FEATURE: Urban Organisms | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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What does sustainability mean to you? It’s a question we’ve all perhaps at least subconsciously asked ourselves over recent years as food prices continue to rise and the environment we live in becomes increasingly effected by global warming and pollution. However, living in the city can be a barrier to a sustainable lifestyle. If we live with a lack of green space, how can we grow our own food and become self-sufficient? How can we be truly sustainable in a man-made environment?

These are questions that are raised by the NewBridge Project’s latest venture, Urban Organisms, which begins as part of the Late Shows and runs until Saturday 13th June. Working across a range of mediums, the Project Space is acting as a hub for a detailed examination and creative exploration of food sustainability with urban environments.

As part of the project, NewBridge are hosting a variety of workshops, talks and walks with many artists from near and far. Artist and academic researcher Mikey Tomkins is hosting a number of edible food walks across Newcastle City Centre, inviting residents to imagine the city as an edible landscape where growing food could be an everyday occurrence. Cinema Politica are partnering up with NewBridge to present two food-based film screenings, Cowspiracy and The World According to Monsanto. Meanwhile, Stu Brew will be inviting people down to Europe’s first-ever student-run microbrewery to show off their beer making skills.

Polish artist Magdalena Starska has been busy making a wooden structure to form the foundation of participatory workshops and performances. Her work, entitled SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE!, happens within an organised space. “Whereas my previous projects involved a bit of chaos, this time, I decided, the order and clear structure is needed,” Magda explains. In turn, this order will help to create some cohesion and community between participants: “the proceeding actions of communal labour will enable participants to feel like one big working organism.” Becoming one unit in working on the different workshops within the wooden structure is something Magda hopes will give everyone involved a great deal of pleasure. “All will rejoice in observation of the effects of communal effort and then enjoyment of the final produce.”

Copenhagen-based art collective N55 are hosting a workshop entitled SHARING within Magda’s structure. Co-founder of N55 Ion Sorvin is running the event that explores ideas of sharing as a foundation of social sustainability. “If we learn to share we will also feel more responsible in preserving our planet and the resources it offers,” Ion explains. “Sustainability, to me, means understanding that we have to share in a fair way and that we have to look after our fellow beings.” Ion strongly believes that we are at a crossroads in human history and that sharing is a key factor in how we progress beyond our current position. “We can go down two different paths at this point in history,” he says. “Either we use new technology to develop new ways of sharing in a more fair way, or concentrations of power will take over completely.” He hopes that his workshops and participation in Urban Organisms will alert people to the importance of sharing.

Multi-disciplinary artist Julia Wilmott is also taking part in a number of workshops across the span of the Urban Organisms project, including helping to run a cheesemaking demonstration with local cheesemaker Liam Wood and running her own “Live Trading Bar.” Julia explained the concept behind the bar: “participants are asked to earn their yield – drink – by throwing darts and calculating their score by a variable exchange rate that maps the price of milk since the 1970s.” So, you might get more or less depending on where you land (better hope you have decent darts skills if you want a good drink!) Julia is particularly concerned with the increasing lack of human input into the food industry. “The disappearance of the human within the food industry has been happening for years,” she says. “The very way food has been traded this year will almost all be digitised.”

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“If we learn to share we will also feel more responsible in preserving our planet and the resources it offers”

As is to be expected, each of the artists involved are deeply connected to the idea of sustainability and have different thoughts on what the term means to them. “I personally believe in having strong relationships with nature as a basis for sourcing strength and answers for any problems, particularly issues regarding community and sustainability,” says Magda. Ion has a bit of a different approach, one that is less about connecting to nature. “I think we focus too much on environmental sustainability,” he says. “We need to focus much more on social sustainability in order to create a better world for ourselves and our children.” Julia, on the other hand, takes a slightly more political and economic approach: “In an age of austerity, it is paramount that sustainable food practice is affordable to all, that better diversification in farming is encouraged and not at the cost of community or the environment.”

With so much on offer from the project, it’s hoped that Urban Organisms will help to encourage people to think more about food sustainability in an urban environment. If you ever wanted to be a little bit more environmentally friendly then you’ll no doubt be inspired by the passion of the artists and the ideas they have to offer.

Urban Organisms runs at the NewBridge Project, Newcastle from Saturday 16th May until Saturday 13th June. For more information on additional events, visit the NewBridge Project website.

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