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Åsa Sonjasdotter

The Order of Potatoes (2009–)

Every artist has to make choices and take conscious decisions concerning their role in relation to the artistic field. At the same time one is always already unconsciously embedded in various and numerous social and economical fields – fields that are not immediately in touch with art. In her artistic work, Åsa Sonjasdotter relates to the long tradition and lasting need of the arts to open up towards other cultural and social fields in order to widen its horizon and have an impact on the political life. To break out of this coded and ritualized field provides a critical and productive distance, which makes its origins visible and negotiable. In her work, Sonjasdotter shares a strong solidarity with political activism and the tradition of self-empowerment through self-organization in the arts and beyond. An important area of interest and action is the strategy of re-appropriation and transformation of private property into new commonwealth.

The fields Sonjasdotter for the last years has devoted herself most radically to are the worldwide spread fields where potatoes are planted in unusual, anti-industrial and anti-capitalist ways. This has become an opportunity for a long-lasting experiment and research. Refering to Michel Foucault’s archaeological analysis of discourse and power formations, Sonjasdotter ironically but seriously calls her recent project the order of Potatoes. Why? Potatoes are staple food and as such they are in the focus of knowledge production and strong political and economic interests. This means that a whole system of agriculture – with an extensive and hybrid historical background – has been built around the plant. The element of chance in the way the potato »product« is involved in and shaped by these interests, become entangled in the juridical control of biological knowledge, and directly effects the social life (agriculture) around potatoes and their cultivation. 

By unfolding this complex knowledge and the social implications that are inscribed in the different varieties of potatoes and their cultivation in the context of global capital, one touches upon a concrete universality in the plant. This can open a window onto a whole landscape of political struggles against the privatization and capitalization of common knowledge. From this position it is also possible to question commodity fetishism in the arts. 

By Nicolas Siepen

Nicolas Siepen is a filmmaker, theorist and founder of the project b_books that includes a bookstore, publishing and film production.

Biography Åsa Sonjasdotter is born in Sweden 1966, lives and works in Norway and Germany. Selected projects and exhibitions: Other Possible Worlds, NGBK, Berlin, Germany, 2011; EATLACMA (LACMA, Los Angeles, USA, 2010); 4th Bucharest Biennale, Bucharest, Romania, 2010, The Gatherers: Greening Our Urban Spheres, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, USA, 2008; Tea Pavilion, 3rd Guangzhou Triennial, Guangzhou, China, 2008.

Photo: Hendrik Zeitler