Ground Work: From the Nothing Forest to the Experimental Field – Art & Science Retreat No. 1
10-11 March, 2021
We love field work. We love hot coffee and crisp early Spring days, and to be on the move through landscapes, soundscapes, cityscapes – in conversation with the site and each other. The terrain informs the conversation in invaluable ways, becomes a dialogue partner, and attunes our senses to shifts, rifts, processes, transformations and relations.
Yet, the still ongoing pandemic forces us to visit and collaborate differently, and in comparison on a very limited band width. How to do an excursion online?
The aim of this first art & science retreat is to start map and story human-soil relations formed by urbanization at the fringes, through walking from Ingentingskogen (the Nothing Forest) in Solna to Experimentalfältet (the Experimental Field) in Stockholm, and to visit sites along the way with special relevance for the overarching topic “Soil Degradation and Soil Blindness”. The walk sets the stage for a discussion on soil blindness, and offers a historical lens as it attends to the agrarian revolutions that have shaped human-soil relations in Sweden.
Ingentingskogen (the Nothing Forest), today a severely fragmented green structure, yet still functioning as a biodiversity corridor and host to rare old oaks and red listed insects, was around 1910 a forest outside of Stockholm, cut through by railway tracks and surrounded by 478 allotments cared for by railway workers. The forest was also a popular and important meeting place. The workers movement established people’s parks and houses (Folkets Park and Folkets Hus) for leisure, entertainment, education and political meetings. Workers had at this time not the right to vote and little access to places where they could assemble. Long before the railway workers settled here, the area was in prehistoric times part of an archipelago, and used as a burial site. A few burial mounds from around 400 AD have been preserved and stand as witnesses to the farmers who once lived in the area. From the mid 1960s and onwards, the forest has shrunk due to large infrastructure initiatives and housing projects. The last allotments were eventually torn down 2013, not without protests. New city districts are being planned and built at a high pace. It is hard to imagine that not too long ago, tobacco grew on the hillsides.
At the other end of our walk, we find what was once the Experimental Field (Experimentalfältet). Established 1816, and used by the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture, it set out to develop the agrarian sciences and enhance the productivity in Swedish agriculture through the use of chemistry, new crops and imported breeds. It marks the start of the industrialisation of agriculture. Today, Stockholm University is situated here.
This walk is the first of a series of walks, where we visit sites that bear witness to how soil management and soil sealing have formed landscapes and relations over time. Through digging where we stand, we seek to cross fertilize Environmental Humanities and art in order to generate textured, situated, diversified, and connected understandings of soils.
Since our excursion moved online, we made a two-day virtual walk where we took turns storying different parts, adding layers and perspectives, stitching together memories from earlier walks with traces, voices, development plans, maps, news clippings, archaeological findings, environmental reports, and photos.
The sites will be revisited and the walk continued.
/ Janna Holmstedt
This first Art & Science Retreat also included a truly inspiring seminar with Teemu Lehmusruusu and Danielle Wild.
Read more about the Experimet Field in Ulrich Lange’s (Swedish only) Vägvisare till det forna Experimentalfältet i Frescai, Stockholms universitet (KLSA, 2001).
Listen to a pod about the history of the Experimental Field, made by the art hall Accelerator in relation to their exhibition The Experimental Field. Pod (in Swedish) Experimentalfältets historia (25 min).