Oct 28, 2011

In the WEEDS:
Camilla Berner

Kroyers Plads, Copenhagen, Denmark

When I want to know anything about Scandinavia, I ask my friend, Elin, who geographically lives in the US, but whose heart is in the Nordic World. She told me about Camilla Berner and The Black Box Garden in Copenhagen.  I have been corresponding with Camilla and she generously answered a few questions about the garden.
Overview of the garden
PO: How did the idea of Black Box Garden start?
CB:  As a close neighbor to the site, I've been thinking about doing a project here, ever since it was emptied back in 2004.  Closely linked to part of my art practice, I've followed the development of the vegetation on the site closely and seen how it has spread and grown more and more wild over the years.

Most people treat a wasteland site as a place of no value at all;  the vegetation is regarded as nothing, but weeds and the site is more or less just one big trash bin and toilet for dogs only.  The site Kroyers Plads, however, is actually very spectacularly situated in the middle of old Copenhagen, right on the harbor, which makes it one of the most valuable and hence most contested wasteland sites in recent years.

Back in 2007, I did a survey of all species at the site and conducted an afternoon workshop in gardening with some local kids, which in many ways where Black Box Garden was born.

Solidago canadensis and Calamagrostis epigeios
Canadian goldenrod and chee reedgrass

When I started gardening in April 2011, I knew the site had just been sold again and that the new owners were planning to build soon.  I decided as much as I would like to continue the experiment in gardening with existing vegetation only, I also wanted all aspects of this particular site to come forward and be articulated, either through the garden itself or through the action of gardening in a public space.  Therefore, I took on the performative role of always wearing a uniform when working in the garden. 

Melilotus albus
White Sweet Clover
I also decided to write a blog every day about the garden. On the blog, I reflect on what I do, how I feel about it, what I observe plant wise and about life on the site itself.  How do people react to my presence, which to some people is thought of as very odd.  What is nature in an urban environment and what is public space?  Who are the contributors and what is their responsibility?

Sedum reflexum or Sedum rupestre
Jenny's Stonecrop or Reflexed Stonecrop
PO:  How did you start gardening?
CB:  My first day in the garden, I had to overcome many different things. I had to collect all the trash.  No garden looks nice with trash and especially not, if my mission was to change people's perceptions about weeds in a garden.

I didn't feel particularly courageous about it being public space and it being in my neighborhood.  As part of the experiment, I didn't want to ask permission to do the garden as it was important to me to observe the reactions, both from locals and owners, but also to observe my own role.

After 8-10 days, I had forgotten about these worries and did the garden work regularly for 2-3 hours every day.  After 3 weeks, I found out that the owners, were a big real estate company and had plans...they were going to cut down all the vegetation and get rid of it.

Epilobium angustifolium
Fireweed or Great Willowherb or Rosebay Willowherb
I contacted the company and said I could do a garden out of what was growing there and so it happened.  In the garden, what I do is I look at the species, where and how they grow.  I make a path by clearing around the group of vegetation.  I select a path and cover it with sand (left on the site from a beach bar that here between 2001-2004). 

This way a nice aesthetic feeling is achieved and the plants are kind of highlighted and given a new status.  As work progresses it is not a decision of how to move through the vegetation - rather a reading of how the vegetation grows and that is what determines how the paths are made.

The title of the garden BLACK BOX GARDEN refers to the black boxes on a airplane and how they work as a testimony in case of a crash.  Likewise, the plants are a testimony of the history of the site, what soil is here and so forth.

Phragmites australis
Common Reed
PO:  How do you garden and have time for other things?
CB:  The garden and the blogging about it is pretty much a full-time job in the Spring, even with help from an assistant.  Currently, it keeps itself running with one-day a week of work.  Next season, I plan on some help from local volunteers.  The garden will keep existing until building starts in Autumn 2012.

Daucus carota
Wild Carrot or Queen Anne's lace
PO:  What other projects do you have in mind?
CB:  Throughout most of my work, surveying and mapping play an important role.  It is part of the process, but also often an active part of the final work too.  When  revealing overlooked aspects of our environment and how we engage with it, there is an element of archaeology.

