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notes

Leftovers Reincarnated

an interview with Pepe Dayaw, by Anette Kvaksrud Hansen
photos by Kevin Klein, published originally in Semi-Domesticated

 

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When I first met Pepe about a year ago, he was in the middle of a demonstration on cooking with leftovers for an upcoming workshop series. Moving vigorously as he transformed yesterday’s unwanted rice into a crunchy breaded dumpling, while enthusiastically telling a story about how he used rhubarb to replace unripened tamarind in a family recipe of sweet and sour soup, he said something that would forever change how I view food.

‘Food is just matter or liquid containing flavor,’ he said, ‘and if we learn to taste our food free of our preconceived notions of what goes with what, a whole world of new combinations become possible.’ My mind was officially blown. How could it be that something so seemingly obvious had never entered my mind? Maybe you think I’m exaggerating, but as someone who loves food and consider myself a fairly creative home cook, a part of my reality was shattered. ‘This guy is a genius,’ I thought, ‘I must talk to him about this’. And here we are.

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[…] when I started cooking with leftovers, or this idea of “leftovers,” I realized that leftovers don’t really exist—or it’s all there is.

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Pepe, can you tell us more about this idea of food as matter and how we can escape our prejudice?
Well, everything is matter that is either liquified or consolidated through time. The heat, time or other natural processes that are applied to this matter are what puts the food it the state that it’s currently in. This is beautiful because, if everything is made from the same stuff, but with nature’s conditions applied to them, giving them their distinct characteristics, it means that everything is diverse. This is interesting and important to me in relation to cooking, because when I started cooking with leftovers, or this idea of “leftovers,” I realized that leftovers don’t really exist—or it’s all there is.

If we abandon the superficial labels given to food—our learned ideas of food categorized into sweet, sour and salty and into proteins, carbs and fats—and go back to the actual experience of tasting and eating it, we can become aware of how it was formed, and allow ourselves to discover that so many other combinations are possible. We are all full of prejudice because we’ve learned so much about food growing up, it’s just hard for us to put certain things together. How can you put yourself in a place where you allow yourself to combine two things that you would never normally mix? That was where the idea of ‘cooking with what is there,’ took me.

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When you grow up in a country like the Philippines, everyone is always eating, and when they’re not, they’re talking about food, and everywhere you look, cooking is happening.

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You’re a performer and a dancer. What brought you to cooking?
After leaving the Philippines, I started feeling a strong nostalgia for food. When you grow up in a country like the Philippines, everyone is always eating, and when they’re not, they’re talking about food, and everywhere you look, cooking is happening. The disadvantage is that it’s so omnipresent that it becomes invisible, like water to a fish. It took me leaving these surroundings to realize how important food was to me. I was always surrounded by a lot of smells, but I never became aware if it until I was separate from it. I remember arriving in Europe and noticing that it smelled very different, mainly in that it smelled ‘less’. I started missing all of this, not just mentally, but physically—my body yearned for it. I realized that I needed to cook. I was living here by myself, while in the Philippines you’re always surrounded by family, even when you’re single, you have relationships with everyone. There’s this interconnectedness that you become really aware of when you all of a sudden don’t have it anymore.

As I was putting things together, like onions and garlic and ginger, I remembered, even though I had never done it before. I realized that I always had it there in the back of my mind, like an embodied memory. And as I started sautéing, another layer of memories were unveiled, because the smell is so strong, it makes you remember things in a different way.

In Berlin, I may not have access to the same ingredients as back home, and that’s where the aspect of improvisation comes in. When you touch and smell something, and you realize that something else can be used instead, such as rhubarb instead of unripened tamarind, it really excites me!

When I first started cooking, I only used the things I was brought up with—things that were imported to Germany from Asia. That’s what led me to doing cooking as a performance project. They both have to do with subjectivity and telling stories. This is again connected to memory, and how you construct images and stories in your head based on what you remember from the past. I immediately saw the performative aspect of cooking. I’m trained as a performer, meaning I use my body a lot, and cooking is physical on so many levels.

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I realized that I always had it there in the back of my mind, like an embodied memory. And as I started sautéing, another layer of memories were unveiled, because the smell is so strong, it makes you remember things in a different way.

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I’m glad you brought that up. I wanted to ask you about the similarities between dancing and cooking?
They’re both choreography. Choreo, which meaning time, and Graphy, a map of time. In dancing you use your body to map time. In cooking you use different tools, and instead of moving yourself within a space, you see and feel the transformation of the ingredients. It’s a beautiful way to map time. Performance for me is something I started doing because it is transformative, meaning it makes me keep revisiting who I am. The more I perform, the more I discover things about myself, so it’s also about repetition.

