Eetbaar Park / Edible Park
Eetbaar Park / Edible Park is a public community space conceived by British artist, Nils Norman. Initiated in 2009, this ongoing project occupies two locations in The Hague: City Farm Herweijerhoeve in Zuiderpark and the collective allotment garden,Tot Nut en Genoegen. Commissioned by Stroom den Haag, Norman devised the project for their year-long Foodprint Programme. Using The Hague as a test-bed, the programme invites artists and designers to formulate proposals concerning the impact of food on the city, be it culturally, environmentally or logistically. In response, Norman's project focusses on the concept of permaculture and aims to investigate its potential as a strategy to be implemented city-wide, together with the urban planning departments of the city.
Designed and constructed alongside students from Permaculture Den Haag and the Dutch architect, Michel Post, Norman's Edible Park is a highly interdisciplinary project that encompasses a range of concerns, including sustainable urban design, grass-roots collectivism and the production of public space. Such preoccupations resonate with the prolonged global economic crisis we currently find ourselves in, and equally our concerns over climate change. In effect, these realities somewhat situate this project in an 'eco-activist' art milieu. Contrary to this perception, however, Norman views his practice as principally guided by “alternative ecologies” wherein ecological issues are one thread or one ecology amongst many. Whilst it is possible to interpret Edible Park as a naïve but proactive idea, such a view discords with the more socio-political and transformative aspirations of Norman's endeavour, informed as it is by utopian and anarchistic precedents of localism and grass-roots collectivism.
Integral to this project is Norman's open working relationship with The Hague as a necessary interaction for operating extra-institutionally within public space. The process of realising Edible Park developed from the Dutch Architecture group, OMA, in 2008 and their proposal to redevelop the Brinckhorst area of The Hague into a leisure space, complete with a Formula One track and a beach. Resultant from the ensuing global financial crisis, this project failed to materialise and directed Stroom to Norman. His proposal for a low-impact, counter master-plan chose instead to look at site-specific ecologies in The Hague, offering a self-critical approach to public art commissions in times of austerity.
In the Zuiderpark, Norman collectively designed the central structure of the roundhouse, produced from eco-friendly materials such as timber, straw bales and turf. The pivotal function of the pavilion is to provide a pedagogical meeting space for the local community to learn about urban gardening, permaculture and food production as well as providing a library and storage space for gardening tools. The surrounding garden mimics the circular structure of the pavilion via its concentric layout of edible and medicinal plants with a fruit tree at each centre, further flanked by sites for composting, rain-water harvesting and bio-remediation.
Amidst the rising trend of 'eco-activist' art practices that pervade art institutions, public space and increasingly political institutions, it is evident that concerns directed toward the environment and matters of sustainability are fast-becoming more relevant than ever. In recent years, numerous publications and exhibitions have focussed on the subject of art and ecology from varied points of view. The Barbican's show, Radical Nature: Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009, documented a multidisciplinary eco-activist lineage from the 1970s movement of Land Art to today's more 'urgent' proposals; Chicago's Smart Museum of Art exhibition, Beyond Green: Towards a Sustainable Art (2007) and its accompanying catalogue drew upon the concept of sustainability and its incorporation into design and recent art projects; and the compendium of texts featured in Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook from 2006 problematised the multifarious meaning of ecology from various academic points of view, and art's relative involvement with such issues as environmental urgency.
Edible Park is not simply, however, a collaborative garden project but a space highly informed by utopian precedents and permaculture principles, those ranging from 17th century agrarian radicals, the True Levellers, to the modernist architecture of Bruno Taut. The park's system of permaculture is unlikely to operate on a city-wide scale and perhaps will never enter The Hague's established planning codes. Yet the successful key ingredient to this project is its skeptical appropriation of utopian models and its critical use of them. In this way, Norman's Edible Park as a public art project offers something which has hitherto been pursued, namely a balance between a necessary self-criticality and a pragmatic attempt at large-scale implementation. Indeed, our shared dilemma of economic austerity and environmental emergency necessarily “brings us back to the journey towards the island of utopia” and offers a glimmer of optimism.