Shutdown Porgram #6

Åsa Sonjasdotter, Cultivating Stories, 2019
Co-produced by Bergen Assembly 2019
Courtesy: Åsa Sonjasdotter
Context: Actually, the Dead Are Not Dead: Politics of Life

Åsa Sonjasdotter's two-part work Cultivated Stories is part of the exhibition Actually, the Dead Are Not Dead. Politics of Life (reopened on 8 May 2020). It deals with the history and global industry of plant breeding, where diversity has been largely eliminated for reasons of supposed efficiency and profit maximization. The film refers to attempts to reverse this normification. Documentary elements are repeatedly interspersed with impressive images and sounds of grain fields exposed to wind and weather. The film demands a certain slowness.
Cultivated Stories is related to works such as Sunaura Taylor's overpaintings of a Wildlife photo book, which are directed against environmental destruction and the mass animal husbandry of the food industry proposing instead an alliance between humans and the non-domesticated animal. It is the artist's own naked body with which she approaches the wild animals.
Taylor's work can also be found in the third issue of
Crip Magazine, which is on display in the exhibition and additionally appears in a wall installation by Eva Egermann, alongside excerpts from the first two issues of the magazine. Like other works in the exhibition, Crip Magazine questions cultural, clinical and other constructions of norm and the abnormal.

of archival photographs from the Swedish Seed Association (Sveriges utsädesförening), early 1900s; dimensions variable.

The poster prints document the early attempts to breed plants into monocultures. The method for so called ‘pure line’ breeding was implemented by the Swedish Seed Association (Sveriges utsädesförening), founded in 1886. The technique had been invented by the Danish botanist Wilhelm Johannsen (1857 –1927), while working at the chemical laboratory of the Carlsberg Breweries in Copenhagen. This laboratory had developed single strain yeast, which enabled a controlled fermentation process without the risk of beer turning sour. Following up on the profitable result, Johannsen began experimenting on the equivalent to ‘single strains’ in plants. By inbreeding peas for several generations, it was possible to empty them from almost any genetic variation. This resulted in plants that resembled to clones, which was understood as the ‘pure’ or ‘original’ form of the plant, or what Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832) called an Urform (1). During several decades, the Swedish Seed Association bred uniform grains following Johannsen’s tehcnique, establishing the foundation of what today is called modern plant breeding. The method is still used by commercial breeders, as well as it is enforced by legislation. Since 1962, only uniform cultivars are allowed for commercial cultivation within the EU and further countries that has signed the UPOV convention on legal restrictions for intellectual property (2).

on organic, participatory grain breeding of agronomist Hans Larsson, Sweden
Color, sound, 34’


The film documents the work of restoring and improving the few remaining varieties of genetically diverse heritage grain by the Swedish plant scientist Hans Larsson. With the implementation of modern plant breeding on a global scale, the diversity in grains – generated by the continuous on-site breeding by farmers since their introduced to cultivation about ten thousand years ago – was almost lost. The inherent genetic variation in plants is crucial for their capacity to adapt to new climates and further cultivation conditions. Larsson has test grown all still remaining varieties in Scandinavia, as well as he is breeding further varieties of the remaining ones, contributing to further variation and adaptation to contemporary cultivation conditions. The propagation of these varieties and the distribution of their seeds to farmers is organised within the association Allkorn. Heritage grains are too diverse to be permitted for commercial circulation among farmers according to the UPOV convention. Only as a member of Allkorn or similar associations is it legal for farmers to cultivate heritage grains.

1: Wilhelm Johannsen, Elemente der exakten Erblichkeitslehre. Mit Grundzügen der biologischen Variationsstatistik. In dreißig Vorlesungen, 2nd edition. Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1913
2: The objective of the The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants is the protection of new varieties of plants by an intellectual property right.

Åsa Sonjasdotter

is an artist born in Helsingborg, Sweden, in 1966. She is living on the island of Ven, South Sweden, and in Berlin, Germany.
Since 2018, Sonjasdotter is an artistic researcher at Valand Academy, The University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Since 2015, she is a founding member of The Neighbourhood Academy, a bottom up learning site and a branch of Prinzessinnengarten, an urban garden in Berlin, Germany. She has been professor at Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art in Tromsø, Norway, an institution she took part of establishing in 2007. From 1996 to 2006 Sonjasdotter was a founding member of the Danish feminist art- and action group Kvinder på Værtshus (Women Down the Pub). Sonjasdotter has studied at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and at Trondheim Academy of Fine Art in Norway. She holds an MFA from the Department of Theory and Communication at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. From 2014 she is a research student at the Art Department, University of London, UK. Sonjasdotter has been awarded the COAL prize for environmental art in France (Prix COAL Art et Environnement) in 2014 by the Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development. Her piece The Order of Potato has been awarded by The Danish Art Foundation in 2009.


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