Cooking is very repetitive, but here, it’s important to not turn cooking into a routine, but instead let it become a ritual. We can do that with everything that we repeatedly do. If we are aware of our movements, they become a ritual. If we lose sight, they become routine.

Yes! And as soon as you make it a ritual it almost becomes a spiritual thing.
As soon as you become aware of it, yes. A lot in our society is trying to make [cooking] invisible. People start to think of time as something outside of them, something that they have to fit into. Something that they have to pursue. A frame that they have to not miss; Not miss the train, not miss the work, not to be late. Time becomes something external. With dancing or with cooking, you become aware of it again.

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Cooking is very repetitive, but here, it’s important to not turn cooking into a routine, but instead let it become a ritual. If we are aware of our movements, they become a ritual. If we lose sight, they become routine.

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You arrived at cooking from a theoretical standpoint, as an artist rather than a traditional chef, and I can tell that you’re really into etymology. The word leftovers, already puts the concept at a disadvantage, because it makes it sound superfluous—like something that can be easily wasted.
The development of language goes hand in hand with the way our society is conditioned, meaning our cultural conventions and language are intertwined.

For example, in the Philippines we use a lot of words relating to taste or smell, not just to describe food, but to speak of transcendental things like feelings, our feelings towards each other, the weather and even sexuality. For example, sourness connotes sexual ripeness, meaning a person is… how do you say it… good to go.

This is part of the things I started to observe after leaving the Philippines, and it has become an integral part of how I do research for my food related performances.

My interviewee just got done with lunch service at the Agora café and has cooked for hours, following a double shift in the kitchen for a big event the previous day, Pepe is surely ‘cooked out’ by now. Yet he still accepts my ‘fun challenge’ to whip up a small dish from a haphazard spread of leftovers and ingredients collected from my fridge at home, as well as whatever we could scavenge from the Agora café kitchen. 

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The development of language goes hand in hand with the way our society is conditioned, meaning our cultural conventions and language are intertwined.

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We start by tasting a sliver of Norwegian ‘brown cheese’ (a traditional, and sweet tasting cheese made from whey and goats milk) and talk about how food and certain flavors bring back memories.

I’m interested in your creative process? When you look at something like this spread of random foods, what goes through your mind? How do you decide what to make?
One of the first thing that I learned to develop is to say, ‘I don’t know’. With a lot of practice I learned that this point of departure is the window to creativity. For me, the enemy of creativity is over-thinking. This morning, for example, I was quite uninspired because I was tired after a long week of work and a late event last night. So, I told myself, “I don’t know what to do.”

The second most important thing that I recognized is the need to start doing something, even if you don’t know what to do. You have to keep going, even if you’re in despair. It was like that today, where some of what you do just ends up being reflex actions. But times like these are often when I’m the most creative.

And, out came the colorful and beautiful plate we just had for lunch!

It also has to do with leniency. I only had wine as a spice, all though I would have liked to have lemon and other stuff. But limitation is an important component. It’s nice to have a sense of limitation because when you limit yourself, what you’re actually limiting is your ego. Some of the most beautiful things I’ve created have come from surrendering to what is there.

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It’s nice to have a sense of limitation because when you limit yourself, what you’re actually limiting is your ego.

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When you cook with leftovers, you tend to make something completely different from what it was originally. It can be a challenge for most of us to see past the cold pizza or pasta in our fridges and make something other than re-heated pizza or pasta with it. Can you talk about the difference between ‘heating up’ leftovers and ‘cooking’ with leftovers?
Well, I think people are challenged by a linear framework of thinking. Things have a beginning and an end, and during its lifespan, it remains constant. To use the example of the pizza, it remains a pizza throughout its existence, and when you’re done eating what you want of it, there’s no new life after the death of your pizza. Once the rest is put into ‘the holy fridge’ you start to forget about it. This is what’s so problematic about leftovers—it becomes a valid excuse for wasting food. Because we are so closed off in our minds, there’s nothing new left to do with it anymore. Many live their lives like this as well. They’ll screw up and think, ‘my life is fucked now, there’s nothing I can do about it’. Many people are prisoners of this mindset. Pizza is just a metaphor.

People don’t give themselves second chances. But I heard this thing in meditation class, that when you think you have made a mistake or failed, it is just a matter of our own framework of thinking. What is failure and success anyway? It’s all a matter of perception—again it’s embedded in our language.