In 2008-2009, I made a piece called "Precious Things and Stuff We Don't Like" which was a seed bank with seeds of all species from a wasteland site in a very densely built area of Copenhagen.  The idea of the work is on one hand to show the diversity of plants actually existing within a very little urban area (124 species within 1700m) but secondly by storing them for the future use it points to the issues of saving nature in relation to climate change and touches the notion of our perception of nature:  What do we save?

Camilla spreading sand in the garden
Photo by Sebastian Schioerring




All of the above photos courtesy of Camilla Berner

Oct 22, 2011

Delving into the landscape:
New Nordic Food


- a taste of denmark

Union Square Greenmarket
Saturday, October 22, 2011
I didn't know what I was eating
and I didn't care. 
It was delicious. 

The "New Nordic Cookout" event at the Union Square Greenmarket gave me a chance to taste some of the food you might eat at Noma Restaurant in Copehagen for FREE.  As a special treat, Noma's chef, Rene Redzepi was interviewed by Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief of Food and Wine Magazine.  I licked my fingers and listened.
Rene Redzepi

Noma in Copehagen

Dana Cowin is a seasoned interviewer, her first question was a good one:  At Noma every plate tells a story.  Where does the inspiration come from?

Rene Redzepi: I want to tell you a story about a shitty carrot.  (Yes, folks that is the word he used).  We wanted to experiment with a carrot that stayed in the ground for two years.  We had a very harsh winter in Denmark...lots of snow, the ocean was frozen, what food could we use to make a dish. 

We decided to treat this shitty carrot like it was a piece of Wagyu beef.  The carrot turns black when it is removed from the ground after two years.  It's mealy and starchy.  The challenge was to figure out a way to  treat this vegetable and make something.
  We added butter, spices, herbs, roasted it for 2 hours, turning it, adding more butter and herbs.  The outside became crunchy and the inside was firm.

And that is why you go to Noma.

RR:  We delve into the landscape.  We are interested in trees as ingredients.  Our Christmas tree in Denmark is the Spruce Tree.  We are experimenting with drying it, to extract the essence of the tree - it has tremendous citrus aromas.  We have used a traditional process to infuse the spruce flavor into oils, salts and sugars.
Vermonters have been using maple tress to make maple syrup, butter and sugar for over a century, but I am pretty sure we haven't explored the Spruce tree yet!
Rene Redzepi " In Scandinavia, we eat in silence; we eat to survive; 
we do not eat for pleasure."

Just to finish that thought.  Cowin asked Rene Redzepi what ingredients he was exploring at the moment. 
The answer:  TRASH
We are trying to understand how to make a dish
out of the food we normally throw in the bin, like fish eyes.

The word for food in Danish is MAD.  This all did seem a little MAD.  But if the proof was in the food I was tasting, I wish I could always be MAD.

In Addition:
The Danish chef Adam Aamann-Christensen, owner of the Copenhagen restaurant Aamann's was also  cooking at the New Nordic Cookout.
Adam Aamann-Christensen
He is opening a new restaurant at 13 Laight Street in New York (part of the Tribeca Film Center)  "The food philosophy at Aamanns-Copenhagen centers on modernizing smorrebrod, the traditional Danish dish of select ingredients atop a slice of fresh rye bread.
This was one of Chez Aamanns' contributions to the cookout.  I have no idea what was in the cream that accompanied the salmon, but I couldn't stop stuffing it into my mouth.  I heard Aamann say that they would be baking their rye bread at the restaurant in New York.
Book a December table reservation between now and November 30 and receive a complimentary piece of smorrebrod together with your choice of a glass of Aquavit or dessert with your smorrebrod purchase.  Telephone:  212-925-1313

I waited in line to get into this event.  The Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark opened the cookout.  Not being a VIP, I cooled my jets until the general public was allowed into the North Pavilion at Union Square.  There may not have been a royal welcome, but the food was beyond princely.
The Nordic Food Lab is project of Rene Redzepi

The purpose of Nordic Food Lab is to:

- Explore old and adapted new techniques and raw materials with relevance to the New Nordic Cuisine. The work must be methodical and systematic when various themes are analyzed, however without a distinct research purpose.

