Burning Ice festival puts food centre stage


The seventh edition of Kaaitheater’s culture festival focuses on the food we eat and competing visions on how it should be produced

Controversy-provoking seeds and soil

In recent years, more and more young people in Flanders have begun taking up permaculture – a sustainable living model inspired by natural ecosystems – as an alternative lifestyle and sustainable food cultivation. Some scientists are also increasingly promoting agro-ecology as an alternative to industrial agriculture. Even artists are now exploring ecology, farming and food in their creative practices.

Agriculture seems to be the defining issue of the decade, so it’s apt that the seventh Burning Ice Festival at Brussels’ Kaaitheater has adopted it as this year’s theme. 

The four-day programme focuses on the genetic technology approach to world food issues and agro-ecological alternatives centring on resilience and biodiversity.  An array of Flemish and international artists will present installations, performances and collaborative projects, and there will be films, debates, lectures, forums and excursions about the food we eat and competing visions on how it should be produced.  Most of the events are free.

Humans first developed agriculture some 8,000 years ago, and we have arrived at another crucial moment in our civilisation with food production again spurring the evolution of our culture. If you feel the need to acquaint yourself with the issues, the colloquium The Promised Land of Transgenic Crops, featuring scientists from across the EU and the US, is a good place to start. 

An alternative tourist experience, meanwhile, is provided by the GMO-Lobby Bus Tour. You can also visit the seed bank of the National Botanical Garden and attend a Forum of Alternatives, in which a variety of organic practices promoting agro-biodiversity are presented in workshops like seed saving, permaculture, urban agriculture and food sovereignty.

The coyly titled documentary The Strategy of Crooked Cucumbers illustrates a successful community-supported agriculture scheme in Germany.  In Symphony of the Soil, scientists take us across four continents, delving deep into the magical world beneath our feet, which most of us think of as simply dirt.

Seeds and soil provoke controversy, but also creativity. Heath Bunting’s Super Weed Kit 1.0 exhibition and Åsa Sonjasdotter’s “The Order of Potatoes” installation place food firmly in our cultural practices and in a historical context, with some humorous irony and a provocative aesthetic. Seriously, potatoes are beautiful.

Artists’ prerogative

According to Guggenheim-award winning artist Amy Franceschini from the California artist collective Future Farmers, the relationship between humans and grain has facilitated the evolution of our civilisations. Her performance piece “Flatbread Society” is a public art project that brings together bakers, oven makers, anthropologists, farmers and soil scientists to investigate our diverse cultural relationships with grain.

Baking is a way for me to express stories about food and the role it plays in social exchanges

- Amy Franceschini

“In Norway, they used to bake bread directly after the harvest in a community oven fired for three days,” says the San Francisco-based artist. “The flat, circular bread with a hole in the middle was hung from the rafters, like disks suspended from the ceiling. This was a storage economy.” 

The Finns, she continues, used to store an almost extinct variety of rye in the roofs of their saunas. “Just nine grains were recovered recently, seven of which germinated to produce rye three metres tall, with 1,000 corns on each head. Now a farmers’ co-operative outside Oslo is growing and selling the variety, even though this is illegal. But as artists, we can cultivate it legally.” 

Franceschini’s “Flatbread Society” should make an imaginative and concrete impact through collaborations with Belgian practitioners. Her knowledge of grains and cultures across the globe is impressive. “The baking is a way for me to express stories about food and the role it plays in social exchanges,” she says. 

“When we create a local oven and invite people to join in, everybody starts talking about their relationships to food, and conversations develop,” Franceschini continues. “This can lead to the evolution of public space, like a harbour area of Oslo formerly used to store grain, where public debate changed the municipality’s development plans. The area will now be designated for urban food production.”

27-30 March at Kaaitheater & Kaaistudio’s
Sainctelettesquare 20, Brussels

photo by Max McClure/Futurefarmers, Flatbread Society, 2013