We always want to brand something as either good or bad—we want to give everything a label. The problem with leftovers also has to do with branding. Leftovers are misbranded. The work we need to do has to do with rebranding.

So would you want to change the name of leftovers to something else? What would you change it to?
That’s the thing. I don’t think that it needs a special name at all.

You’re saying we should just call it food?
Exactly! Calling it leftovers gives us the idea that it’s second rate food.

It’s interesting that a lot of very traditional dishes from around the world originate from leftovers. Different casseroles, paella, fried rice, shepherds pie and pizza are all dishes that were allegedly invented as a way to use up leftovers.
Yes, and another one of the national dishes of Spain, the Tortilla, is just made from potatoes, onions and eggs. Why? There are so many foods in Spain that are way more elaborate. Why is it potatoes and eggs? It’s often the simple, everyday stuff that becomes tradition.

Whenever I cook, people ask questions like, ‘What kind of cuisine is this?’ or, ‘What type of food is this?’, and I’ll say, ‘It’s Nowhere Kitchen’. When I started the residency at Agora too, they’d ask, ‘What’s the name of this dish?’ thinking that the specifics would help enhance their eating experience. We started doing a lot of stuff to change how people were asking about the food and it was really rewarding to not get asked those same questions anymore. Instead new questions arose like, ‘What’s in it?’ or ‘How was it made?’, which are much more interesting questions, because it keeps people curious.

My work is about changing people’s perception and how they view food. One thing I always get a lot as donations are cookie leftovers. You know, it’s a cookie, and for a lot of people, it’s hard to accept that it’s basically flour. Reconstituted flour. If it’s been constructed, you can deconstruct it, and when you deconstruct a cookie, you get flour that you can use for whatever you would use flour for. People will eat something rolled in ‘cookie flour’ and ask ‘Are you sure this has no meat?’ — ‘Yeah, it’s vegetarian.’ ‘Really? What’s in it?’. ‘Cookie’. But people will think it is chicken because the sweet cookie flour will remind them of some version of a chicken nugget or something.

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We want to give everything a label. The problem with leftovers also has to do with branding. Leftovers are misbranded.

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I wanted to ask you about food waste, which is obviously a huge problem in our society. You don’t talk about that much, but is there a political agenda behind what you do, or is that just a byproduct?
Each person’s individual choice of how they want to live their lives is the most political thing there is. If I can affect and inspire people to do something different with, and use up their leftovers by showing them what they already know how to do, then that is very political to me.

We tend to view politics as something that happens in parliament or in public spaces, but never in private homes and in people’s kitchens. But that’s often where the real politics is happening. Perhaps our unawareness of this is why we’re still struggling.

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Each person’s individual choice of how they want to live their lives is the most political thing there is.

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I’m watching Pepe, chopping up fennel and adding licorice powder.
I’m very curious what’s happening now—I love licorice!
I’m very curious too!

I’m worried about the brown cheese though… it’s one of those things that I grew up with and I have very set ideas of how it should be used. You’re shattering my reality once again.
I’m starting to get afraid…

A fanciful plate of seemingly mismatched ingredients is presented before me and I can’t help but ask, ‘So, what kind of cuisine is this, Pepe?’.
It’s Nowhere Kitchen. Now, do you dare to try it?

15 July 2016, shot at Agora Collective, Mittelweg 50, Berlin.


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notes

Leftover

Leftover is perhaps a term we encounter everyday. They have always been there. However, what it refers to has also varied through temporal contexts, cultural habits and semiotic values born out of these habits. Yet we recognize their presence: quiet (sometimes invisible) archives that mark our human choreographies of production and consumption that remain unfinished or open-ended. Not just of food but of life itself. ‘Leftover’ is a descriptive notion to our subjective choices that amount to collective excesses. Our lives are decorated by persisting things, relations, businesses and memories. We are in fact living remains of the past. In food, leftover has become a mark of our moral and ethical judgment towards the material. It reveals our agency of the meanings we ascribe to a material in relation to our values of time and space.

The English etymology of the word ‘leftover’ referring to excess food was first used in the late 19th century. The context of its use coincided with progressive forms of food storage industrialisation (i.e. invention of the fridge, then tupperware, then seram wrap, then microwave, then doggy bag). It also manufactured with it a general public excuse to routinise choreographies of consumption and its other: waste. Today, ‘leftover’ is assigned as a (generally pejorative) value to food that we have failed or forgotten to eat. Its notion has become a semiotic by-product of modern time appropriated by current and still dominant agencies of neo-liberal capitalism. While the culture of leftover and its cooking are considered mundane, often invisible and ignored; they can also be peripheral documents of human disempowerment: of our persisting malaise with the processes of production that has gotten out-of-hand. In rural areas where people are still in touch with the processes of self-sustenance, leftover does not really exist, or it is simply all there is. Like in the little village where my mother was born, leftover is referred to as tada, something that one leaves behind for the next cycle of usage, and hence intrinsically forms part of the circular economy of living.