-Communicate the achieved results to an advisory board, sponsors and stakeholders in relevant media for the benefit of the entire Nordic region.

- Develop recipes for use of Nordic raw materials and processing techniques with relevance for both restaurants as well as good industries.

In the Nordic Food Lab, Redzepi was been exploring uses for seaweed.  He said for centuries the Japanese have used seaweed for many purposes, "in Scandinavia, we are surrounded by water, but we have never used seaweed as a food source".  Through the Nordic Food Lab we produced a cheese with seaweed.  The seaweed tastes like coriander.  A Danish cheese company is now producing this cheese.

Oct 20, 2011

A form of slavery: KIKU

The New York Botanical Garden
September 17 - October 30, 2011
End A. Haupt Conservatory

Dazzled. Yes! 
        Admiring. Yes!  

Kiku is a form of gardening that asks a plant to do your bidding.  Through discipline and mastery, you subjugate the plant's natural growth habit and transform it into something other worldly.  I call it a kind of slavery.  Contrived, manipulated, controlled and magnificent:   Fall Flowers of JAPAN (NYBG).

The Botanical Garden got it right this year.  The exhibition has an environment, not just these amazing stage sets of chrysanthemums that make you swoon.  The flowers are surrounded by other Japanese plants.

Japanese Burnet
Ware moko
Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Purpurea'

There are water, rocks, bamboo, Japanese maples, Japanese forest grass, etc. ,etc.,etc.  It's easy to lose yourself in this make believe garden,if you can manage to feel you are not in a straight-jacket.
The sculpture by Tetsunori Kawana is a tremendous relief to all this order and containment.  I felt I could breathe again.
Tetsunori Kawana
Kawna is a  Master Teacher of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana in Tokyo.  The sculpture is made of salvaged fallen branches, twigs, vines, stumps and roots from the grounds of the Botanical Garden in the days following tropical storm Irene.

"Through gathering and reassembling these items, Kawana seeks to give them a second life as a truly site-specific work of art that engages the five senses and encourages appreciation of the passage of time and the five natural elements of earth, wind, fire, and sky." from the exhibition board.

I went to the preview of the exhibition.  And what really goes on at these private showings...

Paula Deitz ended her excellent article for The New York Times entitled "In Autumn, a Garden Lover's Thoughts Turn to Kiku" by quoting a poem by Otomo Oemaru:
Frost! You may fall!
After chrysanthemums there are
no flowers at all!

I prefer the haiku from Basho:
When the winter chrysanthemums go
there's nothing to write about
but radishes.

And a maybe few other things. At least there is always another post in the offing.

For more photos from the show go to: snapdujour.blogsport.com

Oct 17, 2011

A Room Of One's Own
Or Is It?
Sophie Calle


The Lowell Hotel
28 East 63 Street
October 13-October 16, 2011
12 midnight - 12 midnight

with the concierge and you will be directed to Sophie's room
Suite 3A. 

The Lowell Hotel is a small exclusive boutique hotel on the East side of Manhattan.
  I always wanted to peek inside and this was my excuse.

I said to the concierge, "We are here to see the art installation."

"Take the elevator to the third floor."

Suite 3A is a suite, which means it has a bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen.  Saturday morning proved a good time to go.  The only other person in the room was a hotel employee, who acted as the "guard."  At first glance the rooms were overwhelming: over 40 tableau accompanied by text.

"Invited to exhibit in a hotel...I have chosen to introduce, in the room assigned to me, several objects that hold a sentimental place in my life, and that I have used for my autobiographical narratives." Sophie Calle

The best way to explain this piece: show you around Suite 3A.
I have included the narratives that accompany the vignettes I photographed. 

"I wanted a love letter, but he would not write one to me.  One day, I saw the word "Sophie" written at the top of a piece of stationery.  This gave me hope.  Two months after our wedding, I noticed the edge of a piece of paper sticking out from under his typewriter.  I pulled it toward me.  The last line of the letter appear: "My confession is last night, I kissed the envelope with your letter and photo."  I continued to read, in reverse:  "You asked me once I believed in love at first sight.  Did I ever answer you?"  At the top of the page I noticed these words were not addressed to me but a letter "H".  I crossed out the "H" and replaced it with an "S". This became the letter I had received."

