By a small bakery, tucked under the bridge of Temple Meads train station stood a boat from which smoke drifted into the afternoon sky. Around it, a small crowd was gathering.
Sometimes it is the little things that most draw our attention. In a city renowned for it’s relationship with public art, my journey to Hart’s Bakery had led me through the city centre and past various permanent works – including a giant mirror ball and the horn bridge – but I was on the search for something more subtle.
Amy Franceschini began Situation’s second Public Art (Now) Live Event by introducing us to The Flatbread Society, a project developing a public bakehouse and grain field on Oslo’s waterfront. She spoke of ancient grains, the heat of the bakehouse and the Vavilov Institute in Leningrad.* The narrative provided, and soup eaten, the space was cleared.
We seek the connectedness of things as a means to further understand the world around us. A quick introduction to sociometry found the audience suitably mapped into planets and stars, depending on their connections with each other at that moment. The stars made the butter, and the planets began rolling out flatbread under the careful guidance of the Futurefarmers. The process felt meticulous, crafted and carefully considered. Each step had its own tool – from brushes to prevent too much flour blackening in the heat, to beautifully crafted rolling pins that marked the dough in neat rows.
Claire Doherty, in her introduction, descibed the boat oven as a sort of ‘Pied Piper’, and so it was that the boat became the gathering point as we crowded round to sample our collective efforts. Simple things taste best when you have lent a hand in the making. The dough of the flatbread was made using those same ancient grains delivered from the Vavilov Institute, lovingly grown in a field-allotment in Oslo before the journey to Bristol placed their narrative firmly within the thoughts (and stomachs) of all in attendance.
The event dispersed naturally, almost as seeds in the wind, and I trailed my way back – slightly sticky with honey – passing by community veg patches in the park and cafés displaying their food travel miles. Bristol’s independent café culture is very much in-tune with increased sustainability, and a palpable connection to food production, providing something of a wider context for Futurefarmers’ Boat Oven.
Contemporary art is often seen as increasingly abstracted from everyday existence, but public artworks like this step up to the challenge of exploring, engaging, discussing, questioning and creating change in society. Franceschini and the Futurefarmers do not provide answers, but instead create experiences through which, by participation, we can grow insight, understanding and perhaps, create more questions.
Katie J Anderson
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