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notes

Serendipity

Serendipity refers to occurrences of unexpected encounters, pleasant surprises and accidental discoveries or ‘eureka’ moments. They are delicate phenomena that create such an impact to the recipient of the experience precisely because of the uncertainty that precedes its advent. he earliest recorded use of the word ‘serendipity’ dates back to 18th century, when art historian Horace Walpole mentioned it in a letter, and was said to be derived from a Persian fairy tale ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’ who in the story “were always making discoveries, by accidents…of things they were not in quest of”. Serendipity is how we identify (always later on) that which we could not identify yet at the point of encounter but nevertheless are immediately embodied. And naming it becomes an afterthought that belongs to and populates our memories and histories.

Serendipity, like leftover, is another loose fiction. Both are notions of time, a signification of value born out of a happening. It synthetically frames as fortuitous an accident, meaning a constellation of circumstances emerging beyond rational intentions. It is not the pure experience itself rather its afterthought that colours a pure memory into a fictive narrative. Leftover and serendipity represent a spectrum of value that is activated by human moral agency.

In this global age of transition that cries out for solutions towards crises of excesses and failed distributions (i.e. consumerism, passive spectatorship) that our previous paradigms have firmly solidified, how can a practice as simple as the renewal of perspectives towards ‘leftovers’ be a pretext for rehearsing sustainable and micro-political modalities of democracy (human empowerment)? This project is an ongoing investigation into the undercurrent psychogeographies of cultural production, focusing on deriving a philosophical learning practice of researching with what we call leftovers and cultivating conditions that rehearse and produce what we call serendipities. Through an improvisatory process of performing with / cooking (leftovers) that relies on the rubrics of learning by doing and making something with what is already there, I set out to facilitate the creation of choreographic architectures I call nowhere kitchens as discursive unfinished platforms for re-cooking persisting paradigms of design and choreography into renewed and renewable thresholds of knowledge.

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notes

the cooking body

an introduction

a history of cooking is a history of feelings. sensations felt by the body while submitted to the alchemic process of fire, water, air, metal, earth and heart into one series of rituals. it is in fact a theatre of a thousand acts, and one could break it down based on the feelings authored by the cook or cooks. this is one human act where we have learned to integrate into a choreographic process the act of creation. Feelings sparked into a desire, desire turning into an intention, intention unfolding into acts, acts that lead to new branches of acts, processes of doing and doing nothing, an endearing collaboration between the patient human body and time. cooking nourished us. it is the meeting place between life and death, sacrifice and survival. We learned to cook and eat what is there in order to survive. hence, cooking is a history of survival. and it is the rituals of survivals that has defined us as humans. both our longing for love and our greediness. its a long story. it has many stories.

now here. to tell my story of cooking, i have to begin from my own voice and experiences of surviving. the knowledge of survival comes out of living and overcoming. hunger for example. have you ever lived a dramatic experience of hunger? do you remember how it felt? i was six when i was woken up by my mother one early morning. we were living then in the island where she was born and where i spent a good part of my childhood. she told me to get up and go to our neighbor’s house and hand them a letter. our neighbor was my first grade teacher and her son was my bestfriend then whom i always go to school with. we would walk through rice fields and i remember we always talked about the dream of eating pizza and rootbeer.

i reached the neighbor’s house and as I came in, i could smell the fried garlic that is now flavoring the fried old rice from yesterday, there was fried dried fish, eggs, and tomatoes. i stood in front of the family as they were having breakfast. while i handed my teacher the letter, i became aware of my hunger. my teacher read the letter and after what seemed like a while, she said, ‘i’m sorry, we dont have extra money to borrow you, but we can give you three cups of uncooked rice.’ I was fully awake now. and i became aware of a feeling of shame. i realized then, that that morning, we had no rice left to eat. we had nothing to eat. later that day, i found 50 centavos that was good enough to buy a line of oil and a line of soy sauce so that we can flavor the rice. i do not question the conditions of how we ended up there, but i believe this is one of my first profound artistic moments. made of precarity and hunger it is one of those circumstances that made me aware that we could not have everything. and that we have to work with what is there. the ingredients: neighbor, a little oil, a little soy sauce. it was delicious.

