photos by Åsa Sonjasdotter and Andrew Rewald
In 2017 I commenced a professional development mentorship under artist Åsa Sonjasdotter with a project to create an edible weed garden on Die Laube (The Arbor) at Prinzessinnengärten (The Princess Garden) – a self-sustainable urban farm located in Berlin’s Kreuzberg area. Die Laube is a base for The Neighbourhood Academy (TNA), co-founded by Sonjasdotter and historian/co-founder of the garden Marco Clausen, as a knowledge-sharing program for experimental and creative community projects. TNA’s engaged format was a fitting platform for my research and under Sonjasdotter’s guidance I ran a series of experimental performances and workshops. My research was informed by the concept of urban farms and foraging in urban forests as alternative sustainable food systems.
Germans have a rich history of foraging, but more aligned with folklore and the rural idyll than the emerging global trend for wild-food cuisine exemplified by Noma restaurant in Denmark. Germans forage for traditional fare such as berries, wild nuts and mushrooms and I was keen to push some boundaries on what is considered edible or appropriate in this context. As a result, the hanging garden consisted of 6 species of common edible weeds (un-kraut in German), grown from seed foraged in urban environs the year before during a project at The Centre for Art and Urbanistics (ZKU) Berlin. Each plant is naturalised throughout the world, a result of the Columbian Exchange represented by botanical research, human migration and agriculture practices between Europe and the Americas since the 16th Century.
My outcome included a workshop to make self-irrigating planters with community gardeners and local residents to grow the hanging garden in repurposed food-grade plastic waste, plus an audience-activated cooking performance from the harvested plants. The mentorship further enabled me to significantly develop an archive concept The Conceptual Cookbook with abstract recipes for food-plant-people relationships. The cookbook project is informed by Sonjasdotter’s archival practice on relationships between agriculture and cultural memory and documenting crop culture with agrarian communities.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, it’s art funding and advisory body.