Bonnie Fortune and Brett Bloom are artists and former Chicagoans that make their home in Copenhagen these days. While many artists lend the same creative abilities to their homes as their practice, we rarely get a glimpse of what goes on there. Often, what goes on locally at homeâ€”the apartment, the neighborhood, the cityâ€”can feed back into a practice until the boundaries of artwork and lifework are comfortably confused. Fortune and Bloom use their blog Mythological Quarter to share their experience of making a home in a new place. This includes reviewing books about homesteading, recounting experiences making work in a new place, documenting instances of neighborhood ingenuity, and sharing creative experiments made in their apartment. Bonnie and Brett’s blog impressed me with the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment brought to all of their projects, whether itâ€™s meant for an art festival or the living room. I sent Bonnie a few questions to chew on over email.
Bryce Dwyer: Where does the name “Mythological Quarter” come from?
Bonnie Fortune: Mythological Quarter is the name of a group of streets in the NÃ¸rrebro neighborhood of Copenhagen that are all named for Norse gods. Our street is Baldersgade. Balder was the son of Odin. Because our blog is primarily about hyper-local ecology and what people can do to live closer to and learn about their local environment, we thought it was a good idea to name it after our neighborhood. We also liked the imaginative possibility of the name, which is good because in the few short months since we started the blog it has morphed beyond the initial mission statement and intent. We started by detailing a lot of projects that we were doing in our home but have since evolved beyond that. Weâ€™ll return to that on occasion, but the focus is now a little broader.
BD: I don’t think it’s a leap of faith to believe that some of the same creative experimentation that happens in a conventional artist’s studio is at play in the home of an ecologically-oriented urban homesteader. Of course, the output of these impulses varies. In one scenario you might end up with a presentable art project, in the other, a batch of worm castings to feed your houseplants. How do you think of these different outcomes of artful living in relation to one another?Â
BF: This is a good question because it relates to the slow morphing of the blogâ€™s purview. I have a reluctant affection for the idea of urban homesteading. Certainly, I look at and am inspired by those authors that would put themselves in that category, but I also question their efficacy having tried, and continue to try, many of their DIY projects. My interest in homesteading ideas is research into how to become more connected to my immediate environment.
So many of us live in cities now that the question becomes how can one deal more directly with where one lives rather than put the environment or an idea of the natural world at a distanceâ€”as something that exists elsewhere.
I am very interested in incorporating ecological thinking (i.e. considering how we are part of rather than separate from the environment we live in) into my daily life and routines. Sometimes it’s achieved and sometimes I feel alienated by what living in a city really meansâ€”being removed from your food production, waste disposal, electricity, natural gas, etc.
Because I am trained as an artist, I automatically look at things from the perspective of producing culture. I think about how I can use my skills to make an improvement in the overall environment of the world. What does that look like if one of my main skills is cultural production? Making posters, writing, connecting people, making exhibitions, and making projects. The blog gives me a focused research platform that allows me to connect with other artists, but also scientists and those working with the contemporary environmental movement. But there are times when MQ veers off topic and focuses solely on art projects. Just as there are times when we canâ€™t figure out the perfect indoor compost system and end up throwing away our table scraps.
BD: Do domestic experiments ever leave the house and become projects-at-large?
BF: Yes, our domestic experiments do become projects outside of the home. To start with MQ is a project somewhat outside of the home in that it is in the public sphere of the Internet. Currently we are planning a way to frame certain aspects of our research on MQ to make a book.Â MQ, as a project, is more about research and developmentâ€”talking to others, reading, trying things and documenting those experiments. It is a testing ground for larger projects.Â For example, through an interview project for MQ, I met a group of local naturalists and biologists who helped me immeasurably in making a recent poster project for the local art fair.
BD: You and Brett have been collecting great resource books and making them freely available for a while now. What are some of your “desert island” books?