little did i know that this story would inspire me to start cooking for and with other people. the seed idea of cooking leftovers, which would become one of my main currencies in life, came from that day. it awakened slowcooked longings, that would lead me, with my own micropolitical intentions and impulses to travel from one place to another, and closer and closer to my nomadic search of home. hunger catalysed for me an attitude that would inform my life design.

i have been to many places and have met and cooked for many people. hunger enrolled me into the school of life, and there i met many friends called serendipities, or to say it more appropriately and fittingly, napadpad ako dito. in the process, i would unravel a different story of colonization. one that is made of love, desire and longing. this is the story that i would like to tell. slowly slowly. the history of cooking.

to be continued…

photo: Mari Sierra. taken from Spice Routes, performance by Pepe Dayaw, Entretempo Gallery, Berlin, 2014

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Prayers for Sun

Dinner and Voices
with Pepe Dayaw and Friends

25 March, Sunday, 7pm

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In one’s naive mind, dreams are often animated fantasies that take lives of their own and just flow gently without consequence. Until the religion of experience brings forth what we could not yet feel when we are only dreaming. The stinging cold. The harsh falls. The improvisations. Dreams awakening into reality are like monsters that wreak a havoc. It disorients. The body our sanctuary becomes the eye of the storm. This is the path towards dream weaving that is beyond the happy endings. We don’t tend to inhabit this dark area. It is real. The most delicate task is to receive it as it truly is. To undress it of our frightened clothes. In the heart of nakedness, there is no fear.

When storms arise, to pray is what children’s do. They ask while they do not seek anything in return. As if the act itself is already the fortification. While religions are lost, prayers survive.

This Sun Day, join us in an intimate service, a buffet of tastes and voices in many tongues redeeming the delicate beauty of prayer.

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SARI-SARI SALON, Lichtenrader Str 49

Cookery led by Pepe Dayaw starts at 5pm
Bread and Butter at 6pm
Buffet served at 7pm
Voices and Prayers at 8pm
Featuring meLe yamomo, Danilo Timm and more surprises…

Suggested Participation, 8-11 euros
pay more or less according to your heart and budget
We are open to accept other currencies and special exchanges
This event is a little fundraiser for Pepe Dayaw.

Inquires: nowherekitchen@gmail.com

Photo: Marie Capesius

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#Unlearning in the 21st Century Economy: Lessons from a Vietnamese Spring Roll

  • from Marjorie Brans, a guest of a Nowhere Kitchen dinner that served ‘Social Rolls’ inspired by the Vietnamese rice paper rolls. Originally published by the author in 11 January 2017, two years after attending this dinner.

A few years ago, I attended a formal business dinner with a surprise: guests were to prepare the meal.

On the menu? Vietnamese gỏi cuốn spring rolls.

The challenge announced, my heart swelled with dismay and delight. My father hails from Saigon, and I have fond memories of sitting at our vinyl-covered kitchen table wrapping noodles, fresh herbs, and morsels of shrimp and pork into pretty parcels of rice paper.

But, I had a bad feeling about this group’s culinary skills. I suspiciously surveyed the dining room, studying people’s hands for tell-tale signs they could tightly roll a burrito. Unable to identify competent burrito hands, I doubled my napkin over my trousers.

The ingredients arrived for inspection. In addition to the expected Vietnamese elements were ingredients outrageously foreign to my father’s homeland cuisine. Piled high on platters were stacks of grape leaves from the Middle East and seaweed sushi paper from Japan. There were also peaches and lemons. Guacamole. CHEESE. My lactose intolerant ancestors rolled over, offended, in their graves.

I shall spare you the description of the gong show, gỏi cuốn rolling session that transpired. Suffice it to say that after 90 minutes of hard labour, people had worked up a serious appetite, and it came time to taste the chaos.

I cautiously lifted a mess of a wrap to my lips, sniffed, and plunged my teeth into the chewy mass.

The roll was delectable. The combination of guacamole, peach, shrimp, and Vietnamese fish sauce was surprisingly complex and pleasant: salty, sweet, sour, and spicy. Not a single one of the rolls was bad, even where the stuffing had half slipped out.

That dinner humbled me. Unlike my non-Vietnamese fellow diners, I had been blinded to the potential of the ingredients laid before us.

As a self-styled gỏi cuốn expert, I had misunderstood the goal of the culinary challenge: it was not to reproduce a Southeast Asian dish faithfully, but simply to make a delicious meal and make new friends. Framing the problem too narrowly, I had spent the last 90 minutes fretting about what seemed ill-advised ingredient decisions.

