Haute Diversité with Åsa Sonjasdotter

The plain brown bag is adorned with a reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh’s Les Mangeurs de pomme de terre (The Potato Eaters), 1885. Although this version of The Potato Eaters is a reproduction of the lithograph,  Van Gogh first painted a version of this image after a trip to Paris.  Potatoes were first cultivated in Paris during the French Revolution. They have a high nutritional value and can be grown on smaller areas of land. During the Revolution, they were considered so indispensable that they were grown in la grande allée du jardin des Tuilereis (Garden of Tuilereis), a public garden near the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Haute Diversité with Åsa Sonjasdotter

The bag is part of a new work by Åsa Sonjasdotter: Par le prisme de la patate: Hauté Diversité (2014), commemorating potato varieties from the late 1700s and early 1800s in France. With poetic names like Ratte Corne de Gatte, Bonotte, Vitelotte, and Violine de Borée of the potato varieties printed on the side, each bag tells a story of agricultural diversity, social unrest, and climate change. Yes, all of those things were being discussed in France over 200 years ago. Due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland in 1783, global temperatures changed for several years. In France, the farmers were unable to grow the former staple crop of wheat leading to hunger, unrest, and the rise of the potato as a new staple crop.

Haute Diversité with Åsa Sonjasdotter

For her work,  Sonjasdotter was awarded the Prix COAL Art et Environnement 2014 (The COAL Art prize for environmental art). For Hauté Diversité, Sonjasdotter partnered with urban gardens (La Ferme de Marconville, Oise; Le jardin partagé Le Bois Dormoy, Paris 18e; Le Jardin Solidaire et Partagé Cambrai, Paris 19e ) in Paris to grow 12 varieties that were being cultivated during the French Revolution. She then distributed them during an installation in October 2014 using the specially printed bags.  The installation also included lectures by the partnering farmers and community gardeners who helped bring the varieties to life. Sonjasdotter makes note that these 12 varieties of potatoes are so diverse that it would not be legal to grow them today under the European Union’s standards for agriculture. The project draws out the connections between agriculture, social unrest, and French history as well as climate and environment. It also looks at how city spaces are used in relationship to food production. This project builds on her earlier work The Order of Potatoes  and others, and her on going research into the economic, political, and social implications of agriculture via the potato plant.

See images of the installation at 104 CenteQuatre–Paris here.

Haute Diversité with Åsa Sonjasdotter

Here is a video Sonjasdotter made describing the project:

High Diversity – Åsa Sonjasdotter from COAL on Vimeo.

Sonjasdotter was part of my recent book, An Edge Effect: Art and Ecology in the Nordic Landscape (Half Letter Press, 2014).

Editor’s Note: the majority of the links in this post link to French language websites.

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