How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz
The Book of the New Alchemist, Edited by Nancy Jack Todd and E. P. Dutton
Toolbox for Sustainable City Living by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew
Ecology textbook, Edited by Began, Harper, and Townsend
Permaculture: A Designerâ€™s Manual by Bill Mollison
I started collaborating with Brett on a project called the Library of Radiant Optimism for Letâ€™s Re-make the World. The project collected books from the late 60s and early 70s. Several of these books like the The New Alchemists, The Environmental Design Primer, and How to Build Your Own Living Structures focused on how to transfer ideas from the environmental movement to daily livingâ€”the beginnings of the green design movement.
Reading these books, collecting them together, and writing reviews led us to wonder about what people were doing now or how we could make our own experiments.Â MQ stems directly from that collaboration. It is a more streamlined, less nostalgic version of that project.
What to take to a desert island? The problem here is that I think too literally about this. I would say How to Build Your Own Living Structures, but you need a hardware store to build some of these things and thatâ€™s not on a desert island. In fact when we moved to Denmark we had to leave a huge part of our library at home, so in a sense it was moving to a desert island (well, Copenhagenâ€™s on an island anyway). Leaving our books at home was a hard decision but one determined by the economics of international flight. Weâ€™ve since started to rebuild our collection. As we do, Iâ€™m adding to the Book Reviews portion of the blog.
BD: What are the things that you’ve learned through amateur pursuit of useful knowledge that you might not have acquired anywhere else? Where might people have acquired this knowledge previously and can you speculate on some reasons for the change?
BF: I consider my artistic practice to be a research-basedÂ endeavor. Part of this is having gone through an academic system of art training, part of it is the way contemporary art making has evolved. I make art about what I am interested in, what I care about, and what I am passionate about. This is amateur in a sense, but also a professional pursuit of knowledge. For example, it has lead me to talk to scientists about how to properly conduct a survey of the biodiversity of an inner city empty lot so that I can make a poster about the process. I am not a scientist, Iâ€™m an amateur there, but I am still approaching the project with a level of professionalism. And I am genuinely curious about making sense of the world around me, in that sense itâ€™s not an amateur pursuit of knowledge.
Another example: before moving to Copenhagen, Brett and I did a public art project for the city of Urbana where we built bat houses. We were interested in how to encourage wild habitats that are within and more integrated with the built environment of a city or town. We didnâ€™t know what bats liked before starting the project, so we learned about them and their habitat needs to fully realize the project.
As to where people acquired knowledge previously: The Internet has obviously changed how we gather and share knowledge. This makes me think of Bill McKibbenâ€™s book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. First of all, he suggests that our planet needs a new name, Eaarth, because global warming has reached a point of irrevocably shifting the planet we knew as Earth. For the rest of the book he lays out how climate change happened and how itâ€™s shaping the world. He concludes with what is being done and what can be done in the present day environmental movement. McKibben suggests that small-scale initiativesâ€”things like Community Supported Agriculture, bartering systems, and generally doing things on a smaller scaleâ€”is the way to acclimate to living on Eaarth. Within all of this, he points out that the Internet is something that will continue to be a useful tool for connecting and sharing information between the world of self-sufficient and small-scale communities he imagines as the answer. This conclusion stuck with me because it was not what I expected him to write because he had already written about supporting hyper local initiatives (local farming, food sharing, etc) and the Internet seemed the exact opposite of this. Introducing the Internet into the system contradicts focusing on the local and also, by McKibbenâ€™s way of looking at it, a way to support and encourage the system.
We began Mythological Quarter (and other projects) trying to think about our immediate environmentâ€”the apartment, the neighborhood, etc. that we live inâ€”the hyper-local. It is now a means for us to research, gather information, and share it with others. Itâ€™s a knowledge project on the edge of local and global.
March 30, 2008 · Print This Article
San Francisco Art Institute has canceled closed the controversial Abdessemed exhibition as well as the public forum. The exhibition was curated by Hou Hanru, who was interviewed by us in Episode 129.
From the SFAI Website:
In response to a series of violent threats by animal-rights extremists, the San Francisco Art Institute announced today that the public discussion on Adel Abdessemedâ€™s exhibition Donâ€™t Trust Me, scheduled for Monday, 31 March, has been canceled. For the same reasons, the exhibition itself, which was temporarily suspended on Wednesday, 26 March, has now been permanently closed.