Starting January 19, the School for Social Entreprenuers Ontario will be launching its “Unlearning Series” of workshops. As we gear up the program, I’ve returned to this thought-provoking dinner as a metaphor for #unlearning.

Paradigm-shattering, fusion cuisine offers lessons that humans of the 21st Century economy must master. We are all experts in how the world works today. But our emerging reality of automation, technological evolution, climate change, globalization, and shocking politics is a so-called Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.

Noted futurist and author Alvin Toffler writes in Future Shock: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Nearly 40 years after Toffler offered that prediction, humanity finds itself at a key turning point in history. Before us stands a chaotic, colorful buffet of social ingredients. We can continue combining these elements in traditional and familiar ways, blinded to the full range of delightful, novel blends. But we will also continue achieving results that are less and less up to the needs of our world.

Or we could all learn to unlearn. Unlearning is about altering our conception of how the world works and could work. Have we defined society’s goals too narrowly? Are we underestimating the potential of whole categories of people and institutions? Are we individually capable of achieving what we deem unthinkable for ourselves?

Unlearning is a skill that allows us to see past our socially conditioned worldview to one that opens up new a universe of possibility. Unlearning is difficult, but if those sloppy spring rolls have anything to teach us, the results can be deliciously worthwhile.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/unlearning-21st-century-economy-lessons-from-vietnamese-brans?articleId=7845509337965308152

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notes

Sari-Sari. A Home for Cooking and Many Things

Photo: Marie Capesius

After 5 years of nomadic cooking, various encounters around the world, Nowhere Kitchen finds itself a little homebase in Berlin. A space that one could call home, a beautiful leftover from other cooking serendipities. Welcome home to Sari-Sari! We dedicate it as a salon for diverse cooking stories, theatres and pop-up projects. Everyone has something to cook, everyone has something to say.

‘Sari-Sari’ is a word that means ‘many things’ or ‘many dishes in one plate’. In the Philippines, it takes the form of a self-made mini grocery store of everything, eatery and meeting place. It is usually built right in one’s house in a part facing the street. Benches are placed in front so the customers keep the shop owner company, in the process of buying, eating or drinking something, or simply hanging out to have conversations. By day it is a store (tindahan) and lunch place (turo-turo). By night it is a huntahan (meeting place), where people gather to sing, talk, eat and drink the night away. It is a multi-purpose place that can extend its possibilities according to the needs of its community so barber cuts, karaoke sessions, t.v. screenings, can all be part of the repertoire.

It is the inspiration for our multi-purpose room where cooking is the simple base of telling stories in different ways. Hosted by Pepe Dayaw, Danilo Timm and friends, the house of Sari-Sari is envisioned as a commune for collective cooking and cultures, learning and exchange. It is not for profit, and is meant to create room for cooking projects and community life sustained by its performers and publics.

Sari-Sari
Lichtenrader Strasse 49, 12049 Berlin

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Pepe Dayaw / Agora Cook-in-Residence

Pepe Dayaw at Agora

Agora FOOD is a platform that brings together initiatives engaged to explore current approaches to food. Through various projects, Agora FOOD intends to create a place for exchange and development of people engaged in innovative forms of thinking, producing, cooking and consuming food. Agora’s kitchen – part studio, part laboratory – has become a place where notions of collaboration, self-organisation and sustainability are put into practice. At the heart of this is the Cooks in Residency Program.

The residency is a practical research-based 3 month long program. In close collaboration with the Food Assembly, a local food distribution social platform in Berlin, Agora invites a resident chefs and curate their cooking as a form of research and while doing so, find organic ways to integrate and collaborate with ongoing contexts within the Agora community and beyond. Aside from creating daily lunches at the restaurant, the resident will also participate in workshops designed by guest artists and some of the former resident chefs. During the residency, the chef will be given the opportunity to present / share their work through other formats as well, such as creating their own workshops / laboratories, designing a Pop-up Dinner, collaborating with another artist in the Foreplay series; or coming up with a fresh whole new format. This way, the chefs not only cook and develop their work, but also participate in the ongoing evolution of the platform.

Agora’s Mission

Agora FOOD is on a path to become a sustainability and circular economy platform, therefore Agora’s cook residents will participate, contribute and learn in line with our values of collaboration, self-organization and sustainability.

Pepe Dayaw Foodleft. Nowhere Kitchen. Photo by Ilya Noe

From September to December 2015, Pepe Dayaw and his platform Nowhere Kitchen is Agora’s cook-in-residence and will serve daily lunch improvisations while developing practical research on ‘leftovers’ or what he frames as ‘Cooking the Commons’.

