This week the privatization of our public spaces has been front and centre of the global news cycle. The protests in Istanbul arose over the potential demolition of over Gezi Park, the last remaining public park in Taksim, to make way for Istanbul’s 94th shopping mall. In just three months time, Istanbul will host its 13th Biennial centred around curator Fulya Erdemci’s interrogation of the public domain as a political forum.
Over the past week, a group called Futurefarmers led by San Francisco-based artist Amy Franceschini, have established a temporary presence on Oslo’s waterfront, currently a construction site for apartments and office buildings as part of the Bjørvika development. Futurefarmers’ occupation of the area known as Loallnenningen (or commons) is sanctioned by the developer. Futurefarmers have assembled as Flatbread Society which forms part of Slow Space, a programme of public art projects, events and publications over the next four years. Bjorvika is a contentious site in which to participate.
Futurefarmers’ participation in Bjørvika began as part of Slow Days back in 2011, five days of discussion across the city and environs of Oslo, away from the structure of a planning meeting. Informed by curators such as Mary Jane Jacob and Alistair Hudson of Grizedale in Cumbria and Oslo-based artists such as Marianne Heier, certain common concerns arose about the evacuation of production from our public spaces, the assumptions made about the fixity of ‘permanent’ public art and the importance of non-commercial gathering points.
Futurefarmers began to test out a series of ideas for Bjørvika which centred around urban food production and distribution as a means of facilitating social exchange. They proceeded by testing out ideas with colleagues and peers across Europe, to find hidden networks of bakeries and food production, environmental activists and farmers across Oslo, to listen and research delighting in the divergent forms of and facilities for making flatbread. They seeded the idea for Herligheten – a space under the shadow of two prominent ventilation towers for 100 allotments and a grain field.
But though this method of organising might share commonalities with activism and has been sustained through non-art, self-organised groups, at the heart of the project has been a captivating visual idea – a Bakehouse for Bjørvika.
That charismatic image has drawn together diverse individuals and groups across Oslo over the past few weeks to participate in the Flatbread Society oven-building, baking and design ‘charettes’. Franceschini suggests,
“The Bakehouse should not immediately locate itself as a critical agitation, but rather a “strange” place where the logic of a situation disappears. This is where the art emerges I think. The magic and wonder that stops the discussion and starts the dialogue.
The Bakehouse is not just an idea, but a functioning physical environment, an open spatial organization. It reveals a great deal about the perceptual and conceptual schemes of the people using it. The oven may therefore be considered a total cultural fact.”
Work towards the form and function of the Bakehouse will continue over the next two years, but, in light of recent debates about the transformation of our public spaces, what appears to be most urgent is what Flatbread Society might have to say to the process of urban planning.
A Bakehouse for Bjorvika is unfolding through a provisional aesthetic which contrasts starkly with the surrounding construction site: the Flatbread Society meeting tables and tools, its radio station Ramona, the tandoor and flatbread ovens, the oven in a canoe, the telescope rolling pin and shelter structure which mimics the Opera House roof – all demonstrate a method of hand-made or make-shift production. This is a field station operating through a spirit of readiness. Underlying this process has always been the overriding concern of what form the Bakehouse will take and how it might be sustained in the long-term. Flatbread Society offers an alternative approach to the design and build methodology of urban design, creating a space in which we might actively contribute to the life of our public spaces through a captivating idea.