Valentina Karga

30 days in the garden / 15 days on Mars

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What does an urban garden in a European metropolis have to do with a Mars simulation base in the desert in the USA? The two stories recounted in this twofold work unfold in antipodal places and contexts. They have, however, something in common. Self-sufficiency is a field of various interests, from individuals or small communities wanting to be autonomous for economical, ecological or political motives to the military and its desire to conquer new extra-terrestrial territories.

Using myself as subject for experiencing two alternative modes of living, in one case, I am building a system for self-sufficient living in Berlin, and on the other hand I am visiting the Mars Dessert Research Station in Utah. There is a striking similarity between the two systems for the city and for outer space; they both are based in the idea of closed-loop, regenerating energy from waste and sun while the human user is necessary part of the system.

30 days in the garden examines the transformation of immaterial commons (communication, knowledge and collaboration) into a material lifestyle, somewhat basic but yet informed by contemporary information, technology and ways of communication. In the garden, I survived exclusively from my garden’s yield while composting my body’s waste for soil production. Open-source knowledge from the web was materialized with the form of potatoes, aquaponic system and biogas digesters. Following the idea that economic bonds are social bonds, and with the help of social media, I transformed a self-made garden in Berlin into social space. Together with people that responded to an open call, we practiced other forms of exchange than monetary and opened a critical dialogue towards food production, economy, sharing and sustainability.

In 15 days on Mars, I experienced how the life of a person would be in complete self-sufficient environment (the Mars colony), cut off from everything familiar and working hard to cover basic needs. Imagining being really on Mars, I started thinking of the relations between the anthropocene and post-modernism. The pleasurable exploration of extraterrestrial territory has been replaced with a fearful fled from a devasted planet. What has changed after the arrival of neo-liberalism? I fear that we are training to link the future more and more with a dystopian narrative. Despite the militaristic organization of the base, I found useful the concept of the simulation. Simulation can be used to show the eventual real effects of alternative conditions and courses of action. Nothing was actually producing anything on Mars, but we were all acting as if. Reality is a flexible concept. What if tomorrow we all agree to start acting as if differently?

This work has been exhibited in Afresh, A new generation of Greek artists, National Museum of Contemporary Art EMST, Athens. It has been fully supported by the Einsteinstiftung Berlin during my fellowship at the Graduate School of the Arts, UdK, Berlin.


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Installation views from the exhibition Afresh, A new generation of Greek artists, National Museum of Contemporary Art EMST, Athens