Hot Summer of Urban Farming corresponds to the urban development ‘Finger Plan’ of Copenhagen, which established five main trajectories of concentrated growth from the city centre while managing the area’s transport and infrastructure. Another aim of the Finger Plan was to maintain and preserve the green areas in between the growth ‘fingers’ as nature reserves for the public to access and enjoy. Hot Summer of Urban Farming explored this notion of green spaces in a series of small and intimate responses to the idea of preserving access to public land.
Curator Nis Rømer invited eight Danish and international artists to create public interventions that imagined how urban agriculture and gardening could be implemented in the small unused spaces around Outer Nørrebro— the highest-density suburb in Copenhagen. Key to the project was the activation of in-between spaces and the opening of public land to the community.
Oxygen Greenhouse by Hartmut Stockter
Oxygen Greenhouse was a small-scale greenhouse with breathing masks attached for passersby to rejuvenate their lungs with fresh air. Situated on a grassy roundabout, the work provided a place for people to stop and take a break while contemplating the air quality within the city.
1m2/40.295m2 by Marie Markman
Marie Markman’s conceptual project identified the small efforts that could be made to create sustainable food sources through urban farming in the suburb of Ydre Nørrebro, Copenhagen. Small images of different edible plants with hand-written text stating the quantity of crops, that could be harvested from a one square metre lot over a year, were posted on stakes and planted into the ground of an empty lot. The text pieces cited facts specific to each plant, e. g., “Salad: If everybody on Ydre Nørrebro grew 1 square meter of salad we could each year collect 500,000 lettuces.” and “Chives: If everybody on Ydre Nørrebro grew 1 square meter of chives we would each year produce enough for 36,000,000 potato sandwiches.”
Potato Perspective by Åsa Sonjasdotter
Potato Perspective was part of an ongoing research project examining the global history of potatoes and the European Union agricultural laws and regulations surrounding vegetables. Sonjasdotter took over an abandoned lot and planted a series of traditional potato varieties sourced from the Nordic Gene Bank. None of the varieties were registered in the EU and therefore, commercial plantations of them would be deemed illegal. The artist is examining the politics and rights involved in choosing what we eat.
Dandelion Town by Camilla Berner
Camilla Berner explored the notion of eating dandelions as an alternative food source to other readily available salad leaves. For Hot Summer of Urban Farming, Berner created a temporary garden of dandelions, imagining the area as a small town dedicated to cultivating dandelions. Visitors could learn about growing dandelions and take away recipes to prepare at home.
Bench Harvest by Gillion Grantsaan
In this performance work taking place on a newly installed park bench, Gillion Grantsaan conducted informal discussions with passers-by about national and international politics.
Rambling Range by Nance Klehm
Nance Klehm created a portable taco stand that she moved around the neighbourhood serving tacos in exchange for stories about land and migration. The stand was a compact kitchen attached to a bicycle, from which the artist would serve handmade tortillas with fillings from donated, exchanged and foraged food sources. The tacos were served at spontaneous times, whenever the tortillas were ready each day.
The Freighthalls Speaks by YNKB
Local art collective YNKB proposed to turn a disused railyards into an activity park to service the neighbouring housing area. In addition, they proposed to transform the empty warehouses into a centre for art and culture. The artists posted ‘speech bubble’ signs with suggestions on how the empty railyards could be repurposed. Some of the text included, “I can be used for dance. Yes!” and “I can be used for experiments. Good idea!”
2200N Parterre (Garden of Disaffection) by Jonas Maria Schul
Replicating part of the monogram featured in the manicured gardens outside the Royal Family of Denmark’s Palace, Jonas Maria Schul integrated the symbol into the grass and weeds of a disused nature strip that typically accumulates rubbish. Schul was interested in the disparity between rich and poor and how this is played out in public space.
Aesthetic/Visual: To create small ephemeral interventions into the urban landscape that would attract attention to the unused spaces around the suburb of Outer Nørrebro, with ach work evolving over the twenty-five day project period.
Audience Engagement: To infiltrate the neighbourhood with small works that draw the attention of passers-by to some of the unused spaces in the area. Each artist approached the project differently, with some artists being present at the site of the work, to actively cultivate and engage with visitors, and with other works being more subtle in their engagement.
Social Debate/Community Development: To activate the area of Outer Nørrebro, to demonstrate alternative and constructive uses for empty city spaces and to ask people to think about the space around their homes or workplaces. Outer Nørrebro is “characterised by the highest density of people and the least square meter public space per inhabitant.” Each of the eight artworks raised questions about how public space around the city is used and engaged residents in their local ecology.
