Prinzessinnengarten- Berlin

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In and out of Germany in four days flat. Hard not to pick up a strong common’s vibe coming from Berlin. Excellent street and public art,  wind farms, beer on bikes, and the highest collective rooftop solar power in the world. For a creative, green leaning (and/or broke) twenty-something, there is not much to not like in this small part of the world. Our friends in Finland have said this is the place where it is all happening, and its not hard to see why.

Today we had the pleasure of strolling the Prinzessinnengarten urban/cultural garden in the corner of Moritzplatz, Berlin. Founded by non-profit Nomadisch Grün (Nomadic Green) in 2009, members of the local and extended gardening community grow vegetables, picnic, play a game of Foosball, or take workshops in new sustainable lifestyle practices. Once an abandoned lot, the space now offers the public a small, green oasis in the centre of the big smoke.

I think my favorite/ most unique aspect of the garden is the resource recycling centre. Garden members collect and sort waste building materials like windows, door frames, plastic sheeting and other supplies which are then used creatively to create garden infrastructure like tables/chairs, compost systems, greenhouses, and sheds. Some very interesting make/do craft and design in progress growing life.

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Pixelache 2014

I’m currently in Suomelinna Island, Helsinki taking observations on the relationship between Nordic social culture and design  as part of an ongoing research project informing future design and craft work. After two weeks of settling in to the surroundings, its becoming clear I’ll be having quite a bit to write on in the coming months. Last weekend I hit the ground running, attending the Pixelache festival/workshop/(un)conference, held at Helsinki University and on Vartiosaari, a small sparsely inhabited “nature” island a 45 minute boat-ride east of the city. Image

This year’s Pixelache ran under the theme “Commoners Unite featuring keynote speakers Alain Ambrosi (Remix the Commons: Canada), and Markus Schmidt (Biofaction:Austria) formally kicking off festivities with brief lectures on their work  advocating for the equitably shared resources of cultural and biological commons. Pixelache (pronounced Pixel Ake), was true to its word, ditching the usual format of unending slide presentations from podiums in conditioned conference centers for a more casual format of open-ended, transdisciplinary workshops. Pixelache gathered several hundred artists, designers, scientists, and activists from all over Europe and beyond to converse and create pathways for a creating awareness of issues around privatization and  a greater public domain in and across their respective fields.

The program ran for approximately four days (7/6-10/6), with  pre-camp workshops covering topics as cultural coding and artistic experimentation with nuclear decay around the city on Thursday and Friday, complimented by activities around the campgrounds on Vartiosaari Saturday and Sunday.

I managed to catch Ambrosi and Schmidt’s talks on Friday, but had to skip Saturday’s camp to catch up on other work. If I can a link to recordings of the talks, I’ll post them here.

Workshops

ImageOn Sunday, I arrived Vartiosaari at about 10:45 in the morning for breakfast with about 20 other attendees, following a foot path through the island to base camp, where participants who had camped out the night before were making and sharing breakfast. While we went by ferry, some participants were actually given row boats to cross from mainland to island.

  An activities matrix had been created the day prior including casual lectures, slide talks, performances, and workshops at several different outdoor and indoor locations throughout the island. Two excellent aspects of this format jumped out immediately. First, the open and fluid participatory nature of the program. Any attendee could spontaneously propose to lead a workshop or talk about pretty much anything they felt important or interesting to the theme. This meant that content was free to engage za  thoughtful ongoing dialogue between disciplines, with new activities being created reflexively to one another.  The encouragement to share, articulate, and generate immediate feedback in unique insights into the commons  was refreshing. Secondly, the very site specific nature of the program allowed for direction connect to the importance of common ground, open space, and preservation of nature as it was being discussed.