"I nearly got married to a man who had been posted to China for three years.  That's a long time.  Like a fiancee whose betrothed is bound for the front, I wanted to marry him on the runway at Roissy airport, just before he left.  The groom would step up into the plane as I stood on the tarmac.  The reception would be held without him and I would spend my wedding night alone.  We set the date for October 7, 20000.  Negotiations with the airport authorities, mayor's agreement to officiate, license, guest list, dress - everything was ready.  Until a letter from the state prosecutor arrived refusing permission.  Weddings had to be celebrated on municipal premises, with two exceptions:  hospital, in the likelihood of imminent death of one of the betrothed or prison.  So, town hall, jail, agony, these were our choices.  Banal, radical or tragic. Still, on October 7, I did go to the airpport to wear my dress, just once, and to grieve for our wedding.  And I did go back home alone, as planned."

"I was in love with him, but he had decided to leave me. To soften the break-up, he suggested a farewell trip of one week in Seville.  I liked the idea though it seemed painful. So, I accepted and we went.  On the last day, seeing my tears, H. told me a secret.  It was a terrible secret, which had poisoned his life.  And he was confiding it to me.  Only to me.  At the very moment he was depriving me of his love, this man offered me, through his confession, the ultimate proof of our intimacy."

"I underwent a medical examination.  I had to fill out a six-page questionnaire of nearly 300 questions. To all except on, I answered NO.  Have you contracted rubella, variola, cholera, chickenpox, tetanus, tuberculosis, yellow fever, scarlet fever or typhoid?  Do you suffer from a heart murmur, high cholestrol, hypertension, diabetes?  Are you prone to vertigo?  Do you have headaches, stomachaches, palpitations, naursea, children, allergies, strokes, kidney stones, dizzy spells, epileptic seizures, lower back pain, gastro-intestinal disorders, inflamed gums, hearing troubles, blurred vision?  And suddenly, out of nowhere, lost amidst this sea of questions, the following one:  "Are you said?"
"I was thirty, and my father thought I had bad breath.  He made an appointment for me with a doctor whom he assumed was a general practitioner.  However, when I arrived at his office, I immediately realized that he was a psychoanalyst.  Given the hostility my father always expressed towards this profession, I was surprised.  "There must be some mistake," I said.  "My father is convinced I have bad breath and he sent me to a GP."  The man replied:  Do you always do what your father tells you to do? " And so I became his patient."
"When I was fifteen I was afraid of men.  One day in a restaurant, I chose a dessert because of its name:  "Young Girl's Dream."  I asked the waiter what it was, and he answered:  "It's a surprise."  A few minutes later he returned with a dish featuring two scoops of vanilla ice cream and a peeled banana.  He said one word:  "Enjoy."  Then he laughed.  I closed my eyes the same way I closed them years later when I saw my first naked man."
"When I was fourteen my grandparents suggested that I needed plastic surgery.  They made an appointment with a famous cosmetic surgeon, and it was decided that my nose should be straightened, that a scar on my left leg should be covered up with a piece of skin taken from my ass and that my ears should be pulled back.  I had doubts, but they reassured me, I could change my mind up until the very last moment.  In the end, though, it was Doctor F. himself who put an end to my dilemma.  Two days before the operation, he committed suicide."
These narratives are amusing, sometimes unsettling and definitely well-crafted.  I want to sit on the sofa and absorb what I have just seen and read, but the guard won't let me.  I keep walking around reading, photographing, trying to figure out why I feel pulled into the life of this person or  persona created by Sophie Calle.  Maybe it's just that  I am feeling lonely today and her narratives make me feel part of something.      

... Each piece is a document of an event, of some kind of interaction in which Calle engages with the world in her unique way.  She explores the boundaries of how we interact with one another and what is - and is not - socially acceptable behavior."
Hannah Duguid

Co-presented with
The Lowell Hotel and French Institute Alliance Francaise
Crossing the Line Festival