How to start a revolution

Just yesterday, Mads gave me this interesting and very encouraging documentary. It reveals how the book From Dictatorship to Democracy
– A Conceptual Framework for Liberation of Gene Sharp empowered and encouraged people all over the world to take iniative to change their world non-violently. The book provides tools and methods to do so – and talking a few days ago about systemic changes, I wonder in how far we can apply these methods to  other areas (our economic system? social services…?) where change is needed… Or what kind of methods do we need here?

Broen Bakeri

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Last Sunday (19th of August 2012) Eva, Mads and me opened the first pop-up restaurant in Oslo that was part of the international restaurant day which started in Helsinki 2 years ago. During this day, everyone can open a pop-up restaurant – and we decided to turn the bridge at KHiO into an open café. We invited friends and passers-by to sit down with us, relax in the sunshine, enjoy our delicious cakes (all home-made) and have a chat with other people around the table. All the food and drinks were offered for donation and we were surprised that we even made a small profit (which will be used for the next event).

Designers always put pressure on themselves to create something “new” and “unique” – but there is so much out there that we can join and support. We do not have to re-invent the wheel… Initiatives like the open restaurant day are great – beyond other things, it gives power back to the people, brings life and diversity to urban spaces and creates relationships between citizens. Our intervention proved that people from different background and ages supported the idea – people asked if they can help us next time or wrote down the link for the website. The next open restaurant day will be on the 17th of November. Watch out!

Back from my summer retreat…

What a summer: die Seele baumeln lassen, meeting my family and most of my best friends, wonderful people visiting me, hitchiking through Italy and Austria (and getting stuck in Czech Republic and almost causing a divorce), having the best ice-cream of the world at Avalon in Bolzano, Pizza, Pasta, Cappuccino, rainy days in Norway and sunny ones in the rest of Europe, starting to work on the pingpongcollective (our dreams finally turning into reality) , writing proposals for an unconference, talking about precarious working conditions and realizing the importance of joy and free time, talking to strangers (becoming friends), watching movies over the roofs of Berlin, long nights in Vienna, sweet hours with Lars, watching the cucumbers on my balcony grow, reading, thinking, …

And now comes the second (or third) and last year at the Oslo Academy of the Arts! With lots of new ideas and fresh energy! Whatever will grow out of it…

Norwegian Woods

I just came back from a trip to the forest which I helped to organize. My initial idea was to use this trip as a small test project for my MA research (and I also encouraged my other classmates to do so) – but I forgot about something very important: TIMING and TIME OFF. I realize that I start to see my whole life as “a project”. Work and life merge into one and it feels great because I can do what I love to do in the very moment.
But it is also important to remain aware of the difference between the both – the forest trip for instance was for life and not for work. After working on our research portfolios and after a long semester, no one of us felt like driving our projects forward. Instead we wanted to have some quality time together, share food, laughter and space. However, I’m sure that ideas are often born in life and then translated to work, thus life and work remain interrelated. A useful tool for this “translation” is documentation – taking pictures, writing diary, drawing etc. This is what I always enjoyed doing (and still do) and who knows what will grow out of it…

Something that Mads and me tried on our forest trip, was, to make a dinner with ingredients from the forest. In a global world we tend to lose sight of the local and a lot of local knowledge disappears. If we can have bananas and strawberries all year long, who cares about the edible plants from the forest next door? Don’t misunderstand me – I embrace global food and I’m happy that I can make sticky rice or pasta in Oslo and don’t have to eat only potatoes all year long. But I think we should combine this with local sourced food.
It was a challenge to gather the plants – Mads and me both don’t know a lot about them and were afraid of accidently poisoning everyone. (I realized that we always suspect nature trying to kill us, isn’t that weird?). We also wondered how our classmates would react to that kind of food – and were surprised by the positive feedback. Mads and Qi even made chopsticks by themselves and in the end our self-made fishing rod got two fish at the same time – but our “forest-food” couldn’t compete with the chocolate cake xue ting made for dessert. But as I said: it’s all about the right combination :-)

Local Holistic Sustainability in the Progress of Global Reality?

This friday, I’m off to Iceland to participate at two workshops organized by CIRRUS the nordic-baltic network of Art and Design Education. This is some information about one of the workshops (taken from their website) and it sounds quite promising:

An encounter with a locality that represents edge conditions. The Hornafjördur Community in Iceland includes a cross section of geography, cultural context and Nordic social conditions. It is a fundamental fish industry town. It reaches from the top of a glacier, a volcano, ample agriculture, tourism, a small local town and fisheries. Next stop in direction South is Anctartica. The institutes in the community have looked widely for method and inspiration, like the Canadian network Economuseum, where public dissemination, production and crafts go hand in hand, to food R&D and university ethnographic and economic research. Tourism has been a growing element in the region while it still embraces its traditions and climatic and geographical particulars.

