Mapping experiment

As part of my (Ben Hagenaars) research project  Cultivating Communities, I organised a workshop at the NME seminar (Natuur en Milieu educatie dag) in Brussels last week. 25 stakeholders within the field of environment and education participated in the workshop. The aim was to visualise a fictional map of a network between different schools. I used the MAP-it toolkit – developed by social spaces – which normally uses sticker icons to visualise a map. However, I made some alterations since I wanted to add some extra features like building blocks to make the map more tangible. This idea originates from a presentation I took part in during the Sustainable Summer School organised by REcentre last summer. For this presentation we didn’t want to use PowerPoint to visuals our concept – a food system for the city of Maastricht – but we built a miniature city out of materials we could scavenge in the surrounding area. This made it really easy to talk about the food systems with local famers, citizens and other stakeholders. It enabled us to work out a scenario of our concept, but more importantly it enabled other people to ad ideas of their own to the existing map. A fragment of the presentation can be found in this video by REcentre (starting from minute 7:41).

For last week’s workshop, I’ve tried to merge the MAP-it toolkit with some tangible elements. The participants where divided into three groups, each group was accompanied by a moderator who used scenario cards to guide the session. Structural elements like building blocks, link materials like ropes, and pens to add extra information could be used to build up the map.

The participants had to map a fictional network of school ‘laboratories’, which made the workshop a bit more challenging. The laboratories could be defined as spaces where school communities can experiment and come up with solutions to environmental issues. At the start of the workshop, ideas of networked school ‘laboratories’ emerged: schools that experiment with renewable energy, a network that uses bike messengers to transport materials, self-sufficient water laboratories, …

Halfway through the workshop, the groups switched to another map. After a short presentation of the map, the new group could ad remarks, brake down structures and build new structures. This generated interesting discussions about the importance of spaces where people could gather and share ideas. The spaces weren’t necessary physical structures as they could also be digital or even hybrid structures.


Strange Carrots

In a conversation with some of the students I’m working with for the Cultivating Communities project I discovered that their quite interested in how food can be altered. One student told me about the exhibition he visited in Z33 Hasselt. The exhibition is called Alter Nature: We can. It explores how recent discoveries in biosciences and technology effect our daily lives, by showing artistic works that lie on the crossroads between art and science. I also visited the exhibition and one artist duo Driessens & Verstappen struck my attention. In their project Morfotheque #9 they show a collection of 32 artificial carrots, the shapes of which are based on carrots that were rejected in distribution centres. Their work refers to the selective cultivation methods required to give and preserve carrots present day typical orange colour. The evolution of the wild carrot to the cultivated carrot is linked to a very interesting History. Carrots used to be available in a variety of shapes and colours. But In the 17th century the carrot underwent a radical transformation. Dutch botanist grew a specific orange carrot as a tribute to the Dutch king Willem of Orange. In one generation time all different varieties turned orange and evolved into the strait orange carrot we know today.

This story tells us something about the way we shape nature to fit our needs. Undoubtedly the orange collar must have made quite an impression on the king. And a straight carrot is easier to peal than a crooked one, but are these standardised crops still completely natural? After all they weren’t subjected to the principles of natural selection. They were more subjected to aesthetic selection. Their is a downside to this designed vegetables, the lack of diversity makes the crops more vulnerable for diseases. Recently scientist are trying to overcome this issues by inserting genes in the crops to make them resistant to diseases. Artist Adam Zaretsky reacts to the act of inserting genes into living organisms. He went a step further then the orange carrot and tried to create orange pheasants that could be used as targets for the royal hunt. He proposed this in a letter to Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. With this projects he tries to raise questions about how far one can go in creating a royal aesthetic? I’m thinking about how the carrots would have evolved  if the Dutch botanists didn’t intervene into the evolution process of the carrot? This is why I did some experiments with shaping carrots into altered species. I’d like to present these artefacts to the children and ask them about diversity of plants, the risks and benefits of altering the genes of food, …