Cultivated Stories

Åsa Sonjasdotter



Collection: Courtesy the artist - produced by Bergen Assembly .

Åsa Sonjasdotter work Cultivated Stories considers the implementation of monocultural techniques in farming and their roots in ideology. The first part of this work is a set of photographic reproductions documenting early attempts to breed plants into monocultures. So-called ‘pure line’ breeding was implemented by the Swedish Seed Association (Sveriges utsädesförening), founded in 1886. The technique had been invented by the Danish botanist Wilhelm Johannsen (1857–1927), while he was working at the chemical laboratory of the Carlsberg Breweries in Copenhagen. This laboratory had developed single strain yeast, which enabled a controlled fermentation process without the risk of beer turning sour. Following the profitability of this technique, Johannsen began experimenting on the equivalent to ‘single strains’ in plants. By inbreeding peas for several generations, it was possible to empty them from almost any genetic variation. This resulted in plants that were clones, however it was understood that they had reached the ‘original’ or ‘pure’ form of the plant. During several decades, the Swedish Seed Association bred uniform grains following Johannsen’s technique, establishing what today is called ‘modern plant breeding’, and which is protected by legislation. Since the UPOV convention for the legislation of restrictions on intellectual property for new plants of 1962, only uniform cultivars are allowed for commercial cultivation within the countries that have signed the convention, of which all member states of the EU belong.

The film documents the work of the Swedish plant scientist Hans Larsson, restoring remaining varieties of genetically diverse heritage grain. With the implementation of modern plant breeding on a global scale, the diversity in grains – cultivated by farmers breeding them for more than ten thousand years ago – was nearly lost. The genetic variation in plants is crucial for their capacity to adapt to new climates and cultivation conditions. Beginning in the 1990s, Larsson has systematically test grown all remaining varieties in Scandinavia. Selected strains have been further bred and propagated to larger volumes for farmers to cultivate. The propagation and distribution of the seeds is organised within the association Allkorn. Heritage grains are genetically too diverse to be permitted for commercial circulation among farmers according to the UPOV convention. Therefore, only as a member of Allkorn or similar associations it is egal to cultivate and exchange heritage grains.

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