Living off the Land
Living off the Land is an ongoing art/research project that examines the possibilities of living from local plants that that are not cultivated, but grow wild in nature. My attraction to wild-growing food plants stems from an ecological interest and attempts a response to discussions around the need to sustain ourselves in ways that are less detrimental to nature and preserve our planet’s environment and resources for future generations. I have been fascinated to find how many wild plants and their blossoms, fruits and roots are edible. I became aware how little most of us modern humans know about the immediate resources that nature provides – a skill that would have been essential to our forefathers. We, however, have lost touch with the natural world; and instead of making use of the food it provides to us unconditionally, we rely on cultivated food plants that we buy in super markets, and that have – quite often – traveled hundreds of miles before they enter our kitchens. We rid our gardens and yards of valuable greens that we have come to coin as “weeds”, to make room for less nutritional, less durable cultivated plants that will need our constant pampering and special care (irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides) to be able to grow.
I have examined this concept in several different eco-systems and during different seasons: a semi-rural area in Western Canada in fall, the high Utah Rockies in spring, Western Finland in fall, and now the Hudson Valley environment of NY.
During an artist residency at Women’s Studio Workshop my quest to learn about sustainable food sources that nature can provide to us – if we only tune our awareness toward the plants that surround us naturally – led me to explore one particular green, Garlic Mustard (alliaria petiolata) which is abundant everywhere in the Hudson Valley area. Native to Europe and Asia and introduced into America intentionally in the 1860s as a culinary herb, Garlic Mustard is now considered an “invasive species” and is therefore looked upon as a “weed” that needs to be eradicated. During my stay in Rosendale I investigated the culinary potential of Garlic Mustard, and came to find it palatable and very versatile in its use. It lends itself to a great array of preparations, from salads to soups and stir-fries to stuffing, pies, burgers, pestos, dips and spreads. Like most wild-growing vegetables its nutritional value by far outweighs that of cultivated greens.
I prepared 13 different recipes from Garlic Mustard for the daily lunch potlucks at WSW. I wrote down my recipes and documenting foraging and food preparation processes on video.
For my final presentation I hosted a Garlic Mustard potluck dinner at the Stone Ridge Church. I created a 57-piece set of ceramic ware, consisting of 20 place sets with bowls and cups and 17 serving bowls. Potluck participants were seated in a circle on the ground, on cushions that had topographic maps of the surrounding area screen-printed on them. The ceramics equally bore topographic map elements in their surface design, which I engraved into the clay (scraffito technique) and decaled onto the glaze surface. Video of my foraging and food creation processes were screened during the potluck event.
Sonja Hinrichsen was born in Germany, and has an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, where she also lives and works. With an interest in foraging for food, she came to WSW to make pottery in the ceramic studio to enhance the aesthetics of the food she prepared using wild edible plants. These collective activities were presented at the C H R C H Project Space.
View more of Sonja’s work on her website: www.sonja-hinrichsen.com
For more about this project: Living off the Land