Home Cooking: being alone together

I met Asad Raza on February 25, 2019 at Turin’s Castello di Rivoli for the joint opening of exhibitions by Anri Sala and the late Harold Szeemann. We had got on well and stayed in contact. Soon after, his first baby was born and I would receive pictures of her sleeping peacefully on Asad’s shoulder.

I’m busy. :) Not to sound self-aggrandizing, it’s no secret that my relationship to my work is impenetrable. In the last two years I have had major solo shows at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane, Kunsthalle Zürich, the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, the Zabludowicz Collection in London, Copenhagen Contemporary, MMK Frankfurt, and the New Museum, New York. If you had told me three months ago I would sideline my all-consuming projects and be part of a new collective that would eat into my tightly wound schedule for several voluntary hours a day, I would never have believed you.

At the beginning of the global lockdown, as COVID-19 was becoming a true crisis, a wave of galleries either made virtual surrogates of shows they had been forced to close or dug projects out of their archives and put them online. Whilst an ​understandable reaction, this felt sad and stale. Canned content was a disappointing response.

Lockdown has been tough on the art community. As Camille Henrot explores in a new series of interviews called We Agile Cats hosted on Home Cooking, the reality of artists’ lives during a time of crisis is not being reflected. Artists lost all their shows and fees, art fairs closed, sales diminished and opportunities ground to a halt. The virus was spreading fast and the world was in a state of panic. What were we meant to do — just sit and wait for the cloud to pass?

Asad was the catalyst. He initially contacted Prem Krishnamurthy, a graphic designer and curator; Dora Budor, an artist; Precious Okoyomon, artist and poet; and myself. Each of us immediately bit the bait. Looking back, this odd foursome was an essential weave of the fabric. Collectively we are a body made of differences. We are not a clique, we don’t know each other’s secrets, we have never worked together, and we live in different cities. This was a leap of faith between strangers. The title ‘Home Cooking’ came to us on the phone.

I have an allergy to the word “home,” and have not had a permanent residence since 2018 after, incidentally, I lost my​ beautiful homing pigeons, Winona and Scissors, to an unexplained disappearance and lice infection, respectively.

Jon Day, Winona & Scissors’ breeder and author of Homing: On Pigeons, Dwellings and Why We Return, explains how home transitioned from communal space to domestic interior. “[Until] relatively recently the structure we would understand as the home simply didn’t exist,” notes Day. “People didn’t so much live in their houses as camp in them.” He goes further to say, quoting historian John Lukacs, that “the prefix ‘self’ rose to prominence only about three hundred years ago, alongside the invention of the modern home, in words such as ‘self-centred’ and ‘self-esteem’, self-love’ and ‘selfhood’.”

For the first Home Cooking event, on March 25, 2020, I led a wing-making workshop: a call to liberate ourselves from the terrestrial. To possess hidden crevices, burrows, passageways and to fly/steal from the captivity of gravity. I was ​dreaming of flight and escape – weren’t we all -– hallucinating my way out of confinement.

Flying is stealing, Hélène Cixous reminds us, with the French verb voler: to fly/steal. Marina Warner taught me about the power of the imagination as a narrative technology and predecessor of progress. In Stranger Magic, her powerful analysis of the Arabian Nights, she refers to the magic carpet as essential to the invention of aeronautics. To dream ​the impossible gives power to bring about real change.

How could we create an online platform without getting sucked into the brain-draining Zuckerberg vortex? Prem suggested the Google doc. Anyone with access to a computer can use it, not just the Instagrammers. And unlike a PDF, it’s not experienced as a “finished” product; it’s constantly changing and being updated by all who have access. We list upcoming​ events and each contributor gets their own page/s to add to the growing archive.

We are in week fifteen and have so far had 97 contributions by over 60 artists, curators, musicians, chefs, and more. To avoid being co-opted by any one platform, we use them all: interviews and performances on Instagram, film screenings on Twitch, discussions on Zoom, audio pieces on Soundcloud, quotes on Twitter, etc., as well as telephone appointments by ​B.I.T Bureau of Translation and one-to-one private conversations with myself called A Stolen Space.

The decentralized multiple personality of HC made it chaotic and confusing at first to understand who or what exactly it was. Where do I look? How do I navigate? Is this a cooking show? Thanks for the recipes! But over time the ethos became clear. It exists in many places and many temporalities. It is a constellation, a collective organism, with many brains, each with their own agency, but running as a collective.

Lockdown also forced a new standard of art production. The X Factor-style glitzy displays of highly produced artworks, their slickness concealing the ugly reality of exhaustion and unaccounted labour, were no longer viable. Instead what emerged was raw, reactionary, and real. Here are some of the early projects:

Stéphanie Saadé marked the surreal suspension of time through poetic interventions with clocks and maps; Philippe Parreno presented Snow Dancing Again; Prem Krishnamurthy presented weekly talk shows on Zoom, intense academic debates skilfully mixed with karaoke; Precious Okoyomon wrote a heartbreaking poem called Sky Song; Barry McHugh interviewed artist Mateja Šmic in Dublin; Emily Wardill made a beautiful “Spring 2020” playlist; Agnieska Kurant presented Collective Intelligence and launched a new font called Emergence, itself composed using 26 different fonts; Dora Budor made quarantine soup; Moriah Evans led workshops on how to connect with your organs; Alice Heyward led a series of guided crying sessions; Imran Perretta did wild UK bass DJ sets; Korakrit Arunanondchai’s Make Memory Sauce shared his tasty recipe for a Thai sauce using 15 chillies and 10 cloves of garlic; Lei Saito’s performances to camera were born ​out of confinement in Paris; Charlie Fox read a plague-haunted mutation of Hansel and Gretel; Zoe Adjonyoh made a delicious Ghanaian dish Nkaakra; Lydia Ourahmane’s stunning walks took us to Tizi Ouzou, Algeria; Julie F Hill showed us midnights around the world in Transits for Local Midnights; musician Daniel Blumberg collaborated with Keiji Haino and Elvin Brandhi for his series SILVER DINNER; nullo (Parma Ham and Salvia) performed a curse on Mark Zuckerberg; and Athena Papadopoulos made Alphabetic Soup, an homage to Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of The Kitchen (1975). All projects were either by invitation or through open submission. The only rule was it had to be made or responsive to now.

​Hans Ulrich Obrist joined the HC fanclub early on and is a regular speaker in a series of interviews with curators across the globe, such as Nancy Spector, Myriam Ben Salah, Diana Campbell, Stuart Comer, Victor Wang, Sohrab Mohebbi, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Christopher Y. Lew, Alexie Glass and Liz Nowell. Upcoming interviewees include Cecilia Alemani, John Kaldor and Dara Birnbaum.

HUO’s first interview looked back at his own beginnings as a 22-year old student in Switzerland, organising his first exhibition The Kitchen Show in his apartment in 1991. The humility of organizing an exhibition in a very unspectacular setting (even using the fridge!) resonated with this moment, the DIY attitude, making something happen with very little, breaking with tradition, and urgently rethinking our dominant structures.

It was a role reversal for the artist to interview the curator, and quite weird this has never been questioned before. Home Cooking upset this balance. We need to reorganize our structures at the roots and “decolonize the gaze,” as Myriam Ben Salah puts it, level the power of the curator-artist relationship. You can listen to all the individual interviews here.

On May 25, 2020, a young Black man named George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds, and with this murder came a new urgency to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Rage and sadness spread across the globe and with this an explosion of uprisings and protests. I have not experienced anything near to its scale in my lifetime. Racism towards Black people is, of course, not a new phenomenon. But the horror of Floyd’s killing, along with the recent murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, on top of the inequalities exposed by COVID-19 (in healthcare, in the extreme gaps between the rich and poor), pushed through to the public imagination and showed the dehumanization of Black people is every person’s responsibility. George Floyd became an unwitting martyr exposing the deep systemic racism that everyone, even those supposed liberal progressives, myself included, is born into. Anybody who ignores or denies their role and responsibility for taking action is partaking in ​the support of racism.

Along with the reckoning that every individual faced, Home Cooking had to be reexamined. This was no longer simply a lockdown initiative, but something that was necessarily mutating parallel to the radical changes happening in the world.

I keep asking myself what it means to be part of a collective voice while maintaining individual agency. Why do we use each other’s slogans to find our own statements? What is the hashtag syndrome doing to our community? “Think about it,” says Arca in a statement she made on June 3. “Anyone who isn’t waking up right now to an opportunity … to speak to people in their communities that don’t hold the same beliefs as they do…” She drifts into Spanish, and back again. “Think about why strengthening a filter bubble is not going to help. Groups of people are trying to communicate to one another using each other’s hashtags.”

It is a time for deep reflection. Tiffany Sia describes “reading aloud as a tool of pedagogy and care” and is especially poignant in Hell is a timeline. Every Saturday, at the hour of midnight in Hong Kong, she reads key political texts which unravel and probe the effects of, among other things, violence, capitalism, and the hell we are living in.

Marianna: I love that your pieces are at the hour of near sleep.
Tiffany: It's always a pleasure to hear from you! Hypnagogia is the most potent space.

It really is, and likewise, in this lonely strange time, the pleasure is mutual.

In only three months, Home Cooking seems to have resulted in a global online artist-run space. It’s been awakening to watch it grow from a seed into a self-propelling platform. I am giving a lot of my personal time away, but I am committed to making change as a sustainable part of my life, not an adjunct. This is a long-term plan, not a crash diet, I am not expecting results overnight. It is now July 2020, and some but not all countries have lifted their lockdown. Home Cooking is going on longer than anticipated, and the questions of money, time, and continued relevance must be interrogated. We are also well aware of contradictions in providing a ‘free content’ platform whilst expressing an urgent need to recognise artists’ labour, and are continually revising our own approach. What shape HC will take in the future is yet to be discovered as schedules fill back up and enforced distancing disappears. My hope is that it will provide a blueprint and move people to invent their own models. We can try to make visible the cracks hurting our communities, redistribute power, highlight unaccounted labour, and bring disparate minds together to make powerful ideas that no single body could make alone.

Marianna Simnett lives and works in London. Her interdisciplinary practice includes video, installation, performance, sculpture and watercolour. Simnett uses vivid and visceral means to explore the body as a site of transformation. Working with animals, children, organs, and often performing herself, Simnett imagines radical new worlds filled with untamed thoughts, strange tales and desires.

We Agile Cats, Camille Henrot

Marianna Simnett holding Winona the pigeon

Homebound Bat, Marianna Simnett

Your Wings Will Protect You, Marianna Simnett

Home Cooking Google doc (screenshot)

Elvira Dyangani interviewed by Asad Raza

Bird Cooking by nullo

Hans Ulrich Obrist interviewed by Asad Raza

Lewis Ronald, Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest, June 6 2020

Published: 2020.07.16