Valentina Karga

Summer school for applied Autonomy

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.23.27 PM

The realization of complete source depletion has led to an energetic hysteria, which, together with the economic crisis and the questioning of capitalism and neo-liberalism, has brought self-sufficiency into a broader discussion. The latter, a phenomenon that used to be connected to the rural world, today is finding its way in the city. The commons are cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society; nowadays, due to the internet, we have an interesting mixture of natural and digital commons while the new commons are considered to be communication, knowledge and cooperation. By combining self-sufficiency and the new commons, we may detect the beginning of a society that reuses old methods and institutions in new ways with the help of new tools and technology.

The Summer school for Applied Autonomy is a research initiative interested in capturing the complexity of the technical know-how but also the social, political and affective aspects involved in autonomous living. Its functioning is largely self-sufficient, tending towards environmental sustainability, and it is based on feedback loop circuits where its different outputs (from garbage to words) become inputs that re-feed the social and material body of the garden. Exploration of thematic fields such as self-sufficiency, open source knowledge, collaboration, self-reflection, urban development and exchange and gift economy is at the very base of the curriculum. The school welcomes everyone, but its capacity is small; it can support only two residents per rotation. Residents must engage for a stay of one or two weeks. After the end of each rotation and the beginning of the other, the two groups overlap for one day, so that the first group transfers their knowledge to the next one. The days are structured via tasks and lessons, while each person is free to propose his own topic of research.

The full story of the Summer School for Applied Autonomy in video

The project was born in an artistic- academic context and completed the circle by becoming a learning site in its own right and aesthetics; a school promoting alternative pedagogies, learning-through-experience and self-reflection, very much linked on the topics of the commons, environment and collaboration. By shaping a new attitude towards the commons and collaboration, moving away from subjectivity and individualism, and by supporting decentralized, local production of goods and energy, we might be able to change institutions that fail to represent us as society and harm our relationship with the environment.

Architecture and Location

The Summer school for Applied Autonomy is located in Marzahn, an area of Berlin characterized by the massive development planning ever since the GDR times. Considering the rapid expansion of the city and the prices that have risen by 80% since 2008, the real estate market is a powerful force that shapes the city according to its own greedy appetite. The school is completely independent from the city’s infrastructure and comes in contrast with the dominant architecture, imposed by the business-as-usual development. It consists of a garden, a cabin, a rainwater collector and water purification system, a biogas digester, photovoltaics, aquaponics, a solar cooker, a micro-gasifier stove and a compost toilet. For the making of these systems we studied YouTube tutorials. We shared our designs and knowledge with the online makers community, through our YouTube channel and the blog, Berlin Farm Lab. All systems are interconnected in a closed-loop concept, where waste becomes again the input for the generation of new resources. The student is inseparable part of the system; not only he has to maintain all the systems, but also the some of the system’s streams pass through the very physiology of his own body.


The Summer school was constructed by Valentina Karga in collaboration with art students from the Universität der Kunste Berlin, during the Semester Seminar at Studium Generale, Self-sufficiency in the era of the new Commons:

Antonia Märzhäuser, Mascha Fehse, Julia Boström, Robert Eckstein, Veronika Hoffmann, Lilli Unger, Petja Ivanova, Friederike Müller, Ivy Lee, Mischa Vogel


Curriculum 2013

Valentina Karga: input on the commons, sustainability and self-sufficiency

Åsa Sonjiasdotter: Discussion about potatoes, economics, aesthetics and socially engaged art

Jan Körbes: Workshop about storytelling and building with reused materials

Brian Edlefsen Lasch: Workshop on making an off-grid energy system

Joseph Redwood-Martinez: Workshop on Non-violent communication

Pieterjan Grandry: Building know-how

Lena Flamm: Bike tour in Marzahn

Anja Fiedler: Stadt macht saat

Ayumi Matsuzaka and Dr. Haiko Pieplow: workshop on Terra-preta and compost toilet systems


Residents 2013

Mascha Fehse, Lili Unger, Valentina Karga, Pieterjan Grandry, Elena Chronopoulou, Antonis Markakis, Veronika Hoffmann, Julia Boström, Robert Eckstein, Conrad Wenk, Tessa Zettel, Sumugan Sivanesan, Petja Ivanova


Big thank you to friends for their help: Terril Scott, För Künkel and Diego Chamy

and the biggest of all thank you’s to Pieterjan Grandry

The project has been supported by the Einsteinstiftung Berlin during my fellowship at the Graduate School of the Arts, UdK, Berlin. We want to thank the Alte Borse Marzahn for providing us the space for free.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.45.14 PM

Residents Tessa and Sumu while solar cooking

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.38.21 PM

Residents Valentina and Pieter building and reading

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.24.52 PM

Exchange economy and knowledge transfer crew 4 to crew 5

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.38.48 PM

exchange economy

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.24.23 PM

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.23.18 PM


Acuaponic system, rainwater collection+ garduino, raised-bed garden, a-frame cabin

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.39.41 PM

Knowledge transfer, crew 1 to crew 2

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 4.46.46 PM

The school’s logo: a symbolic assemblage of typography, red beet leaves, solar panels, the cabin and a compost worm.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 12.11.58 PM


Diagram of infrastructure