MICRO INTERVIEW No.11 – Nonhuman Nonsense meets Anna Maria Orrù

Linnea + Filips: How are you Anna Maria, and who are you, Anna Maria?

Anna Maria: Great question. I will get back to you soon, during the week. hope it’s ok? Some farming work is holding us out in the field in prep for olive picking…

Linnea + Filips: Wow that’s great, we just ate some olives for breakfast in Milan! Curious to know where the olive field is! You can answer at your own pace, no stress!

Anna Maria: The olive groves are near Pietrasanta in Tuscany, near the village of Valdicastello, but we are part of Pietrasanta but up in the hills above.

Anna Maria: Still here and have not forgotten your interview. Nice long train ride in the morning is booked for you! Some images of the olive picking. Today we go to the mill.

And now an answer to your question… I am well thank you. We have just had a crazy 2 months on the farm with harvests back to back. First comes the honey harvest, which happens in late August. Sweet, flowery and caramel, we are always so grateful for what our companion superorganism friends offer extra to us. We make sure to just take what is bonus, leaving plenty for them to have through the winter months. This also coincides with the tomato harvest, which follows suit with jarring up fresh tomatoes for the winter months ahead.

Next, comes the grape harvest which takes place during the September weeks. You have to let the grapes tell you when they are ready to be picked. Depending on your experience, you can rely on colour, flavour or seed texture. I am still learning. White grapes are picked earlier, while red grapes later in the month. Then you can make the wine! We are in the early stages of this project. We restored and regenerated an old vineyard from over 100 years ago, but we are making it biodynamic. So we are learning how to nourish the soil, and the first three years we have concentrated on making the root system strong and resilient. Our first big harvest will be in 2024! This interaction with soil, roots and mycorrhiza has jumpstarted a project called ‘compost conversations’, so watch that space!

While the grapes are still fermenting in the cellar, the olive harvest starts! Again, we watch the olives as they plump up, turn green to a purple, or somewhere in between. We started looking after these olive groves in 2015 and learned from surrounding elderly olive farmers on how to look after the trees, prune them, and eventually make the olive oil. Now in our 8th year, we feel we have gotten the hang of it. The oil got pressed on Friday night (Oct 6) after a few weeks of laying nets, getting the grass ready, and picking olives. The olives need to be picked quickly for the freshest oil, but the preparation around these days is a longer task. It tastes like the surroundings of the trees: bright green, salty sea air, grass, bramble, wildflowers, moisture, and honey…during the next two weeks the oil will lose its bright green colour ,almost neon green, and turn a rather yellow-green tone. 

So I am well, feeling good after being outside so much the last weeks participating with all these more-than-human neighbours and companion species. Living this close with the land and other species has taught me new ways of cohabiting, teaching and developing projects, but also in sitting at the front line of climate breakdown. Things are changing rapidly, and we are learning fast how to take care of the land during these changes – like gathering enough water for drought months. Or protecting bees and plants from freak weather winds and rain. We live in parallel with the change and uncertainty.

In fact my work has taken me to live practically with nature, and work with nature. My journey started in 2002 when I came across the field of biomimicry (living in London at the time), where we look to nature for inspiration. Over the years I have been designing with nature at the design table and it has brought me outside a lot. Nature has over 3.8 billion years knowledge, ideas, innovations and creativity and I am learning so much from her. I first applied biomimicry to the field in architecture, and over the years since I came to Sweden in 2010, I have used it in architecture, design, and in the arts etc. However this weekend, I taught a course on cognitive neuroscience and biomimicry, which was so interesting and have opened a new window of interest.  In 2020, I co-founded the Nordic Biomimicry hub with ecologists, as we had been working together trying to see how we can spread the knowledge around biomimicry in Sweden and Scandinavia. Besides this, I have an affiliated senior lecturer position at Konstfack in Stockholm, where I sometimes teach on our farm on more than human co-habiting or take the train to Stockholm (or elsewhere in SE or DK) to meet and teach students there. 

I have worked in many transdisciplinary crossings. My phd ‘Wild Poethics’ from Chalmers crossed food, artistic research, urbanism /architecture, sustainable behaviour and embodied methodologies together. I continue to bring various disciplinary ingredients together to see what happens when nature becomes our driver and advisor. For example, as guest faculty for the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship (SSES), I combine biomimicry with entrepreneurship. This next year however, I’m diving into a project on the post-growth city, where I will be teaching and researching the subject, from a postgrowth, de-growth and biomimicry perspective. The aim is to design a boardgame that opposes the philosophy behind ‘monopoly’.

The species I live with also become the focus interest for projects. This next year I am  working on an exhibition on the ‘super organism’ for Munkeruphus Museum in DK, with Danish poet Morten Søndergaard.

The past years I have spent time to deepen and share my knowledge about sustainable and restorative living both in Sweden and Italy. 

Linnea + Filips:  Could you send a link to Compost Conversations? 🙂 Sounds like you live in a really interesting mix between the practical and the theoretical. Yeah, the climate breakdown… sounds like you are dealing a lot with it practically, how do you deal with it mentally? It feels like a lot of people are longing to get closer to the land and other species, do you have any advice on how to do this?

Anna Maria: Compost conversations website is yet to go up, and we are in the process of applying for funding.

Climate breakdown. Mentally it is up and down as a roller-coaster. There are days of anguish, but also days of hope. Lately, I have turned to Forest Bathing (the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku to guide me on days when I need encouragement. Most of the time, I act/do something. Teaching and being with students, making a change, having discussions, finding formulations to move forward and keep doing something – this all helps. Setting up the Montepreti Nature Academy in Tuscany on our farm is my way to be continually engaged – both theoretically, pedagogically, and practically. Hands dipped in soil everyday. And the ARTS! now, I am working on an exhibition on the superorganism at Munkeruphus to bring attention to bees (set to open 25 May). Art, sensorial experiences that bring us to nature, out in nature and help reconnect.

Linnea + Filips: Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your active life and diverse practice! Indeed, direct contact with nature whether it is through art or farming or forest bathing might be the place to grow hope and connection. Wishing you soil-full days and please, accept the needle and keep stitching!