Making jargon meaningful

   Despite missing the first day of camp, I was still able to attend a pretty    diverse range of talks and activities. In the morning, a presentation  in the basement of the island artist residence followed by a hands-on workshop by an art/biology/IT collective creating a DIY sensor systems for beehives and open-source shareware for monitoring and sharing data online. In the afternoon I took a hike through the dense island forest and made it back in time for an offbeat talk on Real and Imagined Space programs of Nazi Germany,  followed by an informal workshop deconstructing the semantics of  jargon ( I got to discuss how the word craft is now being used in industrial applications), and finally an interactive performance piece by on the designing of a “perfect moment”.

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Defining the common good with Alain Amborsini’s film crew from “Remix the Commons

There were probably close to 20 workshops in total over the course of the weekend, all seemed equally inspiring. Pixelache was wrapped up on Sunday evening before the last boats were scheduled for the mainlands with a brief summary of outcomes of discussions and workshops given, and a very long round of applause for the organizers. I’d love to go back next year for a speech on the arts and crafts guilds of the late 19th and early 20th century…….

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Wrap up speech

The Mother(Earth)ship

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A few weeks ago we got out to Ironbank, Adelaide Hills for a tour of Martin Freeney’s Earthship Ironbank, the first council approved earth ship in Australia. If you’re not up to speed, Earth ships (I think TM) are essentially passive-solar dwelling composed of recycled and unprocessed natural materials gathered on location. Earthships are designed to be energy and water self-sufficient using thermal mass (typically built into the sides of hills where feasible), sun facing windows, and natural ventilation to regulate indoor temperatures. Recylcled rainwater system allow water to be used up to three times first through drinking and shower, then to feed plants in the greenhouse, and finally through to orchards and reed ponds outside. They are extremely popular in the sustainable design, tree-hugging hippy, and off the grid survivalist communities. I’d  like to think of myself as a part-time member (okay, tourist) off all three, so I’m sold. Plus earthships are obviously hand crafted, site specific, and one of a kind.

Earthship Ironbank is pretty cozy, designed to accommodate two people at most, with the front living area home to both kitchen and bedroom, a single bathroom/laundry, and built-in year-round greenhouse.

Martin drew the architectural plans while traveling to Taos, New Mexico studying the systems of the original arid lands earth ships as part of PhD project at the Adelaide University. He has been hand building his ship for close to six years now with the help of students wanting learn more about the process themselves. Very smart. Casa de Ironbank will become a bed and breakfast when he finishes the project, slated to open early next year.

For about Earthship Ironbank including dates of workshops and open house tours visit Martin’s website  http://www.earthshipironbank.com.au. For more on earthships, period, visit www.earthship.com

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Brave New World

Hello and hi to anyone who might be reading. This is my new blog, “Useful Work”, lovingly named after the socialist manifesto Useful Work Versus Useless Toil written by textile designer, aristocratic shit stirrer, and Arts and Craft movement champion William Morris in 1884.

It is the intention of this journal (can we call it that?) to help record, mainly for myself, but also for anyone else who might find it….useful….. my search for cultures of sustainability via the practice and production of craft across time and space.

Originally trained as a glass artist, I have recently finished a Graduate Diploma in Sustainable Design from the University of South Australia, and have embarked on a research degree examining the historical relationship between craft practice in non-industrial cultures and environmental, social, and cultural sustainability.

It is my belief, shared by experts in the field of sustainability thinking, that sustainability cannot be achieved through the unquestioned advancement of technology, economic growth, or any other system which continues to operate independently within the rules of anthropocentric and capitalistic worldviews. Change must in fact begin at the cultural level in which our values are fundamentally reconnected to a symbiosis with nature, other people, and other cultures in the spirit of preservation of well-being for all. Within the practice of craft, I believe a universal framework for this remodeling has existed for some time.

So, anyways, that’s my little manifesto, and welcome to my journey. In my search I will meander across the fields of design, culture, art, and ecology among others to examine their relationships to craft and how we can use the lessons of these exchanges to illuminate healthier and more realistic perspectives of life.  If you have any questions or insights into the matters at hand, please feel free to email or leave a comment, and I will absolutely respond . Learning and sharing is what this is all about.