â€œWe unconditionally repudiate these threats against SFAI,â€ stated President Chris Bratton: â€œMy first concern is with the safety and security of SFAIâ€™s students, faculty, staff, and their families, as well as members of the public that regularly visit the campus. In light of the violent threats by extremists against this institution, we are unfortunately forced to cancel any public discussion or display regarding this artwork.â€
Soon after it opened, the Abdessemed exhibition became the subject of an orchestrated campaign by a number of animal-rights groups, including Animal Liberation Front (ALF), In Defense of Animals (IDA), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). One result of this campaign was a parallel onslaught of explicit death threats and threats of sexual violence against SFAI staff members and their families. The swift escalation from controversy to credible threats has regrettably forced SFAI to make a decision unprecedented in its 137-year history.
â€œThough weâ€™ve decided to take this action,â€ continued President Bratton, â€œSFAI stands behind the exhibition as an instance of a long-standing and serious commitment, on SFAIâ€™s part, to reflection on, and free and open discussion of, contemporary global art and culture. As an institution, we take seriously our responsibility to encourage and promote such dialogue.â€
â€œThe artist,â€ continued President Bratton, â€œparticipated in an already-existing circuit of food production in a rural community in Mexico. The animals were raised for food, purchased, and professionally slaughtered. In fact, what causes the controversy is that Abdessemed, an artist, entered this exchange, filmed it, and exhibited it.â€
â€œHere, then, is a case where highly local assumptions about how things are produced have come to inform how the world itself is seen. In general, consumption in the US is fueled by things produced out of sight and from far away. In many cultures, particularly those of the global south including Mexico, the killing of animals for food is often direct and present, not concealed from sight as is the case of industrialized food production here. This distinction is certainly relevant to Donâ€™t Trust Me. Admittedly, this is an uncomfortable confrontation for some, but is nevertheless a real condition not only for animals, but also for the people whose lives are bound up with them. Simply stated, it is an outrage that threats of violence have, in this case, succeeded in derailing a public debate on issues that are critical to our everyday lives.â€
The press release can be found here.
Robert Smithsonâ€™s widow Nancy Holt sent a letter out today to notify people that his masterwork Spiral Jetty is in jeopardy of being destroyed due to oil drilling.
Here is Holtâ€™s full letter and a way for people to voice their concerns.
Yesterday I received an urgent email from Lynn DeFreitas, Director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, telling me of plans for drilling oil in the Salt Lake near Spiral Jetty. See Attachments. The deadline for protest is [today] Wednesday, at 5PM. Of course, DIA has been informed and are meeting about it today.
I have been told by Lynn that the oil wells will not be above the water, but that means some kind of industrial complex of pipes and pumps beneath the water and on the shore. The operation would require roads for oil tank trucks, cranes, pumps etc. which produce noise and will severely alter the wild, natural place.
If you want to send a letter of protest to save the beautiful, natural Utah environment around the Spiral Jetty from oil drilling, the emails or calls of protest go to Jonathan Jemming 801-537-9023 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please refer to Application # 8853. Every letter makes a big difference, they do take a lot of notice and know that publicity may follow. Since the Spiral Jetty has global significance, emails from foreign countries would be of special value.
They try to slip these drilling contracts under the radar, thatâ€™s why we found out so late, not through notification, but from a watchdog lawyer at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the group that alerted me to the land leasing for oil and gas near Sun Tunnels last May.
Thank you for your consideration of this serious environmental matter.
The Ultimate Art School Building wasn’t built in NYC of course (space issues) or Chicago (would have to be built with cut stone) or Kansas City even (doesn’t have fountains in the design) no the Ultimate Art School building was built in none other then the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
The School of Art, Design and Media a 5-story facility nestled in the corner of the campus with a forest to it’s back blends the heart shaped grass and glass building amazingly with the surroundings, gives a relaxing cool demeanor and most importantly is now the best place in the world to play hacky sack (aka footbag).
Feel free to post photos of your Art & Design building (or barracks as the case may be).