This essay is the final instalment in a three-part series on culinary fermentation practices and their recent associations in the art world. “Fermentation for the Spirit” considers the rise in popularity of sourdough bread baking during the start of the pandemic, while theorizing on the larger social, political, and cultural potentials of fermentation.
LF: Half a year before the pandemic began, I was aware of a growing trend of sourdough and bread-based practices in contemporary Canadian art—especially art made by late-emerging and early to mid-career women and queer artists, many of whom were white settlers. As boules in art proliferated across a range of gallery spaces, I was curious about what prompted this development. Why were so many white women artists making bread art, and what are the discernible meanings of this shared theme within their disparate practices? Sourdough and bread art can be seen in recent work by artists Andrea Creamer, Bridget Moser, Zoë Schneider, Terri Fidelak, and Lexie Owen, to name a few. There are precursors to this art in work by another artist, Chloe Wise, who began her series of bread bags in 2013, melding challah (braided Jewish bread eaten on ceremonial occasions such as Shabbat and major Jewish holidays), bagels, and pancakes with luxury goods.
This essay is the second in a three-part series on culinary fermentation practices and their recent associations in the art world. “Fermentation for the Spirit” considers the rise in popularity of sourdough bread baking during the start of the pandemic, while theorizing on the larger social, political, and cultural potentials of fermentation.
GH: The winter I started making sourdough, I also kept a fermentation diary as documentation for a conceptual art class I took with Amish Morrell at OCAD University. The diary was intended to function as a how-to for sourdough bread, inspired by instructional works from conceptual artists like Yoko Ono, Lee Lozano, and John Cage. It chronicles the origins of my sourdough starter, its multiple deaths, the many flat loaves of bread I ate with various soups, my relative hunger and fullness, the smells and tastes of my domestic surroundings. It was an attempt to present the document of a material process as a final artistic product—a tactic used by conceptual artists when materials were scarce and materiality was deemed overwrought and commodified. While writing the diaries, I meditated on the possibility of decentering materiality in a contemporary sense, perhaps held in the potential of writing.
This essay is the first in a three-part series on culinary fermentation practices and their recent associations in the art world. “Fermentation for the Spirit” considers the rise in popularity of sourdough bread baking during the start of the pandemic, while theorizing on the larger social, political, and cultural potentials of fermentation.
As more artists make work that exists between art and food, is there space for art writers to also be food writers? In the early days of the pandemic, we were struck by the importance of food and fermentation to us as writers and artists, but first and foremost, as humans who were hungry. We found ourselves asking: Do I care about food and fermented materials more than I care about art or the work of criticism (and by extension, language, research, and articulation)? Do these have to be kept separate? Why not mix them together and let them autolyze? What would it mean to expand the task of the art writer or critic to include the work of baking, gardening, activism, community organizing, planting native species and pollinator gardens, preserving and sharing those seeds, composting, telling stories, building libraries, building homes, tending to microbiomes—both within and around us? Can the work of art writing and criticism include all the work that nourishes a community, that feeds us physically, affectively, and spiritually, as writers and as people with guts?
The poignance of an exhibition is often measured by its ability to distil a historical moment, letting it hang in the air like luminous vapour. Amongst the media art exhibitions of the last year, perhaps none were more poignant than the eight-part artist video series, fractured horizon — a view from the body, which circulated during the weeks of protest that followed the killing of George Floyd. Curated by Toronto-based curator and editor Yaniya Lee as the culmination of her research residency at Vtape, Canada’s largest video art distributor, an impressive range of works by BIPOC women artists from Canada and the United States were sent out to Vtape subscribers’ inboxes like supplements; weekly injections of perspective and affirmation for all those in the arts community already feeling disheartened amidst the first wave of a global pandemic, and one now imbued with the urgent politics of fighting anti-Black racism and revealing white privilege. Like a shot in the arm, every Friday between June 5th and July 24th, 2020, a new piece would go up on Vtape.org, sometimes elegiac in tone, sometimes documentarian, but all of them anchored in their conjuring of the body politic. Pieces by Buseje Bailey, Richelle Bear Hat, Hannah Black, Deanna Bowen, Thirza Cuthand, Cheryl Dunye, Donna James and ariella tai each, in their own way, worked to reaffirm the vital connection between the social and material factors that constitute a “body” in the contemporary moment and, more specifically, to interrogate the strategies of representation that keep existing power structures in place.