Interest from the Cirrus institutions is how does a small close-knit locality deal with global progress. This is an especially interesting issue for design, a field that is transforming itself from “the actor of making cute things” to “humanizing technological progress”: Improving services, simplifying reality and addressing sustainability. These fundamental issues have to be introduced to designers and design students with more enthusiasm. This workshop is intended to support that in the local active industrial tourist, agricultural and fisheries institutions. Only one student will be invited from each institute and dissemination will go to all the institutes of Cirrus. A special webpage has been made to link together all the active partners.

The project will use the Triple Bottom Line (people, profit, planet) (UN Resolution 1987) as its benchmark for reaching sustainable existence for business, people and the environment that is thoroughly sensitive in this location.

soon more! (picture taken from http://cirrusnetwork.net/archives/6289)

Being Back

I haven’t updated this blog for quite a while – but I needed some time to arrive back and re-adapt in Oslo. The last weeks (almost 2 months!) were filled with spending time with wonderful people, meeting and getting to know my new classmates (and having great times with them), enjoying the feeling of having a home, cooking (and making sourdough bread) working on my research portfolio and continuing my studies, going out into the forest (and not being afraid of UXO, snakes or disgusting centipede etc.), enjoying a cultural life, reconfigure my brain to creative and abstract thinking and many other things and challenges.

People keep on asking me if i miss Laos – and yes, there are things that I miss. I miss the friends I met over there, the beautiful smiles of laotians, the “bai sai?” (“where are you going?”) you constantly hear when walking down the streets. I miss the experience of shopping in markets with mostly fresh and local ingredients. The simplicity of everything. The feeling of making sense and seeing a direct result of my actions – a result which makes sense and is not only benefitting myself. I miss the green color of freshly planted rice.

But even though I sometimes feel more like an alien than I felt before, I’m very glad to be back and know that this is the part of the world where I belong to. My brain feels inspired and active, the relationships with people are somehow deeper (probably since our “common cultural language” is closely related), I’m closer to the people I love and care about and continuing my studies (and not knowing where I will end) makes me feel excited.

Last 2 weeks in Phongsaly

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I spent my last 2 weeks in Laos with working on a small tea exhibition for Ban Komean in Phongsaly Province. Ban Komean is (and will become) famous for its’ 400 year old tea trees. Even though the village is only accessible during a few months per year (due to extremely muddy roads in rainy season), there are already visitors going. The Provincial Tourism Office built a “Sala” for tea tasting – a good example for bad design. The place has a wonderful view – only that the toilet and kitchen building mostly prevent us from seeing it. There is even a flushing toilet – but no water pipes, so it cannot be used. The room which is supposed to be the kitchen has no window or chimney, so there is no way that the smoke and steam from cooking can “escape”. There is no electricity – but boiling the water on a fireplace influences the taste of tea badly. Not to mention that there is no one in the village who manages the building yet (but there is supposed to be some training soon). Let’s say it simple: at the moment, the only function of the building is that of a dust trap…

In order to give some more life to the place (and also to offer information / site interpretation which is always hard to find in Laos), Carine had the idea to make an exhibition about tea inside the “Sala”. And that’s what we did the last weeks! We kept in mind, that the room will be used for tea tasting at some point – so we mainly focused on the walls and the centre, thus leaving enough space for future tea tasting gatherings.

So far, the content and design for the exhibition has been developed by Carine and myself. Normally, we both have a quite similar approach: involving as much as possible different stakeholders in the process and encouraging them to become active, give inputs and take ownership (something which is especially important in development work). Due to a tight schedule this was not as much possible as we wanted – but this lead to interesting discussions and thoughts (more about this in my reflections which will follow within the next months)

Lessons learnt

> cultural: when I made a model of the room and showed it to my lao colleagues, they asked: “Oh, is this for the spirits?” usually, models like this are used for spirit offerings / ceremonies (especially in northern Laos)…
> interdisciplinary: finding a balance between “academic, informational” and “experience and design oriented” (is it a contradiction? or a design challenge?)
> the limits of a participatory approach: sometimes, people really don’t want to get involved and are not interested at all (don’t force them!)
> and many, many things about tea! In the course of the last weeks, I turned into a passionate tea-trinker (which is not too difficult in Phongsaly since they only have  terrible Nescafé)
> working with only a few hours of electricity a day makes you more efficient and not loosing too much time in front of the computer (should we have electricity short cuts everywhere?)

… to be continued…

(pictures taken during some field visits to Ban Komean; some of the images thanks to Carine & Florian)