British School at Rome
September 2022 – June 2023
Part 3. 29th March – June 27th 2023
Both finding it frustrating not to be able to access kitchens in Rome; due to health and safety restrictions; to get hands on experience with food, such as to be a volunteer in a pizzeria or work in a bakery; we decided to meet up and cook together, bringing our wealth of hands-on material experience into the kitchen to see where it takes us.
Liza and I meet every few weeks to cook. We have made traditional Italian bakes, such as sfonliatelle and castagnaccio, and explored the innards of a lamb to make coratella and sausages. We have made garum (salty fishy sauce), pasta, bread, jam and lots of other experimental food with a range of locally sourced ingredients, pushing and challenging our skills and learning from each other.
She has a similar approach to food as I do, engaging with food in different and experimental ways, then absorbing the experiences into our art practices.
I have documented these cooking days on my Tenderfoot website – DIWO – Cooking Together
During my time in Italy I have attended food workshops on how to make cheese, pasta, mozzarella, bread and so on. This kind of impact brings different knowledge to my art practice.
I have been experiencing and learning a range of hands-on food skills, from cheesemaking, pasta, pizza, jam and honey production. I have taken courses and worked with a range of experts and enthusiasts, learning about artisan food products and processes.
Attending food workshops is for me an important part of my practice, the fieldwork that informs what I do in the studio. I’m continually developing a non-linguistic speech of the body through my material encounters, exploring different ways to handle stuff, influenced by these experiences.
Part 2. January 3rd – 29th March 2023
From the humble and utilitarian nature of the sampietrini (basalt cobble stones that cover the streets of historical Rome), to the elevated sculptures of Bernini, Rome is full of these kinds of extreme material juxtaposition, antiquity colliding with the everyday wherever you turn. I observe this each time I walk into Piazza Navona, a man selling roasted chestnuts, behind him towers Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. The smouldering nuts break out of their hot shells resting in a large metal pan, Bernini’s travertine and marble sculpture washed over with water, dramatic and overbearing. The ephemeral meets the historical, both seductive, both important, both resilient, both vulnerable and both an intrinsic part of the city.
I’m interested in the collision of different materials and their associations. Bernini was quoted to have said he was “making stone as obedient to the hand as if it were dough.” This connection between the everyday material of dough and the valuable marble of Carrara, understood to both having unique material qualities. I’m interested in bringing these two materials into the same arena, manipulating dough beyond its familiar culinary use, but shaping it into folds, twisting it like fabric while been compelled and guided by its awkward material nature, not to be controlled or fixed, unlike stone!
Once I have mixed up my dough I intermittently fold in food colouring to create marbled veins running through the material. The dough then appears like precious stone, but also like aged meat marbled with white fat, or sections of mature cheese marbled with blue mold. I’m interested in the precarious similarities and divisions between materials. How values and histories connected to materials and the objects/forms that define them can be tested, and our assumptions and associations to them challenged.
To read Laura’s full text, ‘Stone – Sampietrini to Bernini’ go to https://tenderfoot.co.uk/rome/
Part 1. September 26th – December 18th 2022
Wherever I go, make work, live I immerse myself in the materiality of a place – touching, smelling, listening to the materials around me. Rome is a bounteousness of material experience, from walking on the sampietrini, the basalt cobblestones that guide and trip me up through the historical streets, to the abundance of food in the markets and the complex material layering of old and new architecture. I have spent a lot of my time in Rome, walking, walking and walking, sucking up the materials around me, experiencing their impact on me – physically, emotionally and psychologically.
A fascination with the material Salt bought me to Rome, looking at it from a historical perspective, such as the Ancient Roman salt trade, the famous Via Salaria (salt route), its use in food production from curing meats, fermenting fish, ageing and ripening cheese and in ancient times for preserving wine, and as a gritty sculptural material that aggressively corrodes or delicately preserves materials it comes into contact with.
Since being in Rome I have become particularly fascinated by the production, display and consumption of food, spending hours in markets, salumeris and delis watching people prepare food – cutting vegetables, slicing and portioning meat and fish, the passing of goods from producer to consumer. I am learning food processes such as handmade pasta techniques through the eyes and hands of food experts and spend time reflecting on my eating experiences in restaurants, on the streets and in the BSR kitchen, all of which gets digested and absorbed into my studio practice and writing.
I take processes from food production as well as other hands on skills, implementing them into my art practice. For example, skills learnt on a professional patisserie course and techniques learnt from a chocolatier before I came to Rome, have re-surfaced in my handing of materials in the studio, such as to challenge the dexterity of my fingertips – a skill essential for making pastry cases and chocolate decorations.
Since being in Rome my experiments with making pasta, and ongoing skills working with dough to make bread, have expanded into my handling of salt dough in the studio. The privilege of recently working alongside cook and food writer Rachel Roddy making handmade pasta in her home in Testaccio – orecchiette and taglitelli, and developing my own large ‘tongue’ shaped pasta at the BSR has fed into unruly dough objects that now fill my studio here, cascading over furniture and down walls.
Dough is an amazing and awkward material to work with – elasticated, robust, instable and changeable, like working with a living organism. Salt goes some way to harden and preserve this uncontrollable matter, but it has its own life and I’m learning to collaborate with it.
Using dough as my medium over the past three months I have been both making pasta for consumption on a table in the studio, and on the floor sculptures, (although I feel the pasta on the table is probably as much sculpture as those on the floor!) I apply and shift my hands-on skills and techniques from one experience into the other. Stretching, rolling, tearing dough on different scales with different intentions. It is as much a shift of the head as it is the hands – food to sculpture and back to food, with thoughts about, value, consumption and food commodification.
Dough is handled in so many different ways across cultures for making bread, pasta, flatbreads… It is a language that connects people. One of the reasons I like to use materials such as dough is for its accessibility, its cheap and humble ingredients (flour, water and salt) that are familiar and every-day, opening up an empathy and physical connection between artworks and viewer.
I am also exploring other food processes, such as curing meat. Learning methods from experts while also throwing away the rule book. When I first arrived at the BSR I cured pancetta, that surprisingly for my first attempt tasted pretty good. I’m now thinking of all sorts of other meats and vegetables I can cure without being too bound to a recipe book. I have also enrolled myself onto a professional salami course in Tuscany in March – where I will be learning how to produce mortadella and various other cured meats and sausages.
My studio practice is entangled with a writing practice. I publish my writing on a website called Tenderfoot, which is an ongoing project that explores materiality through a digital space. It is also a space where I invite artists, makers and researchers to contribute, and a hub for discussions on materiality and documentation of my fieldwork, workshops and events I run.
Somewhere before, between and after the table dough (for making pasta) and floor dough (to make sculpture) I have been writing on Tenderfoot, exploring my relationships with various material encounters in Rome. These written unravelling’s on my material engagements are a means to delve in, unpack and question my encounters with places and the stuff in them, whether that be my regular visits to food markets, walking on the sampietrini, or making more of my ‘too big for the mouth’ pasta!