The jumping off point for this current art project ‘Petition 66662’ was a real petition on the official German Parliament (Deutsches Bundestag) website for petitions. My project takes its name from the original Petition 66662 on the website which calls for changing potato variety nomenclature from female to male names. Absurd. Perhaps. But the petition brings issues such as food security, genetically modified foods, and ownership of potato varieties and gender equality into the spotlight. By calling more gender equality in naming of potatoes (over 90% of German potatoes types carry female names) it gave a moment to pause and reconsider the status and situation of potato in our society again.
In this participative art installation I call people to join ‘Petition 66662’ and suggest new male names for potatoes. I ask that they actively write them on the wall poster and in the book which acts as record of the project.
The petition according to the Cambridge English Dictionary is ‘a document signed by a large number of people demanding or asking for some action from the government or another authority’. Anybody can start or participate in a petition. In Germany petitions which receive over 10,000 signatures can be heard in parliament. In the past, before digital petitions, people usually participated by signing their name on a sheet of paper. All the individual signed sheets go to making the final petition. A petition can fill hundreds of sheets which are delivered in boxes, or as long rolls of paper, to the collector of petitions before being tabled in parliament.
With a nod to this old style petition where people participate by writing names on paper, I have made a huge patterned petition printed on a risograph printer and assembled from 48 sheets of paper. This large print acts as a vehicle for collecting written information. I am asking people to participate in the petition and instead of writing their own name to suggest a male name for a type of potato.
A second part of the ‘Petition 66662’ art project is the book which contains the original petition information and acts as a register of all the male names on the petition.
In difficult times people grasp and focus on ideas that may seem irrelevant in the global scheme of things. At the moment in Germany people are struggling with the change that globalization has brought to them through the European Union. After the initial euphoria the ongoing influx of refugees now only highlights further this sense of angst and uncertainty. People have increased feelings of economic powerlessness, and a developing mistrust in the government. Organising a petition is one way for the average person to find a voice and to show they still believe in the democratic process.
Even though the focus of ‘Petition 66662’ may seem absurd and irrelevant it highlights the anxiety people have and shows that individuals are acting in areas where there is still space for their voice. It also points a finger at big political issues such as food security, fear of losing genetic diversity through genetically modified foods, ownership of potato varieties by international corporations and how things named and remembered. Perhaps if potato varieties have male names potatoes will be more valued by society?
The work was shown as part of the 2. Festival für unangepsste Kunst at MUCCA, Munich between 7th -9th October 2016.
Jelena Majstorovic and Tamara Heckenberg from LMU University in Munich visited the installation and were the first to sign the petition.