Mondays to Fridays, 12nn to 4pm
Agora Cafe, Mittelweg 50, 12053 Berlin – Neukolln

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Cooking the Commons

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Synopsis

The English etymology of the word ‘leftover’ referring to excess food was first used in the late 19th century. The context of its use coincided with progressive forms of food storage industrialisation (i.e. invention of the fridge, then tupperware, then seram wrap, then microwave, then doggy bag). It also manufactured with it a general public excuse to routinise choreographies of consumption and its other: waste. Today, ‘leftover’ is assigned as a (generally pejorative) value to food that we have failed or forgotten to eat. Its notion has become a semiotic by-product of modern time appropriated by current and still dominant agencies of neo-liberal capitalism. While the culture of leftover and its cooking are considered mundane, often invisible and ignored; they can also be peripheral documents of human disempowerment: of our persisting malaise with the processes of production that has gotten out-of-hand. In rural areas where people are still in touch with the processes of self-sustenance, leftover does not really exist, or it is simply all there is. Like in the little village where my mother was born, leftover is referred to as tada, something that one leaves behind for the next cycle of usage, and hence intrinsically forms part of the circular economy of living.

Serendipity, like leftover, is another loose fiction. Both are notions of time, a signification of value born out of a happening. It synthetically frames as fortuitous an accident, meaning a constellation of circumstances emerging beyond rational intentions. It is not the pure experience itself rather its afterthought that colours a pure memory into a fictive narrative. Leftover and serendipity represent a spectrum of value that is activated by human moral (non)agency.

In this global age of transition that cries out for solutions towards crises of excesses and failed distributions (i.e. consumerism, passive spectatorship) that our previous paradigms have firmly solidified, how can a practice as simple as the renewal of perspectives towards ‘leftovers’ be a pretext for rehearsing sustainable and micro-political modalities of democracy (human empowerment)? This project is an ongoing investigation into the undercurrent psychogeographies of cultural production, focusing on deriving a philosophical learning practice of researching with what we call leftovers and cultivating conditions that rehearse and produce what we call serendipities. Through an improvisatory process of performing with / cooking (leftovers) that relies on the rubrics of learning by doing and making something with what is already there, I set out to facilitate the creation of choreographic architectures I call nowhere kitchens as discursive unfinished platforms for re-cooking persisting paradigms of design and choreography into renewed and renewable thresholds of knowledge.

Research Question

The threshold being for Agamben ‘the experience of the limit itself’ (67), how could inhabiting margins of ‘leftover states’ become liminal spaces for rehearsing strategies for a subjective polysingular human agency? When successful neo-liberal schemes and leftover old world traditions have cultured many citizens into spectatorship and arrested their capacity to use intuition in having a hand with their own spectacles, how do emergent social possibilities involved in ‘cooking together’ and its derivative philosophies produce platforms of dialogue and open learning that serves as observatory of the commons? This research is about bridging connections between practical experiences of artistic creation (cooking & eating) and its theorisation that can nourish other disciplines and facilitate fresh structures of collaboration (digestion & rumination) that expands beyond food.

Cooking as a daily practice is a declining urban ritual. This scenario has much to do with normativized choreographies of living: it takes time to cook and our modern designs have been shortcutting its process to the bare minimum. And while there is a resurgent popularisation in media of food and the canonisation of high profile chefs as the current trend of celebrated Artists, these only flirt towards a re-spectacularisation of food that has all the tendency to separate the citizens “from both the capacity to know and the power to act (Rancière, 3)’ within their own relatively unspectacular kitchens. Leftovers are archives of modern notions of time that is synchronic with the devaluation of the citizens’ daily choices. They attest to the wasted margins of consumption that have subjected people into a deeper and more spiritual crisis of passivity. Could the notion of leftovers be redeemed not as a limiting border but as a threshold of opportunity?

The idea of cooking the commons manifested three years ago as a DIY art project Foodleft involving cooking with leftovers. While residing in Madrid during the height of its economic crisis, it became an auspicious opportunity to enact such an intuition. Inspired by a curiosity to occupy intimate spaces of a ‘public’ that was (is) collectively living it, the project was created as an enquiry into the subjective notions of crisis through the simple act of cooking in people’s homes. It invited participants to inhabit ephemeral states of uncertainty. The practice evolved as an itinerant performance that occupied any given context: museums, academic conferences, congresses, aseemblies, festivals etc. Sustained renewals of this ritual created for me an evolving ‘leftover philosophy’ and brought me to the premise of cooking the commons: while indeed too many cooks spoil the broth, perhaps it could open an opportunity to create a whole new something else, something else that is yet to belong to official categories.

