Schwai / Turning Points

Turning Points

Authors: Markus Schwai, Bjørn Inge Melaas

Category: Group position statement

Affiliation: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

The thematic development along the CA2RE+ project led to the theme REFORMULATION as a core for the Ljubljana event, building on the previous topics. (OBSERVATION, SHARING, COMPARISON, and REFLECTION) The term REFORMULATION frames a rather wide field. On one side is the methodological question of changing or updating approaches or research questions towards different outcomes (or to tackle these in a new way). The other “extreme” is the search for reformulation of what DDDr can imply and mean, working for mutual consent towards a different and new description and understanding. The background for this overall question is the need for the validity of qualitative standards, for a wide range of different architectonic and artistic approaches and methods. Also the search for what I would call “research-predictability” could be a reason. In other words, how DDDr fits into recognised general research criteria of relevance, rigour and originality and strengthens the intersubjectivity of DDDr. Using a DDDr project I will try to highlight the necessity of anotherimportant feature of research, in particular DDDr, namely the openness for the uncontrollable. This necessity derives from the very often holistic and integrated multi-disciplinarity of DDDr projects. It is the combination of this multidisciplinarity and the scope to generate knowledge, in an often real-life setting, which leads to many situations where direction, approaches and methods have to be decided along the way. These are not always “safe” decisions, but what I would call calculated RISK.

An example for showing this OPENNESS will be Bjørn Inge Melaas project ‘Ecologies of urban gardening’. The project starts with the assumption that the warming planet, mass extinction and the degradation of the living world are merely symptoms of a much deeper crisis. In the project Felix Guattaris’ three ecologies are used to approach the research, where the environmental crisis is set in relation to to the underlying, ecological crisis in our minds, in our social relations and institutions, ”affirming that”our wellbeing is intimately connected with the health of society and the environment around us. If we destroy nature, we are also destroying ourselves.” (Melaas 2021) The artistic research project approaches urban gardening as a transversal practice able to repair the mental, social and physical ecologies contemporaneously:“Urban gardening can change the way we think, the way we relate to each other (both human and more-than-human life) and it changes our physical environment, our cities and neighbourhoods.” (Melaas 2021) In exploring urban gardening and its potential Bjørn Inge initiated, participated and investigated several urban gardening projects in different locations, spanning from private to public realm.

This project serves to exemplify a turning point in the research process. The most defining TURNING POINT in this project resulted from an experience when initiating one of the gardening projects in 2017. A group of dedicated people is physically establishing an urban gardening project. “This summer we will turn this asphalt desert into a productive garden in the middle of the city. A group of people, all with our individual needs, desires and motivations, has decided to take back (some) democratic control of food production, the production of our surroundings and everyday life. Consciously or unconsciously, we experiment with what Henri Lefebvre refers to as self-management.” (Melaas 2021)

Delivery of soil, 2017 (picture by Bjørn Inge Melaas)	Melaas, Bjørn Inge, “Ecologies of urban gardening” for the book CA2RE+ strategies 2021

Figure 1: Delivery of soil, 2017 (picture by Bjørn Inge Melaas) Melaas, Bjørn Inge, “Ecologies of urban gardening” for the book CA2RE+ strategies 2021

Two months later the involved realize that things are not working out as they thought; The plants have withered, not even weeds will grow. In the search for the reasons for their failure they, among others, invite a permaculturist asking for explanations. They learn that the soil is deadand find out they neither got theknowledge and experience necessary to succed.

“Suddenly soil goes from being a matter, a growth medium for the plants - to what philosopher Maria Puig de la Bellacasa calls a matter of care.” (Melaas 2021) This realization and several other experiences in Bjørn Inges’ DDDR project make the mutual dependency between humans and soil visible. Puig de la Bellacasa reminds us that care is not only necessary between humans, but also what microbes do all the timeThis makes clear that the “mental division” between nature and culture doesn't make sense, and this realisation can be the first step away from exploitation towards co-existence, based on CARE. It is this relation to soil, which in urban gardening happens through touching and working in/with the soil with our hands. This contact strengthens our relation to soil, uncovers our dependencies and teaches us CARE. Caring for the soil, with its microbes, but also our fellow gardeners.

The superficial mantras of alternative area-usage and an innovative method of participation, which urban agriculture often is connected with, are supplemented or exchanged with a different one: Urban agriculture as an invitation to CARE. “- to relate to soil, to plants, to other humans and our physical surroundings.” (Melaas 2021) At this TURNING POINT it became clear that the, in the urban agriculture projects, used soil is not a container for the food to be grown in, but a living organism to cooperate with and CARE for. In return, it will CARE for us. This description of the necessary openness in a DDDr project is our try to discuss REFORMULATION as RECONCEPTUALISATION. It can be the big advantage of DDDr to allow shifts of track and steadily be able to focus on different parts, shifting between the applied part of the research and its foundation.

Care for soil, 2017 (picture by Bjørn Inge Melaas)

Figure 2: Care for soil, 2017 (picture by Bjørn Inge Melaas)


Melaas, Bjørn Inge, “Ecologies of urban gardening” for the book CA2RE+ strategies 2021