Inaugural Green Festival Hosts Critically Engaged Eco-friendly Initiatives

The RCA Student's Union has launched Green Festival 2016: Diaspore (18 May – 1 June) – an expansion of last year’s attention-garnering ‘Green Week’, which was set up as a means to instigate environmental awareness and positive change across the College, with a focus on sustainable recycling and food practices. 

Diaspore aims to make new contributions to the existing social spaces of the Royal College of Art, so that staff and students can learn about ecosystems and eco-friendly approaches as they exist broadly across both natural environments and communities – in art, education and society. This century, as well as the decades leading up to it, have seen increasingly levels of environmental crisis across the globe, and resultant accompanying calls for widespread awareness and evolution – particularly in the notion that we must work together, both at home and abroad, in order to achieve meaningful transformation now and into the future.

Taking as their starting point renowned British filmmaker Adam Curtis’ successful documentary, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts, in conjunction with botanist Arthur Tansley’s definition of ‘ecosystem’, the Festival focuses on how we might question the definition of ecosystem as something that extends beyond the borders of biology into realms of the social, cultural, economic and political.

One of the primary goals of Diaspore is to push the student body and staff of the Royal College of Art to take ownership of the space in which they work, create, commingle, converse, and turn it into a vibrant and engaged community space. For the festival, artists, philosophers, architects, chefs and students have been commissioned to create a series of events to involve the members of the RCA community to engage in dialogue and to actively produce and intellectual, as well as a physical engagement with the concept of new gardens in urban spaces – particularly on both campuses of the College itself. at Kensington and Battersea.

Central to Green Festival is an aim to fundraise the building of a new suspended edible garden in the foyer of the Dyson Building. Using the greenhouse-like aesthetic of the extant space, the garden is proposed to hang from the 3–6 metre high windows, and will transform the area into a verdant space that welcomes students into a beautiful and convivial communal environment. The garden will be used to grow produce as food for the Students' Union Café; it will also function as an academic tool, designed as a plant library that engages with a British cultural history of agriculture and cuisine, as well as a survey of plants found within the contemporary urban environment.

Visitors will find on display native British herbs, herbs imported by Romans, from the ex-colonies, as well as edible weeds or plants used as raw materials, such as natural colour dye plants, among many others. In keeping with its Fine Art surroundings, each hanging garden has additionally been conceived according to a specific colour palette – Marigold blends into Violet, Borage, Swiss Chard; three varieties of Sage are clustered together above Golden Purslane, garden bed fellow with Soldiers and Sailors, Summer Savory, Garlic Mustard. A more ‘exotic’ spread finds Redbor and Dinosaur Kale alongside Chinese Lantern and a host of the umami family: Shitake, Oyster, King Oyster and Enokitake mushrooms. Some of this vegetation will be used during Green Festival to host a series of meals commissioned by artists, designers, scientists, community groups and philosophers in an attempt to look at ecosystems through the spectrum of food: to embrace the possibility of consuming food as research in itself.

Kensington terrace in the Darwin Building, the yard of the Sculpture Building and the Woo balconies all hope to see similar growth – both literal and figurative ­­– with innovative green instalments of a variety of plants.

The suspended garden has already received generous support from funding partners like Friche, Organic Plants, Studio Voltaire, boskke and Chelsea Fringe. Further contributions will be essential to its erection and sustenance: if you wish to contribute to the initiative you can support the kickstarter campaign, or visit here for more information.

Alongside the workshops and events planned for Green Festival, Diaspore’s Diaspora is a series of performances taking place throughout the month – to explore and challenge the boundaries of conventional ideas of the ‘ecosystem’: how we might conceive of reinventing and newly experiencing these, both small and large, on a practical and cultural level. ‘Speculative Beaching’ is a conversation between Lou-Atessa Marcellin and John Hill, which involves a dialogue around living systems, punctuated by musical disruptions in the hypothetical scenario of the ‘desert island’. Federico Campagna looks at ‘The Esoteric Garden’ in an examination of the Renaissance garden as metaphor for forms of knowledge that exist beyond the contemporary technical appearance of reality. Future Farm Lab looks at what we can do to shape a more sustainable and resilient food – alongside their presentation, they serve food that illustrates the critical concepts of their proposals. These are, among many others, events that can be sampled across the duration of Green Festival. More detail information about the events and impact of Green Festival can be found on the Students' Union website.