I've been working on an exciting project in the field of food sustainability over the last few months. Together with my husband, founder and CEO of element, a scenographic company in Basel, Switzerland, I developed a concept for the Swiss Pavilion at the World Expo in Milan 2015. He designed and realized the scenography for the Swiss Pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010 and turned to me for collaboration in content development, knowing I've been actively researching and writing about food politics. Our concept for the first round of the competition can be viewed on element's website, where pdf links to both the concept and the concept text are listed.
The theme provided by the organizer of Expo Milano is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” and it is divided into seven sub-themes, the majority of which are highly relevant to food sustainability. The organizer poses a crucial question, which Expo participants are expected to answer: “Is it possible to ensure sufficient, good, healthy and sustainable food for all humankind?” My instant reaction was, “No, not without structural change.” We did a problem analysis and mapped out the most important goals that should be met in order to achieve food security. A crucial moment came in our concept development when we had to ask ourselves a fundamental question: how could we turn that “no” into a “yes”? We came down to three possible conceptual directions and realized that one stood above and incorporated all others: cooperation. If we're going to achieve anything in this world it will only be through cooperation. I had to think of my blog in that moment, my goals of “faying” people together and stimulating defragmentation in society. It became clear to me how important those goals are for finding solutions to the broad and far-reaching problems we face with society and our environment.
Synergy, then, became the model of cooperation we chose. We realized it wasn't enough for all the special interest groups in the food and agriculture industries to be working alone, or worse, often against each other. We need a new model of interaction and cooperation; relying on some kind of a democratic vote wouldn't be enough. We need the dynamic consensus-building of a synergistic cooperation. And dynamic consensus can only come about through debate. But how could we bring different opinions together to a debate in an exhibition? We realized we needed visitor participation to guide onsite and web-based debates. And we needed to do some clever juxtaposition of rival theories in order to enliven this debate. It was profound to be doing research about genetic pollution and then run across the permaculture maxim that pollution is energy in the wrong place. I realized that if we just search long enough and rearrange the pieces in the puzzle we can get a whole new picture. What kind of new food security solutions could we achieve if genetic pioneers would incorporate permaculture practices and permaculture advocates could guide and oversee GM food development?
In writing the content for this exhibition I realized the importance of communicating complex issues like food sustainability three-dimensionally. Often, in other media forms, a linear communication structure can only be grasped in a limited way by the viewer. Exhibitions – especially those incorporating visitor participation and scenography 2.0 – allow for a far deeper emersion potential than traditional media can offer. This is especially important for controversial and complex topics. In our concept the viewer becomes part of the exhibition. I describe the participation we so desperately need in order to achieve food sustainability in my concept text: “We facilitate a necessary shift in paradigms, enabling visitor empowerment, not only as consumers, but as stewards of our ecosystem and citizens of our global community.”