Within a practice-as-research frame, I set out to perform an expedition to explore ‘this whole new something else’ applying intuitive knowledge that can be summarised as ‘cooking without a recipe’. I present these micro-political kitchen processes as artistic collaborative explorations from which to develop precarious technologies of cooking to forge new collaborations that can have deeper macro-political outcomes.

Background

During my M.A., I became passionate with contemporary theories on nomadism. Through my dissertation where I examined cases of performance artists and their negotiation with shifting identities, I came across the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, Rosi Braidotti, and Guy Debord. Later on, I did a 10-month Practice-as-Research Master program in Madrid and during this period, my interests grew towards developing cooking performances. This brought me to critical theories towards socially-engaged art practices from Nicolas Bourriaud, Claire Bishop, and Shannon Jackson. Nowhere Kitchen situates itself along these web of knowledge and proposes a fresh perspective of social engagement from a most unlikely source (leftover improvisations).

The choice of leftovers as departure point to engage in art practice relocates the notion of rehearsal as performance. It is about producing participatory processes that are “directly incorporated into the living attitudes” (Rancière, 4) of those involved. Nowhere Kitchens hence are as much performances as they are rehearsals of living that maps an observant kind of researching together and relies its efficacy upon failure and redemption. It’s basic rubric entails a nomadic attitude that empowers one to improvise with the given situation. The term ‘nomadic’ represents a performative aspect of learning-by-doing “that allows for otherwise unlikely encounters and unsuspected sources of interaction of experience and of knowledge” (Braidotti, 6). Whatever transpires in these conditions serve as an invitation to the ‘advent’ (Badiou, 122) of the incalculable serendipity.

The artist, according to Joseph Kosuth manifests its theories in praxis; an ‘anthropologist engaged…that depicts while alters society’ (in Johnstone, 182). An artist-as-anthropologist’s work breathes on ‘a dialectical relationship with the activity’s historicity and the social fabric of present day reality’ (183). The ‘artist’ in question does not pertain to a special kind of person, but to any person becoming a special kind of artist. And the ‘anthropology’ in question does not pertain to the pursuit of the exotic, but what George Perec neologised as ‘endotic’, an anthropology that we can consider our own, ‘one that will speak about us, will look in ourselves for what for so long we’ve been pillaging from others’. Within these frames, nowhere kitchens are rituals that activate knowledge-in-progress as actions and discourses towards empowerment. nowhere kitchens are designed as lightweight experiences that open up the palatable possibility of inhabiting palpable universes lying in between the mundane and the spectacular, between leftover and serendipity. Within this in-between, we investigate the ontology of knowledge itself and re-assess our notion of the human (homo sapiens) as one who can cook (homo coquus), not only its food, but also its own future histories.

Berlin, 2014. Last edited August 2015

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dayaw / cooking the filipino contemporary

Berlin, June 2015

jeepney stew series
POP-UP KITCHEN / ‘Dayaw’
Next: 24 June 2015, Markthalle Neun, Berlin
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Photos: Kay Abaño

‘Dayaw’ means to come together in celebration. When Filipinos gather, they don’t really say ‘how are you?’ to greet each other. They would instead utilise ‘kumain ka na?’ (have you eaten?) as a way of initiating a dialogue. This cultural detail reveals how important food is as a social glue in defining an experience or making something happen. Inspired by this as well as by his own personal migrations, Pepe Dayaw cooks a pop-up kitchen project that fuses stories, tastes and rhythms together in an attempt to bring Filipino contemporary into the ongoing currents of the Spice Routes.

Dayaw 01

Performing ‘cuisine’ as social engagement

Cooking cultures are living archives of people’s movements. Beneath a brand of identity (i.e. Filipino) that encrusts a cuisine lies a complex stew of accidents, contradictions, assimilations, migrations and appropriations that are made possible through choreographies or spectrums of desire and politics. The Dayaw pop-up kitchen brings these discourses onto the dining table by appropriating cuisine as a sensate meeting place to research what authentic means when one talks about food. In a topic as multi-layered as ‘Filipino cuisine’, authenticity perhaps does not essentially occur in exacting a specific dish that has been cooked ‘over there’ (because traditions merely arise from inventions and serendipities) but in translating its conditions into a savory happening that belongs to the now here. Through and beyond food, this pop-up experience is a collage of rituals, sensuality and rhythmic fusions that through cooking makes humans, whether Filipino or otherwise, come together to celebrate (dayaw).

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