Climate Change Adaptation: The curatorial approach to the project was to draw attention to the ecology of the neighbourhood and how the shaping of cities impacts of our livelihoods. Each artist addresses public space and how we can make more use of these in between areas for farming and gardening. It looks at the urban environment and how it can adapt to change.
OUTCOMES & IMPACTS
Audience Engagement: Each project was situated in an unused or ‘in between’ space and somewhat submerged into the location. Rather than each work necessarily actively engaging audiences, they all drew attention to proposed alternative uses of public space. Curator Nis Rømer commented on his experience, “there was in general a quite open approach to the audience and people living next to the works; there was a lot of discussion when the works were installed and the artists were there.”
Some of the artists held talks and workshops, including Nance Klehm who led cooking workshops around her work Rambling Range. As part of the work she also served homemade tacos in exchange for stories. Åsa Sonjasdotter placed signs around the three potato gardens in her work, Potato Perspective, to explain the her research into the different varieties of traditional potatoes planted in the garden and the history behind why they are not legally allowed to be grown commercially in the EU. At the end of the project the potatoes were given away to visitors.
Community Development/Social Debate: Nis Rømer describes his experience, “Hot Summer of Urban Farming was received very positively [by the local community and visitors to the area].” The project raised issues surrounding how public space is used in Copenhagen, allowed people to explore their city in new ways and drew attention to Outer Nørrebro having the lowest ratio of green spaces per inhabitant. Rømer states, “this is something that has changed”, with one positive outcome from the public reaction being a consensus that a greater number of small park-like areas is better for the community in Outer Nørrebro, than fewer larger parks.
Hot Summer of Urban Farming was a self-initiated artist-curated project organised by Nis Rømer and Publik in 2006 to address their dissatisfaction with contemporary art projects for public spaces. They felt that there was a lack of representation of female artists and any kind of “contemporary, political, or edgy topics” being addressed. The group of artists and curators that collectively form Publik aim to advocate public art that stirs debates and to work individually and collaboratively on projects. Hot Summer of Urban Farming evolved from Rømer’s personal interest in ecology and “the shaping of cities and our livelihoods.” Rømer applied for grant funding, and although was successful in obtaining a small amount of funding, found it difficult as an independent curator without the weight of an institution behind him. He states, “[the] reporting and application work is a huge task, which is almost always not funded, resulting in the salary [for the curator] being ridiculously low in the end.”
In common with all public art projects, there were many general challenges that Rømer and the artists had to work through, for example, how to source electricity in an wild garden on an empty block. Due to the nature of the project—using in-between spaces and small empty pockets of land—Rømer found it difficult to gain permission to use many of the locations. Rømer describes his experience, “[trying to] find out who owns what in the city, and finding their contact information is difficult even in Denmark which is very organised, as some [of the] land [is owned] as speculation and in obscure company constructions.”
In 2006, there had not been many temporary public art projects in Copenhagen, therefore Hot Summer of Urban Farming created further opportunities for more temporary public art projects to be created in the city.
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
The minimal budget of the project partially governed the environmental footprint of the artworks. The artists were required to be resourceful with materials and to re-use items as much as possible. Some of the artworks used recycled and repurposed found objects, including Rambling Range, which incorporated a solar oven and rocket stove made from old tins and a hand-me-down cart to transport the kitchen. Other works incorporated vegetable gardens, which have beneficial qualities to the environment and are created on site.
Rømer considered the implications of the carbon emissions created by inviting international artists to participate in the exhibition, but felt “it was important to have an international scope and the highest possible artistic quality in a project was really locally based.”
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Rich, Sarah. “Oxygen Greenhouse.” Inhabitat, entry posted September 21, 2006. http://inhabitat.com/oxygen-greenhouse/ (accessed February 5, 2013).
Rømer, Nis. “Hot Summer of Urban Farming: 8 Visual Artists in the City and on the Web.” Free Soil, entry posted September 20, 2006. http://www.free-soil.org/index.php?post_id=321&cat_id_rel=21&feat=1 (accessed February 12, 2013).
Rømer, Nis. “About.” Publik: Hot Summer of Urban Farming. http://www.publik.dk/hotsummer/about/ (accessed February 22, 2013).
Rømer, Nis. Interview by author, February 2, 2013.