Tuesday, May 25, 2010

1 acre - a combination of art and healthy thinking

Interview with Johanna Braun

When I went to visit the Oxford Art Week Festival  (still up until the 31st of May!) I also had a look at the Oxford Brookes University BA Fine Art Show 2010.

The first exibitor that got my attention was Johanna Braun with "1acre". I was very happy to meet her in person and funny enough she is from Freising, near Munich which is about 30 minutes from my home...
Johanna combines art with ecological and healthy thinking and her attempt of showing this was so unusual and "awakening" that I would like to share it with you.
When you got to the Richard Hammilton Building you would see a strip of fabric running away from it into the landscape. Once following it you were lead to a table with fresh homemade bread (german style and soooo yummie! -recipe further below...) and also fresh homemade butter. Apparently it was a 1 acre walk and it was interesting to actually "feel" the space and size of land that could feed you for one year.
Inside the building on her booth you could see bags full of seeds as well as handmade paper bags with prints of sprouts that belonged to the seeds that were inside. Each labeled with an important information about the actual plant. And I want to point out that everything was home- and handmade!
Alex: What did you do before you started studying at Brookes?
Johanna: After completing my Abitur (the German equivalent of A-levels) I cycled round the south bit of England and volunteered on some farms as part of the wwoof scheme. On one in the oxford area i liked it particularly, so the 3 months i initially wanted to stay became a year during which i found out about the art programme at Brookes.

Alex: Your work is called 1 acre - What is the main intention?
1 acre is roughly the amount of land one person needs to grow enough food to live from with kind of "reasonable" diet. With that I mean you wouldn't have to be vegan or vegetarian but meat would need to be consumed in a conscious way.
The agricultural land worldwide divided by all the people on the earth would give everybody a share of two acres which is more than one would need.
I am interested in the relations of what we have /what we want/ what we actually need/ what we appreciate.
I marked an acre on the ground which you can walk along to get a sense of that space that could cover all your essential needs. I think the appreciation for those essentials has become very low, they are somehow taken for granted even if they are the ones we depend on.

Alex: What was (or still is) your inspiration?
Johanna: I grew up on an organic farm in Bavaria where the connection to the food i eat is very easy to make. I am moving back there now long term because it is very important and exciting for me to see and take part in what's happening in the different seasons.

Alex: We really loved the printed seed bags, very beautiful! How did you make them?
Johanna: I made paper from hemp fibres and printed a macro picture of a seed with some information (from history, legends or its agricultural/ nutritional properties) about this particular seed. Inside two sheets of paper I sewed a few real seeds so you could see their actual size.
With that i wanted to show the power and potential which is hidden in those little seeds.

Alex: We followed your track all around the campus and tasted your bread- sooo yummie, do you have the recipe for us?
Johanna: The bread is made with a sourdough starter.

- Make this by mixing flour and water together to a pancake-like consistency and put in a jar covered with a cloth.
- Leave this to ferment in a warm place and add some more flour and water everyday.
- After 3-5 days you have a slightly vinegary smell coming from it- lactic and acetic bacteria which will later make your dough rise.
- You start by refreshing the starter with some flour and warm water which you leave to ferment for about five hours, until you see bubbles on the surface.
- Then mix half of this starter (the other half keep in your jar in the fridge and keep for your next batch which you start at the refreshing stage. This way you can keep using it indefinitely) in 400g flour of choice with 2 tsp salt and more warm water to make a very soft and sloppy dough.
- I added some walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
- Knead for about 10 minutes, then cover and let to rise at room temperature until it is about doubled in bulk.
- Shape it into a loaf and leave to rise again for about half an hour.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven on the highest possible temperature and bake for 10 mins on very hot, then turn down to 180 degrees and bake for another 25-30 mins.

I used Heritage flour from The Oxford Bread Group which consists of  different ancient wheat, oat and rye varieties. It is very wholesome and lots of people with wheat intolerance have been able to have this unlike intensively bred and refined flour that is ususally available.

Alex: Did you also make the butter yourself;-))) ?
Johanna: I made the butter from cream from North Aston Organics, whose milk and cream taste amazing because the cows are being fed exlusively on the greens and grass of their meadows.

English double cream is easy to use, just whippe it until it starts to get slightly yellow and crumpy and you will see water being extracted (buttermilk). You can either through the buttermilk away or drink it which is very healthy. Wash the left over with cold water until the water becomes clear. Knead the rest until the last bit of water comes out. É voilà! 

Alex: How long did it take you to prepare the exhibition?
Johanna: I had about 4 months to prepare this project. 

Pictures by Johanna Braun


  1. Very nice interview!
    It's always interesting and inspiring to hear from different people and artists and how they've done their way into this complicated world.
    I will try that bread recipe as well, as it seems really yummy!!

  2. She seems like a very unique and visionary artist, great interview.

  3. Thank you! And yes, the bread is very delicious, needs some practise making though... but still worth trying! (so is the butter by the way...just done my first attempt)


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