Line Marie Thorsen – University of Copenhagen

Line Marie Thorsen, PhD fellow at Aarhus University

Sowing seeds in the desert: artful farming and the undoing of desertifications

Sowing seeds in the desert is the title of Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka’s book from 1996. In a cross-cultural analysis, the image of sowing seeds in the desert is evoked to address the environmental devastation our planet is immersed in, and the possibilities for restoring plant-and-other life in the ruins of modern capitalist industrialisation. In this paper, I start from this image and expand upon it: what does it mean when artists literally begin sowing seeds to address and practically engage the multiple forms of ‘desertification’ taking place in Japan and elsewhere? I will approach this question from the case of Echigo Tsumari Art Festival and the group of artists collaborating with local farmers in the town of Matsudai, around rice and vegetable farming.

As a case site Echigo Tsumari Art Festival and the aesthetic collaborations departing in farming, are interesting as a nexus for a vast range of social, political and material issues in Japan (and beyond). What I refer to here to as ‘desertification’ thus come to hold more than one significance. It is the desertion, the abandonment, of rural Japan for the cities, referring to the fact that Echigo Tsumari is in part a revitalisation project. It is the desertion of soil-labour that is historically and culturally tied to the countryside, and the potential estrangement from our natural world that is effectuated from this, as we hereby easily forget, as Echigo Tsumari proclaims, “that humans are a part of nature”. It is the desert-making of once fertile earth, as we simultaneously desert the importance of careful cultivation practices. But most importantly, it is the potential for undoing these ruins and deserts by artfully and aesthetically sowing the seeds for new connections.

Line Marie Thorsen is a PhD fellow of art history, Aarhus University and associated PhD of Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA) as well as Changing Disasters the UCPH Excellence Programme for Interdisciplinary Research at Copenhagen University. Thorsen has previously studied art practices in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan and since 2014 she has researched how artists in Japan and Hong Kong translate the notions of global climate change into their local ecological concerns.