Before my trip, a friend told me that Bristol pays particular attention when it comes to urban design, and the participation of its citizens in shaping the use of public space.
When I arrived at Hart’s Bakery, located inside an arch that probably used to function as storage or a small shop under the bridge of Temple Meads, the old station of Bristol, I immediately asked questions about its story. Laura Hart, fifteen years a baker, opened this place almost a year and a half ago with a clear purpose to reclaim this area of the city, which is subject to increasing rental prices. As a bakery and a contested piece of land, this venture is reminiscent of last summer’s collaboration between Situations and Futurefarmers in the similarly contested Bjorvika area of Oslo, resulting in the Flatbread Society.
Finally I observed (in person) Amy’s charismatic presence, her ability to interact with local sensibilities and sites. The location choice – being neither an official art or culture venue – acted as a booster for local potential. Participants were able to re-connect with their local community, taking care and time to consider the event context.
With the intent to transform through the baking of bread, Futurefarmers landed in Bristol with their boat-oven. This is the most important of their props, performing as a paradigmatic bakehouse. These “pop-up bakehouses” sometimes use existing spaces and other times are built from scratch. They become stratagems to infiltrate spaces of controversy. And as symbolic shelters, they can become places to tell stories, which is what Amy Franceschini did for us in Bristol.
The characters in these tales flitted from a London baker who starts working at 11pm, as described by Marx in The Working Day, or the semi-mystical figure of Karp Lykow, who in 1963 escaped Bolshevism in the Siberian taiga with his family, and managed to survive thanks to a single grain of rye sprouted in his garden. In any case these “human vignettes” connect the audience to bread through with historical personal facts.
This proved to me how women can actually be seen as being catalysts for food related stories, connecting the past with the present. An interesting idea which could perhaps inform a survey about the existence of the real relation between genders and nutrition practices: from a domestic economy to sophisticated knowledges of alternative philosophies, ethics, lifestyle and new trends.
Opening up the issue of variety, distribution and ownership of grain seeds is incredibly hard to do, considering our reliance on mass products whose raw materials are not verifiable. Gene-banks: the treasures and the reservoirs of our civilization, are contextualized here as catalysts for many activities of human civilization: from the origin of the written word, which started with the act of making stocks of grains, to astronomy, whose primary role was to predict good harvests.
Invited to enact these topics with a simple game, the participants of this Public Art (Now) event found themselves making butter and baking balls of dough, creating a little universe of relations and interactions.
Far from being a formal launch or an artist talk, this meeting produced the immediate and palpable effect of a general satisfaction aided by human closeness, the re-discovery of ancient and genuine gestures connected to the fulfillment of collective practices. The quality of time that this kind of experience was able to generate became very personal, as a foreigner I could see an enthusiastic community who were excited to meet in this time and place. From an outside perspective I could see that the local people felt proud and engaged – perhaps these experiences are the cornerstones when considering the success of local action in the realm of socially engaged practice.
Emma I Panza
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