Constant and inevitable feature of the history of humanity is its not only physical, biological, natural but above all cultural evolution, the eyes with which we look and relate to the world. These changes are particularly evident in our body. I refer not only to the modification of aesthetic canons, to the diseases that put it to the test and deteriorate it. But for something different, think, for example, of the all contemporary duality between real and virtual body. Another element in which the changes I said are particularly obvious is the food: from an element of pure nutrition today we find ourselves faced with a society, a consumerist system that in food (that is what feeds us) has its worst repercussions horrors.
Body and food are two main components of the artistic practice of the Spanish artist Rosalia Banet who is concluding her artistic residence at the Helsinki Cable Factory in Finland thanks to the HIAP, Helsinki International Artist Program, and the collaboration of the Consorci de Museus de la Generalitat Valenciana. I met Rosalia Banet and asked her some questions about her recent project.
Your project created on the occasion of this residence is titled El imperio del estòmago (the empire of the stomach). Can you tell us something about this project?
El imperio del estómago is a reflection on the current food system, on the importance of choosing food and its consequences both for us and for the environment. The project is divided into two parts. The first one is a portrait of the food system and, at the same time, an approach to today's society and to the individual. This first phase is composed of different series of works on paper of different sizes, painted with acrylics and colored pencils, which represent the food system as a hungry, dissatisfied and insatiable monster, a system increasingly distant from human beings and nature. They are very personal and poetic works, with a huge symbolic burden, and they use different parts of the digestive system to represent the entire food system. As a starting point, I borrowed from Japanese culture the term “Hara Guroi”, which literally means black stomach and is used to talk about bankers, corrupt politicians and other criminals. It helps me to define the functioning of the food system and the behavior of a large part of the food industry.
The second part of the project addresses more specific questions about food. Issues related to the unsustainable amount of waste we generate, the food imbalance, the balance between hunger and excess, or the manipulation of the food industry. In this sense, I have developed some videos as Messages-Food that reflect on the bombardment of food messages that we receive daily. To make this video, during the first month of residence in Helsinki, I gathered all the messages about the food I found around me: when I was going to shop, go for a walk, visit a museum or a business meeting.
Messages found on the streets, at bus stops but also inside trams, in restaurants, cafes, bars, etc. The result was hundreds of messages inviting us to eat more and more. Contradictory messages that confuse and deceive. For the video, I wrote the messages found in the advertisements on 35 white shirts and during the recording I wore all the shirts. The action simulated the entrance of food into our body and emphasized how the food industry, in addition to filling our stomachs, fills our mind. To reach our stomach, they must first reach our thoughts and emotions. I am currently working on two other videos and developing new series of drawings and sculptures, so the project will be developed further in the coming months.
The project also speaks of "comfort food", that is emotional food, what is it?
It seems that today we have a huge need to nourish not only our body, but our emotions. We live in a time of wonder and anxiety and food has become a refuge from all our ills. Eating is much more than nourishing the body, with food we also satisfy other intimate needs. In fact, physical and emotional eating are deeply connected. Since food is something that goes beyond what is strictly biological, it is a social and cultural fact that is intertwined with our beliefs and experiences, our thoughts and feelings. The first intimate contact we have with another human being is linked to nourishment and the memory of food is rooted in emotions. This is why food has an important symbolic burden that comes from our memories, which calms us down by remembering the past, the lived, the safe, what is part of our bases. In this sense I am interested in deepening the English term “Comfort Food”, which refers to that meaningful food, which refers to the familiar, which brings us childhood memories, comforts us with memory.
You spent a few months in Helsinki so I guess you got to know the city and its people. What are your impressions of the Finnish art scene?
The Helsinki art scene is small but interesting with very different museums, foundations and galleries. In this period I found very interesting and varied artistic proposals: it is difficult to appreciate the nuances of a system like that of Finnish contemporary art in such a short time, because it has a scheme and models very different from those of Spanish art. In fact, most of the galleries, for example, do not come from the private sector, but are spaces managed by cooperatives and in some cases of a non-commercial nature, something that is difficult to find in Spain, but that is perfectly suited to the concept of community so rooted in Finnish society. My general perception is that the city is experiencing a boom with the proliferation of new galleries and spaces and a clear commitment to the internationalization that is gradually opening up, as a need for enrichment and expansion. The best proof of this jump on the international scene is the international residency program developed by HIAP, which serves as a reference for other initiatives and creates a more open and plural environment.
Compared to the theme of body and food, what are the affinities and what are the differences between Finnish and Spanish culture?
There are many differences, because in Finnish culture, food does not have the weight it has in Spanish culture, where it is in a central position, as it happens, with different nuances, also in Italian culture. The Finnish society has a strong social and environmental commitment that leads it to look for ways to eat that are very respectful of the environment and of every food sensibility: in every bar, restaurant or café, there are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc. options. The composting system works with a high level of precision and effectiveness: in Helsinki restaurants with 0 waste are proliferating and there are organic agricultural orchards throughout the city. So there is a strong interest in seeking sustainability and respect for nature and the human being. The contrast comes when you enter a supermarket and find, as in many other places, food that travels around the world, packed in plastic containers or sweets that occupy the central spaces and fill the shelves. So when you approach the reality of the citizen the situation seems to be the same as that of other countries. Which brings me to the need to tackle food from a more global perspective while taking into consideration the specificities of each place. It is clear that food, which for me is one of the great challenges for the future, has a global dimension that can certainly be changed or improved by the local. But it needs a broad spectrum of integrative analysis and a change in the international system. As for the body, there are also differences in the perception of it, and it is something palpable in bodily relationships, in the way we relate to others, in their eyes, in behavior in shared places like buses, restaurants, roads, etc. For me the most interesting thing is to understand how the body is a compendium of culture and society, of climate, of food, in short, of everything that happens around us. We are the result of our environment and our relationship with it, something that food perfectly reflects. The body is the portrait of who we are in a broad sense of relationship. And this is more evident when you look at a different society from yours, because the differences become more visible and reveal the peculiarities of the other but also of our own identity. Looking at the other is a way to better understand the different, but also a way to get to know the family member and the neighbor.
What are your future projects?
My latest projects - El gran banquete (Rome 2017), Gula (Madrid 2018) and El imperio del estómago (Helsinki, currently underway) - directly address various specific issues related to food and the food system. All these works take me to a common place that brings together the different layers that intertwine in food issues, creating the need to open our eyes and go back to our origins. So the next step is to focus on food in a broader sense, with a comprehensive view of everything that happens around humans and food. An approach to food as a social ritual, to recover the meaning of food beyond mere nutrition, far from the meanings imposed by the food industry. I want to concentrate on recovering memory on food and its relationship with the body and the environment. Aesthetically I am interested in continuing to build my body images, which deal with poetic, social, political and cultural issues. Technically, I want to continue working on paper, something that has always been present in my projects and that is fundamental in my work, both in the form of sketches and as final pieces. But I also want to recover media that I haven't used for a long time, like videos. In Helsinki I took up the use of this medium which provides a narrative to my work that I am very interested in dealing with. Finally, since I want to focus my speech on memory, on the memories of food and the body, I want to recover traditional materials, materials with a strong and significant charge of plastic like felt or ceramic to develop sculptural pieces and installations.