmers, bakers, and artists to oven builders, soil scientists and seed activists: you have galvanized disparate groups to jointly address social and environmental challenges. Why are artists often the best catalysts for these collaborations?
While sitting together over coffee, Amy Franceschini and Lode Vranken answered this question:
Politics invent rules. Artists break rules. Cities are planned and regulated and full of rules. For us, rules are the basis for non-creativity. Art has no use within a political system of rules. A work of art is something else – an expression of our historical being and our development in time. An artist will ask the questions that beg us to think differently about ourselves and the histories that created our current moment. If you bring artists into a planning process there may be new possibilities for thinking about the way our cities are shaped or experienced.
What is the significance of Flatbread Society in an area like Bjørvika?
The dominant symbols in Bjørvika at the moment are:
A) a visible symbol of capital, i.e. the buildings that house banks and luxury apartments, alongside landmark architecture such as the Opera.
B) an invisible spectrum of capital moving within these buildings – the creation and exchange of exorbitant amounts though computer ports and hertzian space.
What Flatbread Society seeks to do is create a visible, tactile experience that engages the senses and acts as sort of a mirror reflecting back to the surrounding area reminding us where we came from and how we got to this contemporary moment.
Early on in our process we suggested (as a way to create a presence and demonstrate city food production) to offer the empty commons site up as a temporary food production zone. Luckily, commissioners jumped on this idea and put out a call to give away 100 allotment gardens. An overwhelming response of over 4000 applicants shed light on the desire and need for urban food production.
By occupying this space during the development phase, people are given a stage to perform the rituals of growing food and to demonstrate that food production is an integral part of city life.
What these activities bring into question is a sense of value and time. They question the whole notion of “development”- by whom, for whom and how.