I step slowly into a long corridor of vertically aligned PVC pipes in two straight lines, the synthetic material contrasting with the forest surrounding it. With the view around me obscured by the structure, which grows incrementally taller as I walk through it, I direct my gaze up toward the sky and become attuned to the sounds of twigs breaking beneath my feet and wind whirring through leaves. The path leads to a larger clearing of space – although walls of PVC pipes still surround it – and I join others who had taken the same meditative stroll moments before me. I linger, beholding the canopy of trees above and letting the soundscape of nature envelope me. I exit and find myself back in the forest, but with a different sensibility. Calm and at ease, I take pleasure in having encountered nature through an innovative sensory lens.
The Toronto Experimental Translation Collective (TETC) is a group of six artists and thinkers: Benjamin de Boer, Nicholas Hauck, Fan Wu, Eddy Wang, Yoyo Comay, and Ami Xherro. The collective first met and lived together at Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island in summer of 2020. Since then, they’ve been exploring the possibilities of collective translation. Their latest residency was in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. They are recording an album to be released this year.
In this live garden interview conducted in Fall of 2020 around a suspended microphone, Xherro and the rest of the collective discuss alterity, meaninglessness, intuition, transcription, and zoology.
The year 2020 was, for many, characterized by forcing our collective attention toward myriad social issues, emphasizing not only their interdependence on each other, but on exploitation and class differences as well. It became clear very quickly that ‘essential’ jobs are the ones that cannot be done from home; they are also the ones with the lowest pay and little to no health benefits or sick days. Large numbers of people already in precarious positions lost their jobs, their income, and for many, their homes. Demands for rent cancellation and mortgage relief, particularly for those in large Canadian cities, underscored the cycle of working people living month-to-month who pay large portions of their paychecks to landlords, most of whom use tenants’ rents as their only income, and who in turn give that money to the bank for their mortgage. But who did the government ultimately bail out? Amidst subsidies for banks, there was never rent cancellation or legislated relief for tenants, just calls from government officials for landlords to “do the right thing.”
Sean Sprague is a photographer from Toronto who now lives in Los Angeles. His work—large-scale singular tableau photographs—stage moments he observes in daily life, then recasts and recontructs. These are spaces of in-betweenness aggrandized. Questions of labour and class drift through his work, tensions between the real and unreal, yet evidence is always withheld, faces turned away, details guarded, while maintaining that everything appears in piercing focus. Sprague, like many of his references and predecessors, is preoccupied with the gaps around truth. In describing his work he states, “Through staging of documentary scenes, these works seek to challenge the authority of the documentary traction in photography and its narrow definition of truth that excludes so much.”
Let’s pretend that we’re at a show. It’s sometime before last March, any night of the week. Early evening, but this is winter, and the sun has been set for hours already. We shrug our coats off into the all-black pile. I’ll retrieve mine later to wear it loose over my shoulders, following the smokers outside to revel in the cold between sweaty sets, after which I’ll fix my wandering eyeliner in my front-facing camera, since the available bathroom is the one with no mirror. You grab a water, maybe a beer, from the bar or your bag, depending on where we are. The night is full and warm and easy, and we maneuver through friends and strangers, angling for the right spot from which to watch other friends on stage. Then it’s your turn to go up, and the roles reverse.
We were both headed to seeRobin Cameron’s exhibit Memory Palace. I was walking, you were riding your bike. We had apparently chosen the same route, only different methods of transportation. I had turned around halfway because a few seconds earlier I realized that it was Sunday, not Saturday, and the gallery would be closed. As I turned, we crossed paths–you headed where I was just a few seconds ago. Now that I was turned in the direction of my house, changing directions again seemed like too much change for one day. You continued on, risking the possibility that you would show up and there would be no one to let you in, but there was. You saw the exhibition that day, a Sunday. I did not. You sent me a picture of the show and I regretted not turning a second time, back in the direction of the destination I never made it to.