Last night Diego reminded me that before we started collaborating formally we talked a little about my intentions for the project. I recalled having the conversation, but none of what was said. This morning I began a mapping exercise to think it out and recovered a framing question: ‘What else can arts organisations do besides professionalise artists?’ I can track this interest back to a residency earlier this year at Nida Art Colony where I wrote my proposal for Procomum. Nida is one of the art and culture organisations from Baltic-Nordic countries, Poland and Scotland that comprise the Inter & Pan-disciplinary Arts & Grounded Anthropocene Network (Inter-PAGAN). For the Nida’s 8th Interformat Symposium, ‘On Rites and Terrabytes’, Tessa Zettel and I developed a SF narrative that recast the ‘Inter-pagans’ as an intentional community of hackers, foragers, fermenters (fomenters?), artists and intellectuals who had sought refuge on the Curonian Spit, where the residency is located. Set in a near future in which the world is ‘hotter and meaner,’ The 2086 T. Rudzinskaite Memorial Amateur Lichenologists Society Annual Field Trip & Picnic proposed that arts infrastructures would act on recent fascinations with ‘fugitive aesthetics’ to develop networks that would move and host people in times of ‘creeping authoritarianism.’ A notion that is significantly resonant with the present political context here in Brazil, where many artists and organsations are anxious that they are being targeted in the culture wars that accompany the recent electoral swing to the far right.
One of my first impressions, and I’m sure it will prove to be one of my lasting memories of Brasil, was a jaw-dropping plant-based brunch hosted by the 33rd Bienal of São Paulo to conclude it’s international weekend which was devised and executed by Neka Menna Barreto and her team.
In Rio, I was by chance introduced to the artist Jorge Menna Barreto, who had coincidentally collaborated with Neka (any relation?) for his project Restauro (a play on the words ‘restaurant’ and ‘restoration’) for the previous 32nd Bienal of São Paulo, 2016. I was taken by his efforts to politicise (and also aestheticise) acts of cooking and eating, arguably in a more art historical way than I am so concerned. Nevertheless, I am also wary of vegan food trends being perceived as being an elite food culture.
Another point of reference is a Latin American collective, whose name I cannot recall, but whose zine I came across at CASCO (another artspace dedicated to fostering commons). The zine described how the group also developed a social kitchen to host regular plant-based meals in their community, asking for a ‘pay what you can’ donation. I cannot recall if they were explicitly ‘against work’, but I have a feeling their meals had something to do with making time to not work during the working week. Immediately after reading their publication in a small bar in Utrecht I began jotting down thoughts linked to the phrase ‘Lunch Against Work’.
When I met Diego he brought up Jeong Kwan a Korean Zen Buddhist nun and adherent of temple cuisine who has become a celebrity. She is reported to have said that the mind-set of the chef determines if the meal ‘can be poison or medicine.’ Pipa Ambrogi, a friend and cook based in São Paulo who studies plant medicine and makes potions also emphasises similar sentiments. So although much of the time we spend on Lunch Against Work is occupied with developing plant-based meals, my emphasis is on the relationships food facilitates, including with other species and with reference to ‘plant knowledges’ (which I am using in a deliberately ambiguous way). As a plant medicine professional I met recently phrased it, could it be the difference between ‘knowing a plant by face or as a friend’ rather than by its botanical characteristics? For example, how is it to ‘know’ or appreciate a tomato as a thing in it’s own right, rather than as an ingredient (or resource)? And in turn, how might that tomato know us? How does it, us—do we fit into a complex globalised food system and what are the industries that govern it? By reflecting on our activities in such ways, cooking and eating can be understood as a practice of politics.
So, racking my brains, I tried all day to recall the conversation Diego and I had soon after I arrived in Santos. Eventually, I had a flashback of saying to him in my terrible portuguêse either ‘eu posso porque eu aprendo’ or ‘eu aprendo porque é posso’ (‘I can because I learn’ or ‘I learn because I can’), which he seemed satisfied with at the time. Thinking about it now, the project here in Santos seems to be about the possibility of learning across differences of language, culture, class and race. Writing this post I am also reminded of reading something a long time ago about Hélio Oticica pursuing an ‘experimental life.’ So, Almoço Contra o Trabalho yokes these impulses and ideas together as the possibility and politics of learning and experimenting.
To add a further twist to this long-winded explanation, earlier this year I was told about the naming of plants in the Yoruba religion of West Africa, which came to Brazil with the Atlantic Slave Trade, as described by Pierre Verge in his book Ewé. In this system, plants are named according to their synergies when combined with other plants and I was told that it was only by speaking these names aloud that these properties were activated. So, naming is an incantation and the act of naming sets an intention. Names can determine the scope of a project or line of inquiry. So, to conclude this ‘statement of intention’, I will announce a name that has been turning over my tongue all day: ‘sopa-de-cicleta.’